The House of the Gospel, Built by People's Donations
The Story of one of St. Petersburg's buildings

The House of the Gospel, Built by People's Donations

The Story of one of St. Petersburg's buildings
There are many masterpieces of architecture and monuments of history and culture in the courtyards and industrial zones of St. Petersburg which the citizens do not even suspect exist. "Fontanka" discovered what is hidden behind the main entrance of a factory on 24th Lane of Vasilievsky Island. In what structural condition is "House of the Gospel" located there and who wants to restore it, but cannot?
At first glance, 24th Lane does not attract much interest. However, if you look closely, you can note both the former Pullman Mansion and the historically significant Siemens-Shukkert factory. Now they belong to the high-security "Electroapparat" plant.

But there is one more historical building in the area that is not visible from the street — it is located on the property of the plant. Due to lack of timely renovations and maintenance the structure has deteriorated. Fontanka will tell you how the building, "House of the Gospel", ended up on the territory of the plant, who wants to restore it it and why the owners are not allowed on the premises.

A bit of history about the Baptist movement in Russia

Baptists, as one of the branches of Evangelical Christianity, known in Europe since 16th century, came to Russia in the middle of 18th century.

They strongly differed in interpretations of scripture and rituals of the Orthodox Church: for example, baptism is by faith and full immersion, voluntarily and of consenting age. Baptists promote freedom of religion and defend the separation of religion from the state. Therefore, both the Orthodox Church and the government persecuted the Baptists.
Despite this, the first groups of Russian Baptists assembled in St. Petersburg in 1855. By 1874, their community was established in the capital of the Russian Empire.
In the center — Wilhelm Andreevich Fetler, pastor of the Baptist community of St. Petersburg "House of the Gospel".
In the year of 1879, Russian Baptist Christians were officially recognized. The government issued "The Highest Memorandum of State Council" - "Temporary regulations on registration of marriages, births and deaths of Baptists" was published, which was popularly called the "Makovsky Circular".
In 1883 government of Russia issued the law on freedom of religion and in 1884 the Union of Russian Baptists was formed. The Union was fully recognized in 1896.

In 1905, during the first Russian Revolution, Emperor Nicholas II signed the "Decree on strengthening the principles of religious tolerance". Finally, all Russians could openly profess their faiths. Russian Baptists now had the opportunity to build houses of worship.

At first, the community in St. Petersburg rented several halls for meetings, the largest of which was the Tenishevsky Concert Hall on Mokhovaya Street. But even the largest facilities that could be rented soon became cramped and inconvenient for the growing Baptist community. And the rent was expensive. Therefore, they decided to finally build their own building.
Baptists, as one of the branches of Evangelical Christianity, known in Europe since 16th century, came to Russia in the middle of 18th century.

They strongly differed in interpretations of scripture and rituals of the Orthodox Church: for example, baptism is by faith and full immersion, voluntarily and of consenting age. Baptists promote freedom of religion and defend the separation of religion from the state. Therefore, both the Orthodox Church and the government persecuted the Baptists.
A bit of history about the Baptist movement in Russia
Despite this, the first groups of Russian Baptists assembled in St. Petersburg in 1855. By 1874, their community was established in the capital of the Russian Empire.
In the center — Wilhelm Andreevich Fetler, pastor of the Baptist community of St. Petersburg "House of the Gospel".
At first, the community in St. Petersburg rented several halls for meetings, the largest of which was the Tenishevsky Concert Hall on Mokhovaya Street. But even the largest facilities that could be rented soon became cramped and inconvenient for the growing Baptist community. And the rent was expensive. Therefore, they decided to finally build their own building.
In the year of 1879, Russian Baptist Christians were officially recognized. The government issued "The Highest Memorandum of State Council" - "Temporary regulations on registration of marriages, births and deaths of Baptists" was published, which was popularly called the "Makovsky Circular". In 1883 government of Russia issued the law on freedom of religion and in 1884 the Union of Russian Baptists was formed. The Union was fully recognized in 1896.
In 1905, during the first Russian Revolution, Emperor Nicholas II signed the "Decree on strengthening the principles of religious tolerance". Finally, all Russians could openly profess their faiths. Russian Baptists now had the opportunity to build houses of worship.

How the location was chosen for the construction of House of the Gospel

In the Notification of the St. Petersburg Mayor in April 1910, it was written: "The Authorized Representative of the St. Petersburg Community of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, G. Fetler, is hereby notified that the Sovereign Emperor, according to the most comprehensive report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the 30th day of March permits the said community to acquire ownership of a plot of land with the buildings located on it, located on the 24th line of Vasilievsky Island under No. 11, with a size of 718 ¾ sq. sazhens and at a cost of 42,000 rubles."
Land plan of the purchased plot in 1912.
This equals 0.32 hectares in the modern metric system: a substantial piece of land but not in the most prestigious location. This area was called Chekushi and consisted of low-cost apartment buildings and industrial enterprises. One of the negative aspects of the area was a leather factory that produced very unpleasant fumes.
Laying of "House of the Gospel" on the 8th of September 1910.
This piece of land, despite its location, was very expensive: Today the cost would be around 43 to 63 million Rubles. The purchase of the property and the construction of the building were paid for without bank loans. All the funds were provided from donations of fellow believers across Russia. Great assistance in fundraising was provided by the sermons of the head of the St. Petersburg community, pastor Wilhelm Andreevich Fetler, who himself donated all his personal savings. He also personally borrowed a significant amount of money (it was the only case of a loan taken for the church construction).

However, after the land was already purchased, a hot debate broke out about the feasibility of construction. There were opinions that for such money, more than 200,000 Russian Rubles, it was better to build several church buildings in different cities. However, the chairman of the Union of Russia Baptists, Dey Ivanovich Mazaev, was able to convince those who were in disagreement that it was necessary not only to attract new people to the Gospel, but also

House of the Gospel would elevate the status of Baptists in the nations capital and serve as the main hub and representation for Baptists.
Pastor W.A. Fetler with the homeless at the entrance to "House of the Gospel".
In the Notification of the St. Petersburg Mayor in April 1910, it was written: "The Authorized Representative of the St. Petersburg Community of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, G. Fetler, is hereby notified that the Sovereign Emperor, according to the most comprehensive report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the 30th day of March permits the said community to acquire ownership of a plot of land with the buildings located on it, located on the 24th line of Vasilievsky Island under No. 11, with a size of 718 ¾ sq. sazhens and at a cost of 42,000 rubles."
How the location was chosen for the construction of House of the Gospel
This piece of land, despite its location, was very expensive: Today the cost would be around 43 to 63 million Rubles. The purchase of the property and the construction of the building were paid for without bank loans. All the funds were provided from donations of fellow believers across Russia. Great assistance in fundraising was provided by the sermons of the head of the St. Petersburg community, pastor Wilhelm Andreevich Fetler, who himself donated all his personal savings. He also personally borrowed a significant amount of money (it was the only case of a loan taken for the church construction).

This parcel of the land, despite its location, was an expensive purchase. Today's numbers would be around 43 – 65 million Russian Rubles. The land and construction costs were paid off by collective donations from many Baptist's communities of Russia. There were taken no bank loans. Big work in motivating the believers and collecting the funds for the project was done by the head leader of St. Petersburg Baptist Society Wilhelm Andreevich Fetler, who has donated all his own savings and borrowed some extra money. (That was only one single case of "loan" for the construction.)
However, after the land was already purchased, a hot debate broke out about the feasibility of construction. There were opinions that for such money, more than 200,000 Russian Rubles, it was better to build several church buildings in different cities. However, the chairman of the Union of Russia Baptists, Dey Ivanovich Mazaev, was able to convince those who were in disagreement that it was necessary not only to attract new people to the Gospel, but also

House of the Gospel would elevate the status of Baptists in the nations capital and serve as the main hub and representation for Baptists.
Laying of "House of the Gospel" on the 8th of September 1910.
Land plan of the purchased plot in 1912.
Pastor W.A. Fetler with the homeless at the entrance to "House of the Gospel".

Who designed the building and its appearance

The groundbreaking took place in 1910. By the end of 1911 the building held its first worship service and in the middle of 1912 the building received its occupational permit and was insured.

The architect and construction manager was Ivan Kaliberda who mainly built apartment buildings on Vasilyevsky Island and the Petrogradskaya district: for example, the Schwartz house on the corner of the 2nd line and Bolshoy Prospekt, the Breche house on 10th Lane, the Puni house, etc.

House of the Gospel was designed in Art Nouveau style, but without the decor characteristic of most buildings of this architecture. The three-story building had simple lines accented by an asymmetric facade and a small attic. The top of the building was adorned with an electrically illuminated sign reading "God is love" and the electrically illuminated sign of this distinctive Protestant community-a Christogram in the shape of a heart placed in an equilateral heptagon. In the 1910s, it was as bright and unusual sight as a laser show is today.
The inscription "God is Love" is installed on the roof of "House of the Gospel".
A new park was laid out around the building with a small square built in front of it.

The interior layout consisted a large hall, several smaller assembly/prayer halls, fellowship rooms, Sunday school classes, offices and four living quarters for personnel. Fetler's publishing house was located in one of the attached wings.
General view of the territory and façade of the building of "House of the Gospel". In 1912.
The groundbreaking took place in 1910. By the end of 1911 the building held its first worship service and in the middle of 1912 the building received its occupational permit and was insured.

The architect and construction manager was Ivan Kaliberda who mainly built apartment buildings on Vasilyevsky Island and the Petrogradskaya district: for example, the Schwartz house on the corner of the 2nd line and Bolshoy Prospekt, the Breche house on 10th Lane, the Puni house, etc.

House of the Gospel was designed in Art Nouveau style, but without the decor characteristic of most buildings of this architecture. The three-story building had simple lines accented by an asymmetric facade and a small attic. The top of the building was adorned with an electrically illuminated sign reading "God is love" and the electrically illuminated sign of this distinctive Protestant community-a Christogram in the shape of a heart placed in an equilateral heptagon. In the 1910s, it was as bright and unusual sight as a laser show is today.
Who designed the building and its appearance
A new park was laid out around the building with a small square built in front of it.

The interior layout consisted a large hall, several smaller assembly/prayer halls, fellowship rooms, Sunday school classes, offices and four living quarters for personnel. Fetler's publishing house was located in one of the attached wings.
The inscription "God is Love" is installed on the roof of "House of the Gospel".
General view of the territory and façade of the building of "House of the Gospel". In 1912.

Opening and Activity of House of the Gospel

The Grand Opening of House of the Gospel was a big celebration for the whole community.

A new hymn was written especially for the consecration of the great hall and the first service.

This is how one of the witnesses of the last days of preparation described the event: "usually, a few days before completion, during the rush of preparation, cleaning and finishing, you would see small misunderstandings and arguments between workers. It is a difficult task trying to calm yourself amidst the carpenters, painters and piles of construction debris, preparing the building for the main event. But I saw the opposite — the exhausted, tired, grey-faced people were lit up with joy."
Grand opening of "House of the Gospel". In 1911.
The event did not go without some curiosity. When Emperor Nicolas II received an invitation by telegram to the Grand Opening of House of the Gospel, His Majesty wrote the words: "By whose permission?" Only after clarification by the minister of internal affairs did His Majesty realize that he himself had granted permission.
Telegram on which Emperor Nicholas II wrote "By whose permission?" in the upper left corner.
Until the end of 1914, House of the Gospel was full of life: in addition to the services there was Sunday School, youth meetings, fellowship with visitors, a soup kitchen to feed the care for the poor.
The Grand Opening of House of the Gospel was a big celebration for the whole community.

A new hymn was written especially for the consecration of the great hall and the first service.

This is how one of the witnesses of the last days of preparation described the event: "usually, a few days before completion, during the rush of preparation, cleaning and finishing, you would see small misunderstandings and arguments between workers. It is a difficult task trying to calm yourself amidst the carpenters, painters and piles of construction debris, preparing the building for the main event. But I saw the opposite — the exhausted, tired, grey-faced people were lit up with joy."
Opening and Activity of House of the Gospel
Until the end of 1914, House of the Gospel was full of life: in addition to the services there was Sunday School, youth meetings, fellowship with visitors, a soup kitchen to feed the care for the poor.
The event did not go without some curiosity. When Emperor Nicolas II received an invitation by telegram to the Grand Opening of House of the Gospel, His Majesty wrote the words: "By whose permission?" Only after clarification by the minister of internal affairs did His Majesty realize that he himself had granted permission.
Grand opening of "House of the Gospel". In 1911.
Telegram on which Emperor Nicholas II wrote "By whose permission?" in the upper left corner.

The history of the church from World War I till Perestroika

At the end of 1914, V. A. Fetler was arrested during a church service. He was accused of being a spy, and was sentenced to prison in Yakutia. However, with the assistance some very influential people his punishment was changed to expulsion from Russia.
Pastor I.N. Shilov together with the ministers of "House of the Gospel". In 1920.
During the First World War, House of the Gospel was converted into a hospital. After the revolution of February 1917, the provisional government returned the building to Baptists. However, in October 1917 it was confiscated by Bolsheviks. The pastors Ivan Vasilievich Neprash and Robert Andreevich Fetler(the brother of V.A Fetler) were exiled and imprisoned in Eastern Siberia.

In the year 1919 the building once again was returned to the Baptist community. It was credited to Head Pastor Ivan Schilov, who had written a letter to V.I.Lenin with this request. In the year 1923. Shilov was arrested and sentenced to exile in Siberia, and later to prison camps, where he spent the rest of his life, preaching the Gospel.

All the leaders of House of the Gospel were persecuted. Many ordinary church members did not survive the communist regime. Some were executed or died in prison camps. But their relatives and descendants remained faithful.

However, services were held in House of the Gospel up to the year of 1930, when the building was eventually closed, expropriated, and handed over to the "Electroapparat" factory. The new owners kept the building in good shape and housed the factory workers entertainment club, movie theatre and library.
The youth of "House of the Gospel". In 1924.
Fast forward to the year of 1993 --- the city of St. Petersburg transferred the ownership of the building to the protestants for unlimited use but did not include the land surrounding the building. However, at the same time the issue of unimpeded access to the premises was tabled. Physical access to the property was impossible. In 2016 a small part of the land, 1/2 the size of the original parcel, was handed over to the Baptists. Still, there is no unobstructed access to the building from 24th Lane.
At the end of 1914, V. A. Fetler was arrested during a church service. He was accused of being a spy, and was sentenced to prison in Yakutia. However, with the assistance some very influential people his punishment was changed to expulsion from Russia.

During the First World War, House of the Gospel was converted into a hospital. After the revolution of February 1917, the provisional government returned the building to Baptists. However, in October 1917 it was confiscated by Bolsheviks. The pastors Ivan Vasilievich Neprash and Robert Andreevich Fetler(the brother of V.A Fetler) were exiled and imprisoned in Eastern Siberia.
The history of the church from World War I till Perestroika
In the year 1919 the building once again was returned to the Baptist community. It was credited to Head Pastor Ivan Schilov, who had written a letter to V.I.Lenin with this request. In the year 1923. Shilov was arrested and sentenced to exile in Siberia, and later to prison camps, where he spent the rest of his life, preaching the Gospel.

All the leaders of House of the Gospel were persecuted. Many ordinary church members did not survive the communist regime. Some were executed or died in prison camps. But their relatives and descendants remained faithful.

However, services were held in House of the Gospel up to the year of 1930, when the building was eventually closed, expropriated, and handed over to the "Electroapparat" factory. The new owners kept the building in good shape and housed the factory workers entertainment club, movie theatre and library.
Fast forward to the year of 1993 --- the city of St. Petersburg transferred the ownership of the building to the protestants for unlimited use but did not include the land surrounding the building. However, at the same time the issue of unimpeded access to the premises was tabled. Physical access to the property was impossible. In 2016 a small part of the land, 1/2 the size of the original parcel, was handed over to the Baptists. Still, there is no unobstructed access to the building from 24th Lane.
Pastor I.N. Shilov together with the ministers of "House of the Gospel". In 1920.
The youth of "House of the Gospel". In 1924.

The structural condition of the building and its problems

The building has severely decayed over the past few decades due to the lack of maintenance, One of the contributing factors to its structural degradation is the current construction of a new neighborhood metro station. As of today, the premises are full of debris and the building is structurally unsound.

Referring to their "high security" status, the management of the Elektroapparat plant uses this excuse to require the new owners of the building to submit an application for a visit in advance. They violate the rights of the lawful owners by denying access to the premises. At the same time there is a business center on the same "protected" area, where tenants and their visitors have free access.

In 2018, there was an attempt made by "Metrostroy" to reinforce the foundation of this historically significant structure, but the new owners were not granted access to the site and didn't have the chance to confirm this information.
The southern facade of "House of the Gospel". 2019 year.
Dmitry Kolarkov, the managing director of a religious society, told us that the estimated cost of building materials to restore the church building is 200 million Rubles. However, more exact numbers cannot be confirmed without a full inspection of the building.

The Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists of St. Petersburg filed an appeal to the General Prosecutor of the city, whereby they listed all of the property's issues and the ongoing litigation.
The building has severely decayed over the past few decades due to the lack of maintenance, One of the contributing factors to its structural degradation is the current construction of a new neighborhood metro station. As of today, the premises are full of debris and the building is structurally unsound.

Referring to their "high security" status, the management of the Elektroapparat plant uses this excuse to require the new owners of the building to submit an application for a visit in advance. They violate the rights of the lawful owners by denying access to the premises. At the same time there is a business center on the same "protected" area, where tenants and their visitors have free access.

In 2018, there was an attempt made by "Metrostroy" to reinforce the foundation of this historically significant structure, but the new owners were not granted access to the site and didn't have the chance to confirm this information.
The structural condition of the building and its problems
Dmitry Kolarkov, the managing director of a religious society, told us that the estimated cost of building materials to restore the church building is 200 million Rubles. However, more exact numbers cannot be confirmed without a full inspection of the building.

The Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists of St. Petersburg filed an appeal to the General Prosecutor of the city, whereby they listed all of the property's issues and the ongoing litigation.
The southern facade of "House of the Gospel". 2019 year.
Project consultant: scriniary of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists Alexey Sinichkin.

Project consultant: Dmitry Kolar'kov
Author: Elena Vinogradova
Copy editor: Elena Vinogradova
Coordinator: Elena Rozhnova
Pictures are provided by Press Service of "The House of Gospel"
Designers: Ekaterina Elizarova, Zaira Gamisonia

Спецпроекты «Фонтанки.ру»


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