A delegation of five black Baptist ministers, headed by the Rev. Henry C. Gregory of Shiloh Baptist Church in the District of Columbia, has been invited to preach July 7-21 in Russian Baptist churches in Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev.
The trip, partially paid for and sponsored by the Baptist and Evangelical Union in the Soviet Union, "is an attempt to cut away the myths that divide us," Gregory said.
"My presence, and the presence of the other ministers going along, says something in a deep way about the unity of the Christian experience that transcends the geographic, economic, racial and political boundaries that separate us," he said.
The team of ministers includes the Rev. Howard Fauntroy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Detroit and a distant cousin of the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, congressional delegate for the District and pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church here and the Rev. Charles Walker of 19th Street Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Walker is a well-known composer of religious music and a concert pianist, Gregory said.
Also included in the delegation are the Rev. Cecil Clark, pastor of the Good Street Baptist Church in Dallas, and the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New York City.
Gregory said Clark, well-known as an "old-fashioned dynamic" preaching evangelist, is editor of the Baptist Voice, newspaper of the National Baptist Convention, an organization of black Baptist churches with a combined membership of 6 million people.
Wyatt Tee Walker was formerly assitasnt pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City when that church was headed by Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. Walker also was once a top aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, noted civil rights leader, Gregory said.
Gregory, who has spoken to Russian Baptist congregations twice previously, said Russians enjoy the "spiritualism" of the black Baptist experience.
"I was told that when black ministers come here to preach, the churches are crowded, more so than when white American preachers come," Gregory said. "They like to hear the Negro spirituals, but they don't shout like we do here in the churches. They do weep and say 'Ah-meen' rather than amen," he said.
"They style is Southern Baptist," Gregory said, "and they have three sermons, several prayers and an altar call in their three-hour worship service.
"Being evangelical, they are Bible-oriented. The sermons are all based on the Bible, not socially oriented," he said. "The social problems such as housing are left up to the government."
In some ways, Gregory said, Russian Baptists and evangelical Christians, a group he estimated to be above 500,000 strong, identify with the struggles of minorities in the United States.
"They identify with (Martin Luther) King and with the persecution of black people here. When I traveled there before (to the World Peace Conference held last year in Russia) people who couldn't even speak English would see us and say "Martin Luther King,'" Gregory said.
"I would imagine that the religious community has not been as free over there," he said. "It costs them something to be Christians. Most of the priviledged positions in the government are held by Communist Party members. None of the church members I met were members of the Communist Party and it was implied that you have to give up status to belong to a church. Key positions in the government and the community, by and large, were not held by people who attended the church."
Gregory said he and the other members plan to preach in their usual style. There sermons will be translated into Russian by an interpreter.
The sermons will be based on "simple biblical stories about how the Lord helps individuals, rather than social issues or about the state or politics," Gregory said. "They want to hear the simple stories about how the Lord will provide."
"We will pray with them and for them, and they will pray with us and for us," Gregory said. "It's a much deeper experience than here where we share common goals and are all a part of the same community, by and large.
"When I go to that distant land and sing 'All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name', they in Russian and me in English, it really means something," he said.
"Throughout history, even though states and countries fought against each other, Christian groups in those countries were able to communicate and work together. The starting point is sharing Christian values," Gregory said.