A Brief History of Immanuel Baptist Church of Madrid
Immanuel Baptist Church was first the dream of US military personnel in Spain back in the 1950’s and 60’s, as they desired a more biblical church for expats to gather in and share their common witness. It finally became a reality on Oct. 22, 1961, organized with the help of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (USA), to minister to the English-language community of Madrid. The mission board continued to pay the pastor’s salary until 2002.
For the first four years, the church met in a rented building located at C/ Gregorio Benítez, 8 – a former car mechanics shop! The ones who helped start the church were FMB missionaries Charles and Indy Whitten, who served in the pastoral role from Oct. 1961 - July 1962. (Two of their children, David and Margaret, were baptized in the mechanics service pit converted into a baptistry!) FMB missionaries Dan and Frieda White followed, serving about a year. Under their leadership the church applied and was accepted for membership on Oct. 12, 1962, in Orleans, France, in the Association of Baptists in Continental Europe (later to be known as the International Baptist Convention).
James and Ruth Watson, also FMB missionaries, pastored IBC from 1963-73. In Oct. 1963, IBC hosted the annual meeting of the European Baptist Convention, and in the same month was accepted into the Spanish Baptist Convention, held that year in Alicante. In Feb. 1964 (the Franco era), IBC was granted permission to post the first sign on any evangelical church in Spain advertising services – partly because the sign was in English! This was the result of pressure from the U.S. government, which had thousands of troops stationed in Spain. The American ambassador at that time, Robert Woodward, visited the church for Easter services that year and shared that he had brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to see the church property and the sign, because having that legally posted sign on an evangelical church in Spain had definitely attracted international attention. Efforts to purchase the Gregorio Benítez property failed, but Pastor Watson saw a “for sale” sign on an old summer palace, used as a hunting lodge, on C/. Hernández de Tejada, which had belonged to the royal family of Alfonso XIII, grandfather of the current King Felipe VI. The property had 28,000 m2, plus an existing building of 410 m2 built in 1910. To purchase the lot and renovate the building, IBC borrowed $73,000 from the FMB of the SBC, money that was later paid back in monthly installments to the mission board and then re-invested in the Spanish Baptist Loan Fund, enabling Spanish Baptist churches to borrow money for purchasing and repairing buildings for new churches and mission points all over Spain. The first church service was held in the new facilities on March 20, 1966.
Soon additional Sunday School space was needed, as church attendance doubled in size. Plans that had originally been intended as a greenhouse and garages at the back of the property were altered to create an educational building used for Sunday School classes. Work was completed on that project and the building dedicated on April 2, 1967, though its full legalization would await the year 2014!
Following the Watsons, James and Sylvia Foster served IBC, 1973-77. Then Dan and Frieda White returned to pastor, serving from 1977-1991. Michael and Susie Hester served next, from 1991-1996, followed by Tim and Christina Smith, 1997-1999, and Victor and Sherry Coleman, 2000-2002. In 1998, a portion of the auditorium roof collapsed and it was no longer possible to hold services in the sanctuary building. The European Baptist Convention donated $40,000 toward the repair and renovation, and donations came from many other sources as well. It was decided that in addition to repairing the roof, some remodeling was also needed: the sanctuary area was enlarged by moving an interior wall, the bathrooms and kitchen were completely renovated and a handicap toilet added, and all new appliances and cabinets were put in the kitchen. New heating and air conditioning were installed and windows enlarged. For more than two years, the church held its services in the educational building at the back of the property until a building permit was granted for the use of the auditorium. The work had begun in Nov. 2000, and the first service in the renovated building was held on June 24, 2001.
During its first 25 years, IBC was church home to hundreds of mostly US military personnel, as well as international diplomats and businessmen. In the early 1990’s, however, as the US turned over control of the Torrejón air base to the Spanish, the membership of the church began to change from a majority of North Americans to predominantly international. This trend became even more pronounced with the massive immigration to Spain that began in the late 1990’s, continuing well into the new century, especially from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Philippines, and Africa. Presently the church constituency hails from over 50 nations around the world. In 2002 IMB missionaries David and Susie Dixon came to IBC as interim pastor, but in the spring of 2003, their relationship with the mission board was severed and they accepted the call to continue as IBC’s first pastor supported by the church.
Since the turn of the century, IBC has experienced phenomenal growth: Children’s Ministry began to “burst at the seams,” with a preschool playground installed in 2006; VBS ministry, begun in June 2004, became an annual outreach ministry, serving to plant seeds of the Gospel in hundreds of young lives, as well as to train many young people and interns; Youth and University Ministries were launched in 2004, with annual fall retreats and Christmas banquets becoming regular features, to challenge young people toward genuine discipleship. Spring fests and fall fests were another new outreach ministry that proved a perfect venue for cultural exchanges, making new friends, and expanding personal horizons. In Jan. 2008, after a year’s study of IBC’s needs by a “vision work group” convoked by Pastor Dixon, the church called Timothy Melton to join the staff as associate pastor, and that year IBC also began to experiment with two services. Starting in the fall of 2008, two morning services began to be a regular feature of IBC life. Pastor Melton’s presence as single adult was a great stimulus to IBC’s young adult ministry. But in April 2011, he and Paola Linares were married, and Paola soon became an invaluable player in children’s ministry.
Other ministries at IBC have continued to multiply, helping to connect people and stimulate them to grow in Christ and begin to serve others. The IBC Music and Worship Ministry expanded with the initiation of two services, involving two rotating teams and regularly including multiple instrumentalists; a full-fledged Audio-Visual Team was also added. The adult choir has grown in number and spirit, becoming an important instrument not only for stimulating worship, but also for social integration and witness, with a repertoire that varies from the classical Latin piece “Ave Verum Corpus” to anthems and ethnic pieces such as the Swahili “O Sifuni Mungu” (“Praise the Lord”). In the same way, children’s choir has become a way of sowing the Word in the hearts of our children, regularly functioning in preparation for Christmas and Palm Sunday presentations in the worship service. The Hospitality Team also expanded its ministry with the two services, needing two teams for each Sunday to help organize the coffee times and cleanup. Another dimension of their ministry includes organizing occasional all-church lunches (especially on Dec. 6, Día de la Constitución), women’s lunches (2-3 times a year), and brunches (especially on Easter Sunday), as well as special refreshment days at Christmas and Easter. A monthly men’s prayer breakfast was started by Pastor Dixon in 2006 to help stimulate fellowship and discipleship among IBC’s men. Women’s ministry also grew, expanding beyond women’s Bible studies to include Mom-2-Mom (for moms with children in the home), regional coffees held in homes around Madrid, mother-daughter gatherings, Advent workshops, and many other special events intended to promote cross-cultural fellowship, training, and encouragement in Christ among women. The Ushers and Greeters team has also grown in its ministry as the church moved to two services, and as welcome packets were incorporated as an element of IBC’s attempts to connect with visitors and newcomers.
The Finance Team has been one of the longest functioning groups, working in close conjunction with the administrative assistant to oversee the church’s budget and keep the church informed with quarterly reports. Bheng Belo, who has served as administrative assistant since 1999, also helps coordinate the use of the building by the different ministry teams and Bible studies, as well as wider use by other entities (for baptisms, weddings, mission gatherings, etc.). Another team of increasing importance has been the Publicity and Website Team. Since the IBC website was formed (about 2005), more people find the church through Internet than from any other source, and Sunday sermons are published there in both written and audio formats. The Translation Team, a more recent addition, then translates the summary of Sunday sermons into Spanish, also posted on the IBC website.
The Social Ministries Team has grown exponentially with the economic crisis in Spain (since 2008), caring for the needy in our midst by organizing work skills workshops, computer training, monthly food distribution, a services directory, the “Blessing Board” (for anonymous donations), and Christmas gift boxes for needy families. Occasionally the team has helped with surgical operations for persons related to the IBC family. A similar initiative among IBC youth and university students resulted in the ministry of IMPACTO, originally an effort to reach out to homeless people of Madrid with sandwiches, hot drinks, blankets, coats, and gloves. This ministry has evolved to include occasional service projects to local soup kitchens and daycare centers for senior citizens. Other active ministries include the Decoration Team, bringing floral arrangements for Sunday services as well as helping to create a stimulating ambience at multiple special events; Bible teaching groups (Lifeway, Precept, Beth Moore, John McArthur, etc.); and the Deacon Ministry (2015: Rubén Borrás [chm], Andrew Blamo, Johnson Hughes, Eric Peters, Albert Calla).
Ethnic fellowships have always been a feature of IBC life, with different nationalities meeting in their mother tongue to promote fellowship and outreach among their own ethnicity. Originally there were only Filipinos meeting on a monthly basis and an Ethiopian-Eritrean group meeting weekly (a French-speaking group separated to form their own congregation, and a German-speaking Bible study has met for years, often including people from other churches). A pan-African fellowship has existed off and on, occasionally sponsoring luncheons or helping one of their number with family funeral expenses, and sometimes inviting African churches to join IBC’s group for a special worship event. In 2005, with the arrival of several Indonesian families at IBC, an Indonesian Bible study fellowship was formed. In 2008 a Japanese ministry group began to meet at IBC (outgrowth of a home group), and in 2013, Korean and Chinese groups began to meet. All of these ethnic fellowships have served as arms of outreach to their people groups, and also as instruments of integration into the IBC fellowship.
While IBC has always had a strong interest in evangelism, providing many free Bibles and Scripture portions for distribution, an initiative of some of IBC Filipinos has resulted in a full-fledged Street Evangelism Team. Some Filipino women began gathering two Saturdays a month to make sandwiches and take them to “street people,” also speaking to them about hope in Christ and offering them Christian literature (in several languages). Soon other IBC’ers became interested in this work and joined in the effort, including Latin Americans, Romanians, Indonesians, Chinese and Koreans, among them musicians who added their gifts to the effort to announce the Gospel.
In the spring of 2010, IBC celebrated its first bilingual services on Sunday evening as an outreach effort to Spanish-speaking friends, and the following year, in Dec. 2011, the Torrejón mission point was launched in Spanish under the leadership of Venezuelan missionaries Lucas and Betzabé Colmenares, meeting in a downtown hotel (known as Iglesia Bautista Emanuel de Torrejón). The IBC Missions Team has sponsored occasional mission trips to various destinations, including Morocco, Bilbao, and Lorca (May 2012 and May 2013). The Missions Team has also overseen the incorporation of several IBC’ers in prison ministry and hospital chaplaincy. Also a special VBS project was carried out in Spanish in conjunction with Iglesia Bautista Pueblo Nuevo at their location (July, 2013). In 2014, Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, Madrid, was established as a Spanish-speaking mission of IBC, pastored by seminary professor Fernando Méndez and his wife Elena Porras, with the collaboration of Houston’s First Baptist Church.
In 2007, as IBC’s growth began to outdistance the available meeting space, a vision work group was convoked to talk about IBC’s future. Not only did the group discuss the need for another pastoral staff member, but also the need for more meeting space for small groups. Children’s classes were having to meet in the kitchen, in the library, and in the pastors’ office. Many options were considered, especially the idea of portable buildings for classroom space. The project grew in seriousness and weight to the point that a team of people was called together to consider the details of what was needed and to investigate the possible building contractors and architects. Finally it was decided that using traditional construction, IBC would gain in space and quality, and the costs would not be much more than for portable modules. The bidding process was slow and cumbersome as the project took shape, but finally the architectural firm of Aliarq was chosen, working with Jaime Legido and Marta Romera, and construction company Ankarsa, with a projected cost of about 420,000€. Most of the money had been collected by the time the work began, lacking only about 100,000€, which was borrowed from the International Baptist Convention fund in the fall of 2013 (total costs reaching about 530,000€). Ground-breaking was done during the last week of June, 2013, and the work was officially finished by April, 2014, though the final inspection from city hall did not happen until Oct. 9, 2014. The dedication of the new building took place on Dec. 6, 2014 (Día de la Constitución in Spain), with a potluck luncheon, and a program that included a time of worship, testimonies regarding God’s provision, special prayers in several languages, and finally, a “human chain” all the way around the IBC buildings, with everyone singing the Doxology together and then “How Great Thou Art.”
Today IBC serves as church home for people from over 50 nations who enjoy worshiping in English in a very international church with fellow Christians from other continents and denominations, with different ethnic backgrounds and a vast variety of personal and professional experience. The church relates to both the International Baptist Convention and the Spanish Baptist Convention (UEBE), cooperating for the purposes of missions and Christian education. Our goal continues to be to know Christ, to learn to be His Body together, and to make Him known, among internationals, among Spaniards, and among the nations.
Prayer warriors at a private home in Madrid, 1954. These ladies, wives of American army officers, gave the first impulse for a Baptist church in Madrid.
Official recognition of IBC. Please click on the picture and read the article!
Opening service 1961 at IBC’s first gathering place, Gregorio Beñitez, El Viso/Madrid.
The Royal Ambassadors and The Brotherhood boys’ and men’s mission teams at IBC.
Sunday school members and their teacher on “Organization Day”, March 1961.
Immanuel Baptist Church facade in the seventies.