The Revd Knud Wümpelmann: 1922-2020
Pastor, National and International Baptist Leader, Christian Statesman
The EBF has learned that our beloved brother and former EBF General Secretary, Knud Wümpelmann, passed into the nearer presence of the Lord on 2nd June, 2020. He was aged 97.
Knud Wümpelmann served as EBF General Secretary from 1980-1989, following sixteen years as the first full-time general secretary of the Baptist Union of Denmark. Following his service to the EBF he was elected as the President of the Baptist World Alliance, 1990-1995.
Knud Wümpelmann was born in Odense, Denmark in 1922. An early experience of the healing of his father from tuberculosis, took the family to the local Baptist church. After school Knud entered the Danish Post and Telegraph service and then followed the call of God into Ministry, studying at the Danish Baptist Theological Seminary at Tølløse. Here he met his future wife, Karen, and they were married for 73 years until his death. Knud also studied at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, USA.
He had pastorates in Jutland and in Copenhagen, before being called as the first General Secretary of the Danish Baptist Union in 1964. Bent Hylleberg comments that ‘both Karen and Knud were diligent servants of the Lord; they dedicated their efforts, their home and their lovely personalities to the work of Danish Baptists’.
Here the hallmarks of Knud’s ministry became apparent; a caring pastoral approach to leadership; a gifted organiser, a reconciler and peacemaker, and an ecumenical commitment to work together with Christians of other traditions.
In 1980 Knud Wümpelmann was called to succeed Gerhard Claas as General Secretary of the EBF. From the start he showed a deep commitment to the unity of Baptists across the EBF, and especially to Baptists of Eastern Europe then under Communist rule. He made around twenty visits to the Soviet Union in those years. And it was during his leadership of the EBF that the project of the EBF Books and Translations Committee and Eurolit came to fruition – to place a set of the William Barclay New Testament Commentaries, translated in to Russian, into the hands of every Russian-speaking pastor to support their preaching ministries.
The EBF is forever grateful that it was towards the end of Knud Wümpelmann’s General Secretaryship, and no doubt helped by his gift of patient diplomacy, that the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, was handed over by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to the EBF. This was at a time of rising tensions between the SBC and the EBF over the running of the Seminary. The legacy of that decision was seen first in the establishment of IBTS Prague, and now the International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam, providing high quality doctoral-level study opportunities for those who will be theological teachers in the EBF region and around the world.
In his history of the EBF, Bernard Green writes that, as General Secretary, Knud Wümpelmann ‘had served the EBF with distinction for nine years. He had shown himself to be a patient negotiator, a constant encourager, a faithful advocate, and a tireless visitor to all parts of the Federation’s constituency. His kind and gracious personality endeared him to European Baptists who trusted him widely and recognised his statesmanlike qualities and deep spirituality’.
Following his ‘retirement’ from the EBF, Knud was soon called to be President of the Baptist World Alliance from 1990-1995. Here he had a much-appreciated global ministry and he took a special interest in the BWA’s commitment to human rights and religious freedom. He rejoiced at being an international observer representing the BWA at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. He participated in the bi-centenary celebrations of the Baptist missionary pioneer, William Carey, and he also visited the Protestant Church in China. He also participated in the theological Conversations between the BWA and the Lutheran World Federation.
The then BWA General Secretary, Denton Lotz, said of Knud’s service as BWA President: ‘He has been a strong advocate for the poor and the dispossessed. His concern for peace and human rights has been exemplary. In difficult times he has encouraged and comforted Baptist leaders… his commitment to the compassionate ministry and the evangelistic ministry of the whole church has encouraged and uplifted Baptist work everywhere.’
We give thanks for this faithful servant of God, Knud Wümpelmann, and the fine example he gave to Danish, European and World Baptists of Christian statesmanship based on his own deep commitment to follow Jesus Christ throughout his long life.
To his wife Karen and to his family, we pray God’s loving presence to surround them at this time of loss and we assure them of our continuing prayers.
Tribute to Knud Wumplemann from David Coffey
Knud was a special friend and encourager to me because he was my first BWA President. I attended the BWA Congress in South Korea at his election in 1990. When I became a member of the BWA Executive in 1991, I experienced his leadership of the BWA personally.
Knud’s Christlike character personified the fruit of the Spirit. Like all healthy Baptist gatherings, there were moments of sharp debate and contentious differences. Knud presided over our meetings like a godly patriarch with a calm authority and a peace-filled presence. Knud had the softest voice of any Baptist Leader I have known. He was a beautiful combination of kindness, gentleness, patience and self-control.
From his earliest days in Denmark, the Lord shaped Knud to be a generous-hearted reconciler and peacemaker. Although born into the Evangelical- Lutheran tradition, the family had an early encounter with the Pentecostal tradition and later with American Baptist missionaries. This initial shaping meant Knud was intuitively sympathetic to many Christian traditions.
His appointment in 1980 as the General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, coincided with the seismic political and social upheaval of the decade. For many years previously, Knud had been an advocate for a united Baptist community in a politically divided Europe. He didn’t just pray ‘Your Kingdom come’, Knud was an accomplished advocate for the coming of God’s Kingdom in Eastern Europe. He saw the dawn of a new era before the walls came down. He had made numerous visits behind the Iron Curtain, so when the new Europe came into being at the beginning of the 1990s, as a profoundly relational pastor, he was the perfect BWA President to welcome the numerous new members from the Eastern bloc.
As a former EBF General Secretary and the current President of the BWA, Knud was an excellent bridge builder in the 1990s. He was uniquely knowledgeable about the relationship of the registered and unregistered Baptists of the Soviet Union. In 1992 I was present with Knud and Denton Lotz in Moscow when the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists was beginning to splinter into numerous independent national groupings of Baptist believers. His established friendship with many of the Baptist leaders across the former Soviet Union played a vital role in the early days of welcoming them in vast numbers into the broader community of the EBF and BWA. He was a strong campaigner for theological education for all European Baptists and shared in the translation and provision of theological literature for pastors and leaders in Eastern Europe.
Knud was a godly man who walked closely with his Lord, and my wife Janet joins me in celebrating the gifted life of a much-loved global pastor to Baptists, and we express our loving condolences to Knud’s wife Karen and the family.
BWA President (2005-2010)