Waldensian Review No 132 Summer 2018 - Page 18

The Waldensian Church It is the native Protestant Church of Italy whose origins pre-date the Refor- mation. It arose from an evangelical movement founded in the 12th century by Waldo, a rich merchant from Lyon, who was to inspire St Francis: he gave all away to the poor and started preaching the Gospel in the vernacular, which caused conflict with the Papacy. Travelling in pairs the Waldensian itinerant preachers, having learnt the Scriptures by heart, set off to found underground communities from Sicily to Russia. The ensuing persecution by the Inquisition drove them into their mountain fastness in the Alpine Valleys of northwest Italy, where they remain in what are still called the Waldensian Valleys. At their Synod in 1532 they voted to join the Genevan Reformation, a decision that brought even more persecution upon this exposed outpost of Protestantism. Their sufferings were recorded in Milton’s famous sonnet “On The Late Massacre in Piedmont”. Their survival down to the present has been a remarkable testament of faith. The Waldensian community was emancipated in 1848, but did not reach full freedom until 1984. Since the Italian unification in 1860 they have es- tablished churches throughout Italy and, following emigration, in the USA, Argentina and Uruguay. In 1979 the Italian Methodist Church combined with them and they hold a common annual Synod, which is the controlling authority of the Church and takes place in Torre Pellice. The Churches of Rio de la Plata have their own Synod, Board and Moderator. The 60 parishes have founded 120 outreach activities ranging from schools, hospitals, children’s and old people’s homes, radio stations, and ecu- menical community centres, often catering for the needs of the most deprived and mafia-ridden parts of Italy, especially the disadvantaged South and the new immigrant communities. The Waldensian Church has a theological college in Rome, a publishing house, Claudiana, and a weekly paper, Riforma. The English Committee of the Waldensian Church Missions This was founded in 1825 as a support group for the Waldensian Church in Italy. Since 1979 its finances, together with those of the Vaudois Pastors Fund, have been administered by Trustees under the terms of the Scheme drawn up by the Charity Commission and dated 18 January that year. The Committee seek to arouse interest and financial support in England and Wales for the Waldensian Church. Twice yearly we publish a Waldensian Review and occasionally other literature. We also arrange meetings for Wal- densian pastors visiting this country and support students of Theology who want to spend the compulsory ‘year abroad’ studying in this country. There are similar Waldensian support groups in Scotland, Ireland, USA and in various European countries. 16