Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, October 28, 2012, pg. 16
Our local First Baptist Church recently celebrated its 175th anniversary. On its hallway wall is an historical timeline filled with photos and memorabilia of church history. I encourage our readers to drop by that church and see the display. One portion features the Russian Baptist Mission, later known as the Russian Baptist Church. First Baptist sponsored this church in the early years of its existence. I’ve written about this immigrant church in this column several times in the past. Those articles are reprinted on the www.Albionmich.com website. My focus these two weeks is upon the ministry of its founder, Rev. Paul Truss (1888-1960).
The Rev. Paul Stefanovich Truss was a very influential person in the "west end" immigrant community in the early 20th century. A native of Pruzana, White Russia (Belarus), Paul arrived in the U.S. at the port of Baltimore on the ship Cassel in November, 1907. He came to Albion with his family in 1916 from Fort Williams, Ontario, Canada, to work at the Albion Malleable Iron Company. He joined First Baptist and began evangelizing other Russian immigrants who worked at the Malleable or lived in the "foreign settlement." His first five converts were: Alex Markovich, Joseph Romanchuk, Antonina Veramay, Ostop Veramay, and Nestor Komarchuk. They began holding meetings in their native Russian tongue in the basement of First Baptist, and in homes. The converts were supplied with Bibles in the Russian language, along with other religious literature.
As the group grew, they decided to erect a house of worship of their own. Albion Malleable vice-president Harry Parker supplied them with some land at 614 Austin Avenue, and a church building was constructed in 1918 along with the help of many Albion people. First Baptist donated chairs and a pulpit, and paid for the electrical work. The $1,500 cost of the building was paid off in three years by the ten members at the time. The church reached out to its neighborhood, attracting nearby residents young and old to hear the gospel message.
Rev. Truss’ work was not without opposition, however. His proselytizing ministry was a direct threat to the local Holy Ascension Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox), from whence some of his converts to the Baptist faith came. In addition, Russian Baptist lay leader Ostop Veramay lived at 520 Austin Avenue, right next door to the Russian Orthodox priest Rev. Michael Vishgorodzeff at 516, according to the 1917-1918 Albion City Directory. Vishgorodzeff was the first resident priest of that church. Russian Baptist Bible study meetings were held in the Veramay home next door. Many members were related and had come from the same towns (Matyasy and Korbrin, in particular) back in White Russia. The friction between the two groups was coming to a head.
A daughter of Ostop, the late Esther (Veramay) Segars (1924-2000), wrote in 1996: "Several immigrants who lived in Albion had become Christians…The Orthodox priest was very upset because of their conversions and told the authorities German spies were meeting in the house next door to him." On Sunday afternoon, January 6, 1918, a U.S. Secret Service official, along with Deputy Sheriff George McCarty came and arrested Truss, church lay leader Ostop Veramay (1894-1982), and convert Nestor Komarchuk. They were charged with making seditious utterances against the United States and in opposition to the War (World War I). The officers also seized their trunk full of Russian-language Bibles and religious literature as part of the "sting."
The men were taken to military headquarters in Battle Creek that afternoon for interrogation. They were later released on bail after posting bond. Truss’ bond was provided by J. L. Snyder, who had rallied fellow First Baptist Church members to support Truss. At their hearing later in the month, the charges were dropped on account of a lack of evidence. The local paper stated at the time: "Friends of the men state that religious jealousies in the local Russian colony are back of the complaints." Despite that incident, Truss applied for U.S. citizenship here in 1923, and subsequently received it.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present an early photograph circa 1918 of the Truss family, courtesy of Tim Felisky. Left to right: Phyllis, Peter Frederick, Rev. Truss holding newborn Mary, Mrs. Helen (Markowitcz/Markovich) Truss (1885-1936), and daughter Anna. How many of our readers remember the Truss family? CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.
The Truss Family, circa 1917
Next: REV. PAUL TRUSS, Part 2
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic