International Ministries

Celebrating the Miraculous Journey of a Georgian Communion Chalice

September 20, 2011 News

On September 15, 2011, a nineteenth century, gold-plated Florentine chalice was prominently displayed on the table used to celebrate the Lord’s Supper at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.  Conducting this portion of the worship service, held in McInnis Hall, was Malkhaz Songulashvili, the Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of the Republic of Georgia, who said, “How grateful I am that this miracle has happened.”

Although the communion service clearly centered on the miracle of God’s love seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the miracle of which the Archbishop was speaking related to the presence of the chalice.  As Dr. Susan Broome, Associate Director for Technical Services at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, explained earlier in the worship service: “Beginning in 1868, this was the vessel that was brought to the lips of Baptist ministers and church members who were martyred for their faith in the country of Georgia.”

The Rev. Dr. Reid Trulson, Executive Director of American Baptist International Ministries, provided details about the chalice’s recent discovery, saying: “This Grail of Peace was found with the help of our brothers and sisters from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at Mercer University.  The chalice will be used for the first time back in Tbilisi, Georgia next year at the Easter service of the Cathedral Baptist Church, more than eighty years after it left Tbilisi!”

The chalice had been lost since the late 1940s.  Records indicate that it was used in observance of the Lord’s Supper at the first Baptist church in the Russian Empire, in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, strategically at the crossroads between Europe and Asia.  In 1928 the chalice was given by the Tbilisi congregation to the largest Baptist church in the Soviet Union, located in Moscow, as a symbol of love and fellowship.  Eighteen years later, the Rev. Dr. Louie D. Newton, Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance and President of the Southern Baptist Convention, visited the U.S.S.R., meeting both religious and political leaders, including Joseph Stalin.  Dr. Newton was a member of a Russian War Relief delegation of Americans who were invited by the Soviet government to inspect the uses of post-World War II relief gifts from the United States.

In the evening of August 8, 1946, Dr. Newton preached at the Moscow Central Baptist Church and shared in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  After the worship service he was gifted with the Tbilisi Chalice.  Following his return to the Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was pastor, Dr. Newton traveled around the United States with the chalice as evidenced by newspaper clippings showing him holding the treasured vessel.  One newspaper, the Protestant Voice, described the chalice as “a holy grail of peace.”

The location of the chalice became a mystery until a series of events unfolded, beginning in February, 2010.  Archbishop Songulashvili was conducting research for his dissertation in the Angus Library at Regent's Park College, Oxford, England, when he discovered information about Dr. Newton’s trip to the U.S.S.R.  He contacted his friends, Drs. Frank and Susan Broome, at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, the archival home of Dr. Newton’s personal papers, and requested information.  As a result, the Archbishop learned that Dr. Newton was given a chalice that once belonged to the Baptist church in Tbilisi.  Dr. Susan Broome also mentioned some photos she had seen of the chalice.

Nearly 65 years after the chalice was presented to Dr. Newton, a search revealed that it was not part of Mercer’s library holdings, nor was it at Druid Hills Baptist Church, the American Baptist Historical Society’s archives in Atlanta, or the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville.  Dr. Susan Broome tells what happened next: “A few nights later, just as I was about to fall asleep, I suddenly had a vision of an anteroom in Newton Chapel on our campus. I had a vague memory of photos on the wall related to Dr. Newton, since the chapel was named for him a number of years ago.”

When she entered the unlocked room on March 25, Dr. Broome turned on the light and found “the chalice right in front of me as the centerpiece of a display of photos, printed documents, and other objects.”

The Archbishop was able to travel to Macon on November 5 and describes his visit: “The first thing I did was to go to the university library where Susan was awaiting with the chalice. That day I held it reverently, still being unable to believe that it was found.”

Soon Mercer’s president, William D. Underwood, announced that the chalice should leave Macon, Georgia and be returned to Tbilisi, Georgia. On Wednesday, November 10, 2010, the chalice was formally presented to the Archbishop in the University Chapel by Dr. Susan Broome and the Dean of the Chapel. It had been more than 142 years since the chalice was given to the Tbilisi church by Nikita Voronin, the church’s founder.

The communion service at Eastern University was 83 years from the time the chalice had been removed from Georgia. The Executive Committee and staff of American Baptist International Ministries, ABC/USA officers and staff, and Drs. Frank and Susan Broome of Macon, Georgia participated in the September 15, 2011 service along with Eastern University students and faculty.

The Archbishop summarizes the miraculous set of events that led to the conclusion of this story: “The chalice was found, owing to the friendship, cooperation and partnership of a great number of people in the United Kingdom and the United States. Had I not been doing my research in Oxford, had I not been friends with the Broomes, and had they not been interested in the country of Georgia, the chalice would never have been found. It would have remained in the chapel anteroom in Macon without anybody knowing its significance. I want to thank everyone whose help and kindness made this miracle possible.”