Chiesa Evangelica Riformata ‘Filadelfia’ (CERF) is the name of the Reformed church in Milan where Rev. Andrea Ferrari serves as pastor.
Its story begins in early 2001 when Alfa e Omega, an organization that translates and publishes Reformed books into Italian, organized some theological conferences in the cities of Milan and Naples. Ferrari, then a pastor of a independent Reformed Baptist congregation in Sicily, was one of the leaders of Alfa e Omega at the time. A few families who attended these conferences began making contact with each other out of concern for the Gospel and the clarity of the Scriptures. Dissatisfied with the theology of the Pentecostal and Roman Catholic churches in which they were raised, they soon formed a core group of believers who wanted to see a Reformed church planted in Milan. They gathered weekly to listen to audio sermons and read Reformed material together. At their request, Ferrari and a colleague began meeting with this group on a monthly basis.
In December 2001, this group rented a small facility in Novate, Milan, in order to meet for worship. The name ‘Filadelfia’ was used for the group, so named after the the church in Revelation 3:8. In July 2002, Ferrari and his family moved to Milan. At the request of the core group, and with the advice of several Reformed Baptist congregations in the USA, Ferrari began to serve this new work as their pastor. Several Reformed Baptist pastors from the States visited the work in Milan and encouraged the small congregation to continue in their efforts of planting a church. In December 2002, with the recognition of several Reformed Baptist churches in the USA, the Milan work was constituted as Chiesa Evangelica Filadelfia, confessing the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
In 2006, Ferrari was introduced to Rev. Michael Brown, pastor of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA, by one of Alfa e Omega’s translators, Simonetta Carr. Carr is also a member of Christ URC. After Ferrari gave a presentation about the work of translating Reformed material into Italian, Christ URC began supporting Alfa e Omega. This led to a relationship between pastors Ferrari and Brown and the respective churches they served.
The Transition to a Reformed Ecclesiology
In 2007 and 2008, Brown and Ferrari began to discuss ecclesiology and the Reformed doctrine of baptism. This was mainly provoked by Ferrari’s deep concern to recover a fully Reformed ecclesiology, including the three-office view of church government and the importance of broader assemblies. In Ferrari’s words, “We as a church felt alone. We realized that our confessional documents did not protect us and that there was nobody who could exercise authority over contentious people who were schismatic in doctrine and life.” Ferrari began to question seriously what kind of churches he hoped to see established in his native land. After much discussion and study of covenant theology and ecclesiology, Ferrari eventually came to a Reformed position on the doctrine of baptism.
In 2009, Ferrari took two mature men in the Filadelfia congregation through an in-depth study of the Three Forms of Unity and the URCNA Church Order. “Later,” says Ferrari, “with the backing of these men, I introduced the congregation to Reformed covenant theology and the Heidelberg Catechism.” In February 2009, while visiting Christ URC, Ferrari met with the Consistory and asked for advice concerning the establishment of a federation of Reformed churches in Italy, modeled after the URCNA. Explaining that no confessional Reformed or Presbyterian denominations exist in Italy, he asked for help.
In June 2009, Brown traveled to Milan where he preached, taught, and enjoyed remarkable Christian fellowship with the saints there. Ferrari and he spent many hours in conversation and thinking through the various options and possibilities before them, as well as seeking wisdom from the Lord in prayer. Upon Brown’s return from that trip, the Consistory of Christ URC made the commitment to respond to Ferrari’s request and help him establish a federation of Reformed churches in Italy.
On January 19, 2010, Ferrari sustained a colloquium doctum examination administered by Classis Southwest of the URCNA. The delegates were deeply impressed with the theological clarity and pastoral sensitivity he demonstrated in his exam.
In April-May 2010, Brown traveled to Milan and, with Ferrari, participated as an official representative of Christ URC’s Consistory in the ordination of two men to the office of elder (Vittorio Calderaro and Domenico “Mimmo” Altobelli), one man to the office of deacon (Giuseppe Ferrari), the baptism of the member children, and the reconstitution of the church as Chiesa Evangelica Riformata ‘Filadelfia.’
Today, CERF is a fully Reformed church with all three offices (minister, elder, and deacon) in leadership. They are the only known church in Italy which confesses the Three Forms of Unity and functions with a Reformed ecclesiology. They are a testimony of God’s promise to build his church and make disciples through the power of the Gospel. Our prayer is that the Gospel will continue to be preached in Milan faithfully for generations, and that disciples will be made through the ordinary means of grace. Soli Deo Gloria!
If you live in northern Italy or plan to travel there soon, you are invited to attend worship services on the Lord’s Day. Worship times are 10.00am and 5.30pm. Catechism classes follow the morning service. You can find directions to the church here.