The Union Church of Istanbul is the first Protestant church in Istanbul.


It was established by members of the Congregational church, the first of whom – William and Abigail Goodell – arrived in Turkey June 9, 1831. Over the next three years they were joined by several other families, and these formed the nucleus of the church. The congregational contingent was strengthened by the arrival in 1842 of Scottish families working in Istanbul and, joining the church, they provided a strong base of support for its continuing work for many years.

Dutch Partnership

In 1857 the incumbent Dutch ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Count Julius van Zuyland van Nyevelt, invited the small congregation to use the chapel on the embassy grounds. The invitation has been renewed by successive Dutch diplomats to this day. This relationship between the Dutch government and the church may well account for the community’s stability throughout the years.

Cholera Epidemic

The English-speaking expatriate contingent in Istanbul swelled when Scottish and other British engineers and technicians came to do work for the Ottoman government. Many of these became regular members, swelling the congregation. The Cholera epidemic of 1865 hit the church as hard as it hit all the people, and it spurred the community to organize itself more deliberately. A Covenant and Creed were written and signed by seventeen members in the spring of 1866, and the long debate over a name was settled the following fall; it would be known as “The Evangelical Union Church of Pera” (Pera then being the name of the district of the city we now know as Beyoglu).

The years of the Second World War, during which Turkey was a neutral power, saw the church struggling to maintain its ministry. It was not until the arrival of Rev. Walter Wiley in January of 1947 that the pastoral situation stabilized. By 1956 the church declared itself to be fully self-supporting, not needing any subsidy from either the American Board nor even from its own endowment. In 1966 the name was changed: the Evangelical Union Church of Pera became simply “The Union Church of Istanbul.”

The “Dutch Chapel” as the building is commonly known, was built in 1711 with funds raised in Geneva and the Netherlands to serve the local community. Since 1857 the Dutch Chapel has been used exclusively by the Union Church, which takes care of building maintenance. Following the establishment of the Turkish Republic and the shift of the capital to Ankara, the Dutch Embassy was moved to that city, and, like the grand properties of other nations, the embassy of the Netherlands in Istanbul became a consulate.