The year 2000 saw the celebration of 1000 years of Christianity in Hungary. The Hungarian Reformed Church (HRC) was formed in the 16th century. It is a confessional church with its standards of faith based on the Heidelberg Catechism. Through the Hungarian World Council(HWC), autonomous HRC ‘Districts’ in five European countries are linked together, along with members of the Hungarian Reformed Council (HRC) mostly in the USA, Brazil, Argentina and Australia.
Governance within HRC is ‘Pres-copalian’; that is there is a bishop to oversee each District with responsibility for the appointment of all ordained ministers, while at congregational level, oversight is in the hands of the ‘Kirk session’. (Interestingly, this mix of ‘Anglican’ and ‘Presbyterian’ practices is not unlike that used by the Church of North India).
Wars and political developments in Europe over the past two hundred years or more have seen significant changes in national boundaries as one or another empire has come and gone. Whilst it is relatively easy to redefine political boundaries, peoples do not move so easily. Thus today it is estimated that around one third of all ethnic Hungarians live in countries outside Hungary, many in neighbouring countries in the Central European region.
The population of Hungary is around 10 million of which some six million are Catholics and around one and a half million claim affiliation to HRC. In Romania, where there are two million Hungarians in a population of 22 million, around 750,000 Hungarians are affiliated to the HRC.
Members of HRC are Hungarian speaking and, in Hungaryin particular, where they make up the second largest religious group, HRC is viewed as a State Church. Government recognition means that much of the church’s income comes through state taxes (not unlike the position of some churches in Germany).
This is in marked contrast to the situation in Romania, where ethnic Hungarians are a significant minority and are treated very much as second class citizens. Here the Hungarians have a strong sense of ethnic identity and most are anxious to point out that they do not consider themselves to be Romanian.
In Europe, there are nine HRC Districts –
HRC is very traditional in regard to its liturgy and has a Calvinistic approach to worship. It is a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC).
HRC’s diaconal work includes the running of primary, secondary and third level educational institutions as well as hospitals.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) began to develop its relationships with HRC in the mid 1980’s and by 1988 a number of direct congregation-to-congregation links had been established. In the intervening years, most of these initial links have lapsed.
In more recent years other links have been established and, under the auspices of the Board of Mission Overseas (BMO), personnel have been sent to serve with HRC in a number of locations and countries. In addition, various BMO, youth and congregational teams have helped develop our understanding of, and links with HRC.
Many of the challenges and opportunities the HRC faces are not so very different from those we face here in Ireland.
Claire Bajko (née Maguire) taught English in two Reformed Institutions in Miskolc in the Tiszaninnen District. She led a Bible study in English for her students and one in Hungarian, in the local HRC congregation, where she worshipped.
Trevor Purvis taught English in the Reformed College in Papa for two years.
Nigel Craig taught English for three years in the Reformed College in Oradea, which in 2000 was re-named and re-constituted as the Partium Christian University, giving Hungarians in Romania the opportunity to study in their own language. During his time in Oradea, Nigel was involved in a number of outreaches to students and to the wider community through a Christianity Explained course and a ministry to street children. In 2001, he married Antonia Csep, an ethnic Hungarian; and in the summer of 2004, he and Antonia were back in Romania, where Nigel fulfilled his ‘summer assistant’ placement in an HRC congregation. Nigel is now minister in Ray & Newtowncunnigham Presbyterian Churches, in Donegal.
In 2004, Jenny Hamilton spent three months (April to June) in Romania, helping in the AKSZA Home for Street Children in Cluj. Now, in September 2005, she is returning there for seven months to stand-in for Ilona at the AKSZA Mission, while the Veres family is back in Ireland on home assignment.
Richard Lynas, from Cairncastle Presbyterian Church, was based in Cluj, where he worked alongside Rev Levante Horvath, an HRC minister who is Director of the Bonus Pastor Foundation (BPF), a Christian mission to addicts and the socially marginalised. Richard helped provide introductory training in psychology and Biblical counselling. He was also involved in helping to establish a missionary training institute and in leading training and youth camps.
Ilona Veres (née Walsh) from Sloan Street Presbyterian Church (Lisburn), has been in Romania since 1993. In 1998, she married Csaba Veres – an ethnic Hungarian. Ilona is currently helping with the work of the AKSZA Home for Street Children in Cluj, while Csaba works with IKE – a youth movement linked to HRC and the equivalent of PCI’s Board of Youth & Children's Ministry(YAC). Csaba and Ilona are also been involved most summers in helping to facilitate various PCI teams to Romania.
Since 2007, Darren and Nichola Aitcheson have served as Houseparents in Caleb House in Cluj, an ‘aftercare’ home for former residents of the Aksza Mission home for street children. Darren and Nicola are due to complete two years' service at Caleb House in the summer of 2009, and will be returning home in August.
For more than a decade, we have sponsored a number of HRC 'Leaders-in-training', who have come to study at Union Theological College (UTC) in Belfast.
In more recent years this has included: