Still emerging from the shadow of the Iron Curtain, the Reformed Church of Hungary (RCH) is constantly seeking new partners to come alongside it in its search for its role in the new Hungarian society.
“About 1.6 million Hungarians identify themselves as ‘Reformed,’” says the Rev. Balazs Odor, a former campus minister here who is now the RCH’s ecumenical officer. “But not many are church members, so re-envisioning our mission involves many communication and identity issues.”
The challenge in Hungary is similar to that in other former Soviet bloc countries in central Europe ― how to overcome a half-century of communist domination during which the church was viewed with a combination of suspicion and hostility.
“In some places churches are taking over basic services that would ordinarily be handled by the state,” Odor says, “like firefighters and health workers. So of course one thing we can provide is training and volunteers.”
To do so, the RCH has established an organization ― Reformed Church Aid ― that is similar in scope to the social service ministries of western European and Scandinavian churches, which have a rich history of social service ministry.
And, of course, U.S. church partners. “We have been talking about a relationship with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance,” Odor says. “We are small and learning and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance can teach us many things about organizing volunteers, communications and collecting contributions.”
Like many central European churches, the RCH is also trying to reach out to the Roma ― commonly called “gypsies” ― one of the most discriminated-against ethnic groups in the world. The Rev. Richard Otterness, a mission worker of the Reformed Church in America, and his wife Carolyn work closely with the RCH in its evangelistic and development programs with the Roma and also has very close ties to the PC(USA) through the Burkhard Paetzold, the PC(USA)’s regional liaison for central Europe.
The RCH works with Roma in Hungary and in neighboring Ukraine. The Rev. Eszter Dani, head of the RCH’s Mission Department, is a frequent visitor in western Ukraine, where she works closely with the PC(USA)’s Nadia Ayoub in Roma church development and children’s ministry.
Other neglected groups the RCH’s diaconal work seeks to address are the elderly, the disabled and addicts.
This year, the RCH is hosting a young adult volunteer from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who is helping the Hungarian church beef up its communications.
“Communication is a key issue for us because we must change the perception of the church in our country,” says Odor. “How the church is perceived is directly related to how the church is accepted and supported. We are facing so many challenges and our resources are so limited.”