On Mondays I usually take the bus to Budapest, the largest city in Hungary and its capitol. The national church offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH) are located on Ulloi Ut (think Higgins Road in Chicago for the ELCA). This is where much of the church administration happens, including the central offices for all the diaconal ministries, the Lutheran schools, international and ecumenical relationships, finances, communications, and publishing. I work on this blog and on the English ELCH webpage as part of my work here. I also help with conversational English.
At the national offices I meet weekly with an English conversation group to help them improve their spoken English. There is also a German conversation group, since much of the shared work of European churches happens in English and German. Some people are preparing to take their next language proficiency exam. Others just want to be more able to converse with visitors or answer phone calls. They are thoughtful, interesting, creative, and delightful people. I wish you could meet each of them. I also meet individually with some department heads whose work requires an even better command of the language. I am privileged to get to know the inner workings of this church by getting to know its leaders.
One of the structural ways that the ELCH is different from the ELCA is that there is a lay person in an equivalent position to every clergy position. One lay person serves as the equivalent to the Presiding Bishop and has just as much influence. Each of the deans of the county conferences (LMK), and each of the three bishops has a lay counterpart. Like us, each congregation has a church council, called the presbyterium, and one person from that groups is the lay leader in parallel to the pastor. These are church leaders who have a great deal of responsibility in decision-making and setting the vision for the church. I have been blessed to get to know some of them. They do their work with grace and faithfulness.
The church in Hungary faces many of the same challenges that we face in the ELCA. Many of the congregations are aging. Many of the buildings will need expensive maintenance and repairs very soon. There may not be enough pastors to serve all the congregations. Many of the pastors are stretched too thin and face burn-out. How do we share the gospel with the next generation? How can our churches respond to the diversity of our world? How will we speak and act on issues of justice and peace? We need the wisdom of our church leaders and God’s guidance during this time of transition in church and society. Let us keep all our church leaders in our prayers.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you. Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon. Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:17-21