Beside the Danube


Breakfast time view of the Danube

For six days in July I was in Budapest in Hungary with the Revd James Breslin, our previous Clerk to Assembly, representing the United Reformed Church at the 14th General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). This was somewhat more luxurious than one would expect at a URC Assembly, with accommodation in luxury hotels and a brand new conference centre as the main venue.


CEC Assembly in session

The dominant business was the revision of the CEC constitution, partly to make CEC a more coherent organisation and partly to save money. It might be kindest to draw a veil over the extraordinary, frustrating and incredibly slow process used to achieve this revision, which left me grateful for many of the aspects of a URC Assembly that we tend to take for granted. Doubtless it was always going to be hard to reach agreement amongst 115 different Churches, especially when technical detail was being translated between three different languages.

The first main aim of CEC is to provide a voice for Europe’s Churches in discussions with the institutions of the European Union. The absence of the Roman Catholic Church from CEC obviously handicaps this but there was some evidence that having CEC is better than not having it. The second main aim is to provide support for the smaller churches of Europe, especially those who feel under pressure from their governments or a dominant religious group, Christian or other.  The Assembly briefly came to life when we heard first hand stories from places such as Serbia or Syria where speaking out as a Christian is to risk life. The prayers and moral support of other Christians matter to those are at the heart of such struggles.


Gazdagreti Reformed Church, Budapest


Reformed Church interior








CEC visitors with Pastor Thoma (right)

The best part of the visit, however, was when Assembly members split up into small groups and dispersed around Budapest to worship with local congregations. I was in a group who visited a Hungarian Reformed Church built in 2004 in a growing and prosperous suburb of the city. A membership of 233 support the stipends for three pastors, who work with a deliberately small team of seven Elders. I was able to bring a greeting from the United Reformed Church to the congregation in which all ages were represented. After three baptisms, the meaty 37-minute sermon set out the Reformed understanding of the sacrament of baptism. The CEC visitors had the privilege of excellent simultaneous translation, so we were able to participate fully in the service before having a delicious Hungarian lunch with the English speaking Pastor Thoma. Here, rather than in cross debates over the size of CEC committees, was the World Church a true Christian fellowship.

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