This year, as in 2012, Ökogyülekezet (the Hungarian equivalent of Eco-Congregation Scotland) invited a guest from ECS to attend their second annual meeting in Budapest. I was fortunate enough to be the guest from Scotland this year. Having not visited Budapest for 25 years, this presented me with an exciting opportunity to see how the “Eco-Congregation” model translated into a very different church context and a society in which a Communist command economy had been converted into a capitalist state which is now a member of the EU.
About 40 members of Ökogyülekezet attended the annual meeting with a programme that seemed very familiar to me having just attended the Edinburgh ECS Annual Gathering the week before. After a brief act of worship, there were two talks on the theme of “the natural and the non-natural in our lives”. Professor Victor András (Environmental Education) highlighted the all-pervasive impact of artificial compounds (plastics, PVCs, newly developed drugs etc) both beneficial and malign. Then Eszter Karsay (pastor to an urban congregation in Budapest) examined the natural and man-made as revealed in the Bible – particularly focussing on Genesis and the creation narratives. I then concluded the programme before lunch with a talk entitled “Living under the Rainbow – a creation restored by love” in which I tried to weave together recent advances in the science of global change and our response to these challenges (especially climate change and the sixth mass extinction). After lunch there were a series of workshops and I led the one in English which enabled me to explore in more detail some of the ideas I had presented in the morning. A persistent issue was how to present eco-theology to very conservative congregations many of whom were sympathetic to creationism, and to church members struggling with a falling standard of living.
Very familiar challenges common to both Hungary and Scotland emerged throughout the day: getting eco-theological issues seen as mainstream and not just peripheral; obtaining ‘buy in’ from older clergy who have many other demands on their time and getting senior clergy (in Hungary these are bishops!) on board. These challenges have also to be seen against a rapid decline in Hungarian Reformed church membership (down from 1.6 to 1.1 million in the 2011 census – although the format of the question has changed), standards of living undermined by a severe economic downturn since 2008, and global change generally viewed by the populace as a low priority issue. But after only two years, Ökogyülekezet already has a chair (Tamas Kodacsy) and a part time co-ordinator (Boglarka Szucs)) and the second annual meeting showed an increased attendance over 2012 with a good number of young adults contributing. It was a privilege to represent ECS at this second Annual Meeting of Ökogyülekezet and I very much hope that ECS can continue to develop this link to our mutual benefit.
(A report of Alan’s visit can be found on the Hungarian Reformed Church web site here.)