Yes, here I am after what has been a two week hiatus from writing. A lot has happened in those two weeks, including feeling somewhat settled in this new place.
Good morning, Budapest!
I took a day trip a week ago and traveled to Budapest where I met my United Methodist Bishop, Bruce Ough. He was attending a Council of Bishop's meeting at St. Stephen's University just outside of the city and I was glad to meet with him and learn more about the work of the Methodist Church in the area. One of the things that I mentioned to him was that people here always say, "yes, [Thad]'s working with our church but he grew up in the Methodist church." I always add that I went to a Lutheran college to show my ecumenical stripes I suppose. But I have to say that I don't consider myself to be well versed in the theological differences between the two, so I therefore don't feel the need to make Methodist or Lutheran important in my identity, especially when I introduce myself. In any case, Bishop Ough made the very good point that identity is very precious thing in this part of Europe. Today's adult generation in Hungary still remembers when identities were suppressed under communism, giving identity an even greater value today, whether that is expressed by language, religion, nationality, or citizenship.
We also talked about the language of "conversion" that is used quite a bit in the Lutheran Church of Hungary, or at least in the area I live. This past weekend, I met a Lutheran pastor who studied for a year in America; his plain spoken comments on this culture of conversion are very insightful. In America, he says, Christianity is a very natural thing. Here, people look at you and wonder why you think the way you do and why you do things like go to church. His comment may not be representative of all of Hungary, but it makes a good point. The work of the church is not a natural part of communities in many parts of the world.
Bishop Ough was able to meet with a Gypsy congregation in Budapest and see how the church is making a difference in their lives. In a country of small villages and few skyscrapers, churches are usually the tallest buildings on the horizon. Some are old and neglected, others are old but alive and flourishing. There are exciting things happening in churches across Hungary and I'm glad to have a few glimpses at this work so far.
St. Stephen's University in Godollo, outside of Budapest