Reverend Bishop, Reverend, Honourable Mayor, Dear Congregation, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin with a personal comment. When I received the honour of your invitation, I thought I would have to write an address which is appropriate to the occasion – in other words, something profound. I started wondering what to say, and what the focus of my address should be. Then I remembered discussions from my time as a university student, which also involved the Reverend Bishop – whom we called “Soyuz” back then, but that name’s no longer recommended. In those discussions we pondered what the future held for us. There was a joke which went like this:
“So what’ll it be like?”
“Well, we know what it’ll be like. But what about the meantime?”
That was the atmosphere in the eighties, and I believe that when the church-builders here had to lay down their tools, they must have asked themselves the question: “What now?” And they probably said what we said in the eighties: “We know what it’ll be like: at some point in time we’ll finish this church; but what about the meantime?
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In any event, eighty years ago, on the eve of the Second World War, the Pesterzsébet Reformed Church congregation decided to build a church. Because after all, what should you do – what should a community do – when the end of the world is nigh? This is a frequently asked question. There are some who build ships, others plant apple trees, and yet others dig bunkers or plan different escape routes. Your forebears started building a church; and with that a great, elaborate and uplifting story began. How many similar stories there are in the history of the Hungarian people! A community unites, sets about realising a great and noble plan, explores the possibilities, takes account of the resources, and begins building. And then everything takes an unexpected turn. Sometimes grand plans end up at the back of a drawer; that’s one of the better scenarios. In a worse scenario they’re destroyed, and the great enterprise must be abandoned when obstacles emerge which make its realisation impossible. Such a fate is not confined to buildings, roads, bridges or enterprises: nation-building reforms, scientific projects, and indeed spiritual and intellectual construction can be similarly wrecked. Then, at times like this, there is a turnaround, summed up in the phrase: “and yet…” This is the key phrase in our history. “And yet”: despite all obstacles, harmful forces and external delays, the time comes for another door to open, for plans to be revisited, and for unity to be reborn. We even raise the funds, and those who persevered throughout are happy to see fulfilment. “And yet”: these are the words that connect us with the story of the individuals and the peoples from the Bible. How many turnarounds can we read about in the lives of the chosen ones – from Abraham all the way to Jesus Christ? When almost everyone has abandoned hope, there comes miraculous fulfilment and victory.
Today we are celebrating such a fulfilment. A church has been built as it was planned by Bálint Szeghalmy decades ago. How many things were needed for this fulfilment? It needed people to preserve the plan. It needed a community – a congregation – with the desire for it to happen. Incidentally, the first person to tell me of this resolve – filled with hope and enthusiasm as she spoke – was Anna Jókai. It needed the courage and encouragement of church leaders. And, to raise the necessary funds, it needed the strength of a larger community, of the economy of the nation. It also required the recognition which had brought about so many beautiful acts of fulfilment in recent years: the recognition that supporting our church communities brings riches for the entire nation. Churches, schools, homes for the elderly, help for the needy, speaking to the young, comforting the sick and the bereaved, leading our children to faith; these are all acts of service without which we would all be the poorer. And of course, it needed the most important thing of all: the grace of God. After all, everything truly important in life derives from grace.
Today there are many who dispute – or even deny and reject – the intertwining of Christianity with the fate of Europe. We Hungarians believe that Christian culture is not just one source of strength among many, but the source of all strength. It is the cornerstone which bonds the structure of European civilisation together. Without it there is no freedom; and neither is there European life. For two thousand years every major renewal in Europe has derived from Christianity: from the edict of Constantine, through the Reformation, to the foundation of the European Union – a project originally rooted in Christianity. It is important to remind ourselves of this – and particularly important today.
In Europe, churches, nations and culture are united in fate. The citizens of Cologne spent seven centuries building an enormous cathedral for the German nation; they started building it when they were strong and united, and they were able to finish it when they returned to the path of unity. The Catalans believe that they will exist as a nation for as long as they are building Gaudí’s church; they’ve been working on it ever since. And this is how we saw this here: more than eighty years after the foundations were dug, we joined forces and completed this wonderfully beautiful building. Now, with hearts full of gratitude as we inaugurate the church of the Klapka tér Reformed Church congregation, we believe that we Hungarians will exist as a nation for as long as we are capable of such deeds. So, with uplifted hearts, let us celebrate the Hungarian art of church-building and the creative human; let us extol the designers, the builders, the unity of the congregation and the grace that has made all this possible.
Soli Deo gloria!