Beth Blackwood is spending a year in Hungary serving with the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. To support Beth, or another YAGM, go here. To support another of the ELCA’s more than 240 missionaries, go here.
Where is the church? In college, my campus ministry was the church. Our small worshiping body never had much in the way of attendance and our relationship with our sponsoring congregation was complicated, but this was the community in which my faith most developed. My experience in Hungary has also required me to look beyond the walls of sanctuaries of the Hungarian Lutheran Church to see deeper and more meaningful spirituality.
For the past month or so I have attended a Roma Pentecostal Church meeting on Saturday nights. The group consists of about 12-15 adults who come together to worship and have a deep biblical discussion. A pastor from the county also attends. These people are passionate. They sing loudly and beautifully. They share honestly and openly. And they welcomed me, the outsider, with open arms. Although I only speak some Hungarian, I find these services more spiritually fulfilling than either of the Lutheran services I attend on Sunday mornings.
However, time and time again, people in my community who are non-Roma remind me, “Well they aren’t a church, they are more of a club.” “Why can’t they just come to our church? They don’t need that other meeting.” And why would they want to attend either of the churches in the city? Those few members that attend the Sunday service at the Old Church sit in the very back of an almost empty sanctuary and escape out the back door as soon as the service ends. The Roma Church meeting in Szarvas has no permanent location to meet because they have been pushed out of the other locations and into people’s homes. Yet they open those homes to me every Saturday night.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “We are all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we are all made to drink from one Spirit.” The members of the Roma congregation have shared this Spirit with me, even as they have not been received by the larger faith community. I challenge you to ask yourself, in your church, in your community, in your congregation, who and where is the church? Because for me this year, it hasn’t been in the ornamented, three-story sanctuary, but in the tiny flats in the Soviet housing blocks and in the humble homes on the outskirts of Szarvas.