RCH delegation led by Presiding Bishop István Szabó is in Lebanon for conversations with church leaders of NESSL and UAECNE before visiting Syria. As a sign of the unique relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Middle East, the church leaders of the RCH signed a bilateral memorandum with church leaders of NESSL and with those of UAECNE on March 27.
Over the last few years, the partnership between the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) and the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE) and the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) has developed and been strengthened through mutual personal visits as well.
By supporting the Sunday school project and the scholarship for church schools in Syria, the RCH has maintained the partnership with the churches in the Middle East. The Sunday school project aims to foster and enhance the presence of Christians during the war times and provide a safe environment for children to learn and grow. The churches that take part in the project are centers promoting peace and love to and for children from diverse backgrounds, and have become beacons of hope to the people in their communities. The scholarship project provides financial relief to the parents, allowing them to continue to send their children to the schools of NESSL and UAECNE, where these educational institutions serve as an important part of the identity of the church institutions and of the future of Syria in promoting love, inclusivity, and mutual understanding.
After the RCH delegation visit to Lebanon and Syria in 2017 and the official visit of the Syrian Reformed Church leaders to Hungary in 2018, RCH Presiding Bishop István Szabó, together with representatives of the RCH church districts, presbyteries, local churches, Károli Gáspár University and the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) are in Lebanon and will be visiting Syria from March 26 to April 1, 2019.
In Lebanon, the delegation engaged in conversations with church leaders of NESSL and UAECNE, and met with the president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and pastor of NESSL, Rev. Najla Kassab. Additionally, the delegation visited the Near East School of Theology (NEST), meeting with the president of the Theological school, as well as other representatives. During the visit to NEST, the possibilities of study and exchange programs between the theological academies of the churches were discussed.
Highlighting the visit in Beirut, Lebanon, Rev. István Szabó signed a Memorandum of Commitment with Rev. Megreditch Karagoezian and Rev. Harout Selimian, representing the partnership between the RCH and the UAECNE and the Armenian Evangelical Community in Syria. After visiting the UAECNE headquarters, the Hungarian delegation have met representatives of the NESSL, where RCH presiding Bishop and General Secretary Rev. Joseph Kassab have also signed a memorandum as an expression of the special relationship between the two churches.
In addition to being members of the WCRC, by signing these documents, the churches also express their dedication to a stronger cooperation on various fields of church life: "Sharing resources and expertise in the fields of humanitarian assistance, diaconal service, community development, Christian education and pastor training, and concerns regarding the situation of Christians being forced to flee their homeland."
As stated in the Memorandum, the churches are giving special attention to the situation of persecuted Christians.
"Reading the signs of our times, we are especially concerned by the great human suffering and political difficulties that our people are facing in the Middle East. We have been greatly disturbed by the incidents of violence that innocent civilians and entire communities, especially Christians, have been subjected to. As 'Ambassadors for Christ' in promoting peace and reconciliation, we strictly condemn and oppose any form of religious discrimination, oppression and persecution. In our cooperation, we, therefore, give special attention to helping Christian communities to remain and serve God in their homelands and be witnesses to the Good News of Christ, and thus invite and encourage others to join and support our common mission."
Memorandum of Commitment signed with UAECNE and NESSL respectively
Together we recognize that the basis of the Church's existence and mission is that the redeeming will of God has become manifest in Christ. Consequently “it is necessary that there always should have been, and should be now, and to the end of the world, a Church” (Second Helvetic Confession) which is called to be a sign, foretaste and servant of the Kingdom of God in the world through proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the world in both word and deed.
As members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), we recognize each other as true members of the one Church that is “committed to God’s saving purposes for the transformation of the world”. We confirm that the special relationship between our churches is based upon our common commitment to and equal partnership in the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.
Reading the signs of our times, we are especially concerned by the great human suffering and political difficulties that our people are facing in the Middle East. We have been greatly disturbed by the incidents of violence that innocent civilians and entire communities, especially Christians, have been subjected to. As “Ambassadors for Christ” in promoting peace and reconciliation, we strictly condemn and oppose any form of religious discrimination, oppression and persecution. In our cooperation, we therefore give special attention to helping Christian communities to remain and serve God in their homelands and be witnesses to the Good News of Christ, and thus invite and encourage others to join and support our common mission.
Together we commit ourselves to support each other in this ministry and to develop our cooperation among the different areas of our Church life. Our commitment to Christian values, to human dignity for all, to just peace and reconciliation, to human rights of minorities, and to equal citizenship in our societies of all communities, irrespective of their religious and ethnic background, is unquestionable. Our cooperation shall include, but not be limited to, sharing resources and expertise in the fields of humanitarian assistance, diaconal service, community development, Christian education, and pastors’ training, as well as encouraging congregational partnerships, solidarity visits of church officials, and exchange programs for pastors, experts, and young volunteers.
Both churches give thanks to God for this relationship and look forward to the future, in Christian solidarity, as we seek to walk together in the footsteps of Christ and continue to pray for each other. “Christ is our future, together we follow Him”.
In Syria, the RCH delegation will visit Evangelical congregations, schools, and diaconal projects of NESSL and the Armenian Evangelical Community, including the reconstruction projects in Aleppo which were able to continue with the support of the Hungarian government.
The Hungarian Reformed representatives were accompanied on March 27 by a group of RCH young adults led by Rev. Péter Bedekovics, head of the National Youth Office, from the RCH who had been attending the International Ecumenical Youth Meeting in Lebanon from March 22-26.
The delegation led by Rev. Szabó includes:
Rev. Dr. Károly Fekete, Vice Presiding Bishop of the RCH Synod and Bishop of the Transcibiscan Reformed Church District
Mr. Tibor Ábrám, Vice-Lay President of the RCH Synod and Lay President of the Cistibiscan Reformed Church District
Rev. Zsigmond Vad, Convener of the Ecumenical and International Affairs Committee of RCH Synod and Dean of the Debrecen Reformed Presbytery
Mr. Márton Juhász, CEO of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid
Mr. Gyula Sümeghy, Director of International Relations at Károli Gáspár University of the RCH
Rev. Dr. András Harmathy, pastor of the Reformed Congregation in Szentendre
Rev. Balázs Ódor, Ecumenical Officer of the RCH
Ms. Szabina Sztojka, Seminary Student of Károli Gáspár University and Student Associate Minister of the Scottish Mission
Mr. György Feke Editor-in-chief of the Reformatus.hu
Ms. Diána Erdélyi Ecumenical Secretary of RCH, member of WCRC Executive Committee
Written by Priscilla Yang
Photos by András Harmathy and György Feke