The RCH has 1,249 congregations (local churches). They are considered the most fundamental unit of our church, based on the principle: "the church exists in its congregations." The RCH is structured and governed according the presbytery-synodical system.
In order to organise church life on regional and national levels, the RCH has established higher structural bodies for church legislation and operation: 27 presbyteries, four districts and the General Synod. Presbyteries usually contain approximately 30-40 congregations and have mainly administrative roles; each Presbytery belongs in one of the four church districts: the Cistibiscan Church District (centre: Miskolc), the Transtibiscan Church District (centre: Debrecen), the Danubian Church District (centre: Budapest), or the Transdanubian Church District (centre: Pápa). The ultimate source of church legislation and administration of the Reformed Church in Hungary is the General Synod.
The RCH (as a member of the family of Reformed churches in the world) is constructed in a representative way from below, from the congregational level. Members of governing bodies on all levels of the church are elected by a group of church members, and in all levels above the congregation pastors and lay people are represented equally.
The church levels function independently providing various kinds of service and using their own budget. Our common church constitution, together with a set of specific rules and regulations, makes it possible for different units of the church to create their own operational design, to collect maintenance fees, to rent out church buildings and other properties according to their needs. However, for certain transactions they depend on higher church bodies. These general rules allow for freedom and flexibility in the congregations' operation, but they also protect the integrity of the church: a value that is highly important in our service. Interestingly enough, this Calvinist representative system and method of church governance, which was first used in the 18th century United States' Constitution, became the pattern for present-day democratic election procedures.
How our church operates and supports its institutions, mission and services.
The Reformed Church in Hungary is an important venue for community building. After World War II. the state deprived the economic foundations of our operations without compensation. After the change, partial restitution took place, which affected the real estate property of the church. However, most of the operable assets have not been reinstated, and their compensations not set. The returned property caused cost growth instead of income generation for the church. As with every registered church, the RCH is entitled to establish educational, social and healthcare institutions which, based on the principle of separation of state and church and the equal treatment of institutions providing public service, are financed mostly by the state on a per capita basis. As this is a designated financial mean, it does not enrich the operational core budget of the church.
Basically, local congregations are self-supporting. They must guarantee financial means to cover all the material and personnel costs related to the operation of the congregation, including the salary of the pastor. Congregations do this from the yearly contributions of enrolled members, weekly and designated collections and from other offerings.
The structure of the RCH, unlike several European churches, is not centralised (e.g. pastors are not paid centrally), and therefore, there is no consolidated budget of the RCH. The core budget, which includes the operation of all levels and ministries of the church, except congregations, the pension fund and the operation of institutions, is as high as 40,000,000 EUR. Out of this, the only undesignated income for free use through the 1% pledges represents 4,000,000 EUR.
For all these reasons, the RCH relies heavily on 1% pledges of the taxpayers. Similarly to the "Otto per mille" system in Italy, tax payers have the possibility to direct one percent of their paid income tax to a particular church. A second one percent can be offered to an NGO.
In past years, the Reformed Church in Hungary supported the collection of 1% with conscious marketing communication. Through research and experiences of campaigns, we are more able to effectively succeed in reaching those strata of Hungarian society, who are most open to the messages of the church. In recent years, the central element of communication was to introduce and demonstrate that the church is not only a faith community but also active in social work. This year our communication is likely to draw attention to support of the 1% system reform, which is in the interest of society as a whole and designed to assist the grass-root projects of civil society.
In 2011, following the latest trends in media consumption, the RCH campaigned with to the new generation of technological users in Hungary emloying social media and downloadable applications (iPhone, iPad, Android). Research shows that 40% of our current support base (210,000 people) does not belong to the church.
Explore the 1% campaign from 2012: "We All Sit At One Table."
The year 1989 was a historical milestone for the states of Eastern Europe: totalitarian communist regimes collapsed and the era of democracy dawned. In the new political situation, relations between church and state inevitably underwent profound changes. Since then, people have been free to practice their religion as long as it does not violate the constitution. Hungary being a secular state operates on the basic principle of complete separation of state and church as well as the neutrality of the state in matters of religion. In conformity with the Fundamental Law of Hungary, "the state and churches shall be separate. Churches shall be autonomous. The state shall cooperate with the churches for community goals. Relations of the Hungarian State and churches are regulated by the Church Act." (Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Community passed on 14 July, was modified in December 2011, concordats signed with individual churches and was amended 27 February 2012)
The above-mentioned principles, do not exclude the cooperation between the state and the churches. The legal separation of state and church does not mean separation of church and society. Churches in Hungary are looked upon as important vehicles of society, especially in terms of education, social politics and healthcare. Regardless, the principle of separation has a wide range of interpretation within Europe. In some countries the status of a state church still exists, in others there is church tax system, again in others church buildings are owned and maintained by the state. In Hungary, the cooperation is focused on public services (education, social services and healthcare) and some other fields, like army chaplaincy, etc. For providing public services through church owned institutions, the churches are entitled to per capita state support.
Another way of supporting non-institutional social ministries is the 1% tax system. Taxpayers are granted the right to designate 1% of their tax to be transferred, in the year following the tax year, to a designated, state-recognized beneficiary.
The following article gives an insight into the reactions of the Reformed Church in Hungary to the new Church Act:
In February 2013, the Hungarian Constitutional Court ruled that certain provisions of the Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities were unconstitutional. The Court determined it was a constitutional requirement that the state provide a fair process regarding the acquisition of church status, including the right to appeal in accordance with the freedom of religion principle. According to the Court, the Church Act did not address the requirement of justification for the proposal of church recognition or for the decision of refusal. There was also no time limit for Parliament's decision and no right to appeal for the churches. Furthermore, it determined that placing the decision-making solely on the Parliament was in direct contradiction to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, on 11 February 2013 Parliament voted and approved a Constitutional Amendment, which was signed into law by Hungarian President János Áder. The decision overturned earlier Constitutional Court rulings and limited the Court's ability to challenge future Parliament decisions. Among the various areas that the amendment addresses is the Court's previous ruling regarding the Church Act. Now, it has been written into the Constitution that the Parliament alone is allowed to grant religious status to a religious community; a provision the Constitutional Court previously ruled unconstitutional.
This is the current status of the Church Act, but updates will be added as the situation progresses.
Article VII of the Fundamental Law of Hungary:
(1) Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to choose or change religion or any other persuasion, and the freedom for every person to proclaim, refrain from proclaiming, profess or teach his or her religion or any other persuasion by performing religious acts, ceremonies or in any other way, whether individually or jointly with others, in the public domain or in his or her private life.
(2) The State and Churches shall be separate. Churches shall be autonomous. The State shall cooperate with the Churches for community goals.
(3) The detailed rules for Churches shall be regulated by a cardinal Act.
"The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforces those protections. The constitution provides for the free choice or acceptance of a religion or other conscientious convictions, the freedom to practice or abstain from practicing, and the right to exercise or teach one's religion and beliefs in public or in private, either individually or with others, through religious acts and ceremonies or in other ways.
On April 18, the Parliament adopted a new Fundamental Law, which replaces the previous constitution, effective January 1, 2012. The Fundamental Law provides for the freedom of conscience and religion. These rights include the freedom to choose or change religion or any other persuasion, and the freedom for every person to proclaim, profess, or teach his or her religion in public or in private.
Both the constitution and the Fundamental Law separate church and state. The Fundamental Law stipulates that religious organizations shall be autonomous but the state shall cooperate with churches on community goals. Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom."
Excerpt from the 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom of the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, July 30, 2012.
English, German and Korean language services in Budapest
Invitation of tenders for the position as Project Coordinator at the RCH’s Diaconal Office Unit for Refugee Integration
Debrecen - City of Reformation Reformation Walking Tour in Debrecen
In celebration of the 175th Anniversary of the Scottish Mission in Budapest, the RCH talks with Rev Bertalan Tamás, former Minister at the Mission, to hear about his time in the congregation.