We serve well if our work has a positive impact on the congregations – claims István Bogárdi Szabó. We asked the pastoral president of the Synod about major public church duties in 2016, the relaunch of the Church Revision Committee, the relationship between our Church and the state as well as the persecution of Christians.
How do you evaluate the first year of your pastoral president service?
Actually, this was only a bit more than six months, which is too long and too short at the same time to give an objective valuation, especially when you are in the midst of it. Maybe the audience in the grandstand already sees after five minutes whether this is going to be a good football match or not, although the match itself is 90 minutes long.
How was the last year of the Church, seen from the “midst”?
Many events took place in 2015 that nobody really expected one year ago. We – the entire country, including the Churches and every single individual – were also affected by these global tendencies. This time last year I would not have thought we had to tackle the migrant crisis, which was more like an immigrant matter in early spring before becoming a clear-cut refugee issue in the summer, after which it was again handled as an immigrant issue and now a security policy affair. We had no option but to make a declaration, but looking back, I am glad we did not hurry to take a stance. In the meantime the Church still had to live its normal life. I am deeply thankful to God that we were not beset with any particular, spectacular or threatening problem that would have given cause for hysteria while “the Seas of Sorrow boil with a rage” around us, as the Hungarian poet Berzsenyi put it, and our Church could spend this year in peace and harmony.
What will be the main focuses of the 2016 Synod work?
The Synod still aims to make recommendations, adopt laws and lay down operating procedures that serve the life of the entire ecclesiastical community better. If the congregations cannot enjoy the fruits of our work, or local services are hampered, then we do not fulfil the mandate we received from them. With all my heart and strength I will make sure that this aspect will never be neglected. It is essential to strengthen and broaden the scope of duties of the specialist committees appointed by the Synod, specifying in discussions what we expect from them. The General Synod Council will have more meetings, simply because life “demands” smaller operative bodies to be convened more frequently. In agreement with the Presidium Council we would like to restructure the Synod Office: it would partly become closer to the business of the Synod and the committees, but it would also partly turn into an official unit responsible for services and administration – in the good sense of the word. We can only progress slowly, step by step, since we are on a “moving vehicle” so to speak.
During Advent the Presidium Council consulted with the members of the Church Revision Committee (CRC). What did you agree on?
The result of the Church Revision Committee’s work was accepted by the Synod leaders as a document inviting debate at the closing meeting of the previous cycle. The Committee members originally received a mandate for providing recommendations, inspiration and thoughts, i.e. developing a vision, for the entire Church community, one that would represent a dedicated view – for the smallest congregation to the biggest, including various ecclesiastical branches. We felt that the authors of this thick and powerful document ignored this aspect at some point. At our meeting on 2 December we agreed with the original members to trace back to at least the point where the committee’s work was transformed into the preparation of an ecclesiastical reform package. They undertook to arrange the aspects specified in the document in the order of importance. We also agreed that during this year – following due preparations – we would hold a “public synod” that is not simply the legislative council of the appointed Synod members, where there is rarely more than 15-30 minutes for each topic, but a several-day long forum where participants recommended by the CRC and the Presidium from various fields of the Church can talk through the topics recommended by the Revision Committee.
Last year again there were several professional and leadership negotiations between the state and the Churches. How do you see the cooperation?
The most important thing we can say is that there is cooperation. We receive answers to our questions, even if not always immediately. We have the chance to discuss anything we want, even if we cannot always put over our point of view. The new church law, for example, was preceded by lengthy and complex discussions on various forums. Our lawyers conducted negotiations, the historical churches consulted, while church leaders and the heads of ministerial departments had meetings with each other. Albeit not all, but a good number of our ideas and recommendations were accepted. We hope that a new church law will sooner or later settle this much-debated issue. We have also entered into a new seven-year cycle of EU financing. I am not saying that this is going to be the seven plentiful years for Churches, but it has become clear – as a result of our negotiations – that we can apply for certain tenders as a Church. We must prepare for this: in this year’s budget we have already segregated a pre-financing reserve whilst establishing a tender office within the Synod Office, where we deal not only with public church tenders but also help congregations with their tender applications. We consult with the state on educational matters, social services, prison and military chaplain services, etc., and the list goes on. We’re busy.
In a declaration in November the Presidium of the General Convent draws attention to and calls on humankind to eliminate the reasons behind the migrant crisis. What can the Church do?
This is a complex question because not only those wishing to live under better circumstances migrate to Europe. When there is no drinking water, and nothing grows, it is a legitimate response to migrate somewhere to stay alive. Environmental protection is easy enough, since as a matter of plain common sense, but even looking at it from a Christian point of view, you cannot reconcile yourself to how people today treat our world. In fifty years we managed to ruin one third of the cultivated land on Earth, seeing the stars at night in Budapest is almost a holy event, and I could go on. We all perceive these problems, the solution is self-evident in a sense; we can look upon it as a task allocated to individuals, families and congregations. But many are forced to leave their home because of wars, changes in regimes and religious persecution. We face a shocking persecution of Christians around the world. At the beginning of December I learned that the European Union had taken an official stance on this question. Those with great influence in our world’s fate, national leaders, monarchs and politicians finally noticed that this is not “hysteria” generated by some sensitive Christians who believe their brethren are being hurt, but indeed an issue affecting the future of the entire region. In Europe, Christian Churches do not really have a strong influence, to be honest. Nevertheless, we must continue to make our voice heard, and address the leaders we can reach, hoping that these aspects will perhaps also be taken into account in decision making.