The capital with the eye of an expat

Isten hozott

Many lifetimes ago in Edinburgh one Sunday, I made for the nearest cathedral to get Mass. I thought all cathedrals were Roman Catholic. I knew no different until the giveaway – the tell – that part of the service where I realised that the celebrant (who happened to be male) wasn’t just giving the Mass their own spin.

The tell is the extra couple of lines to the Our Father – For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen. I’ve never heard that in a Catholic Mass.

Fast forward a few decades and I’m in Budapest talking religion. On three separate occasions three different lads invited me to visit their church, St Margaret’s, and hear their priest, Fr Frank, preach. It took a while but I got there eventually.

At 10.25 on a Sunday morning I was searching Szentkirály utca for something that matched my image of a church. Nothing. Then I saw the sign – Anglican Service here at 10:30 – outside Józsefvárosi Evangélikus, home of the Budapest-Józsefváros Lutheran Church, Szentkirály utca 51.

Upstairs, on the second floor, there’s a Lutheran Church that the Anglicans use on a Sunday morning. Who knew!

There was a guest preacher that day, so I didn’t get to hear Fr Frank preach. But we did get to chat when it was over and arranged to talk further. This time I didn’t wait so long.

Rev. Dr Frank Hegedüs, a lively septuagenarian, who is the chief representative of the Anglican Church in Hungary, pointed out that they approach things differently in the Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian church after Roman Catholic (RC) and Greek Orthodox. Originally ordained an RC Franciscan before becoming an Anglican, he’s well-versed in how both churches operate.

It’s fascinating.

The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe (aka the Bishop in Europe) is the head of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe and Anglican Communion in Europe covering some 150 congregations as Fr Frank put it, “from Madeira to Vladivostok, from the North Pole to Turkey”.

In the RC Church, the Parish Priest pretty much rules his parish. There’s a hierarchy, a pecking order from Pope down to Curate. Priests (all male) can’t marry. In the Anglican Communion, lay Churchwardens and Councillors participate in running things. The priest can offer ideas and suggestions but the Church Council also has a decisive role to play.  Perhaps because of the Reformation and Henry VIII’s dissatisfaction with Rome, laypeople now have a voice and a vote in how their church is run. A double-edged sword maybe? Each year, regular congregants can have their names added to the Electoral Roll, attend the Annual General Meeting and have their say.

With elements of Catholicism (we share the same lectionary), Anglicans have two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist. They honour the other five sacraments (Confession, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction) but many Anglicans see them more as sacramental rites. As Fr Frank noted, for most Anglicans they’re all-inclusive, unlike Catholicism, where only six of the seven apply to women.

The Anglican Community isn’t new to Hungary. In the late 1800s, priests serving the British diplomats in Vienna could come to say Mass in Budapest. Around the same time, the Esterhazy family in Tata had imported several British horsemen to take care of their horses. They also needed ministering. The small Anglican chapel in Tata is still there.

St Margaret’s of Budapest was founded in the early 1990s. Named after the English princess St Margaret of Scotland who was born in Mecseknádasd, Hungary, in the 11th century when her family was in exile, its congregation comes mainly from Britain, North America, Africa and, of course, Hungary.

Fr Frank’s ties to Hungary go back to before he was born. His father was born in the village of Kány in north-eastern Hungary some 30 metres from what is now the Slovakian border. Located in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén megye, a county best known for its Tokaj wine, Kány is notable for being the only Hungarian community that was crime-free for one recent year. It also has the highest church (Greek Catholic) attendance of any community in Hungary. Today it has a population of about 45-50.

In 1913 Fr Frank’s grandparents took their 2-year-old son and emigrated to the USA, to Muskegon, Michigan, then a burgeoning automotive hub that would become increasingly industrialised. It was there Fr Frank was born in the late 1940s. He quipped that he was 12 or 13 before he realised that the sky was blue… and not greyish-pink.  (He quips. He really does.)

His chequered church career began in 1974 when he was ordained a Conventual Franciscan (Greyfriars) in the RC Church where he practised until 1980. Armed with a doctorate (D. Min.) in Theology specialising in pastoral counselling, he worked variously as a counsellor, a financial planner and a stockbroker, picking up an MBA along the way. In the 1980s he came to know an Episcopal priest who, coincidentally perhaps, had been ordained in the Anglican Communion on the same day and in the same city back in 1974 that Fr Frank had been ordained in the RC Church. He started attending the Episcopal Church in Minneapolis and was received as a priest in the US Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in 1987.

For much of the next 20 years he was a part-time or what he calls a “weekend priest” in small parishes or an assistant to other priests in larger parishes. He continued to work as a counsellor and psychotherapist, his ministry not being confined to the church.

Coming up to retirement age in the USA, he wasn’t quite ready to sit back and do nothing. He’d been to Hungary several times and was keen to come back. Around the same time, Canon Denis Moss, a New Zealander who’d started St Margaret’s in Budapest in the 1990s, had retired. Fr Frank put his name forward to the Bishop of the Diocese in Europe asking to be considered as his successor.  This was in 2010. Since then, he’s been doing what he does best at St Margaret’s.

They do good work, the Anglicans. They support Menedékház, a shelter for homeless families. They’re involved in supporting the Next Steps programme, helping refugees resettle. Fr Frank starts each service with the words Isten hozott – God brought you to us. And in recent weeks, Africans previously studying and working in Ukraine have found in St Margaret’s an open door and a supportive community.

It’ll take me some time to get my head around the Anglican Communion and who is called what, where. For now, I’m grateful to have been invited to a Sunday service (not that an invitation is needed – anyone can show up). I might even go back.  There are more similarities than differences theologically between the two churches. But when it comes to structure, they’re poles apart. The joke – I’m not a fan of organised religion; I’m an Episcopalian – has a truth to it.

Mary Murphy is a freelance writer, copyeditor, blogger and communications trainer. Read more at |  |

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