A short history of the Church of Scotland in Budapest
Beginnings: The Chain Bridge, a camel & a broken leg
In 1839 two Scottish missionaries set out for Palestine to reach out to the Jews. Riding on camels, one of them fell off the camel's back, broke his leg and they were forced to return home. However, when they were on a boat travelling from the Black Sea up the Danube, they both fell ill and had to stop in Budapest.
Archduchess Maria Dorothea, one of the few Protestant members of the Habsburg royal family, looked after them. She told the missionaries about her deep concern about the state of the Hungarian Reformed and Lutheran churches and sent them back to Scotland with a request for help.
From 1840 to 1849 Budapest's first bridge across the Danube, the Chain Bridge, was being built and Scottish chief engineer Adam Clark asked for English language church services to be held for his workers and their families. In 1841 the Church of Scotland sent its first three ministers to Budapest with a commission to establish an English-speaking church, to reach out to the city's Jewish population, to work with local protestant churches and to help the poor. A school was started in 1846, funded by Jewish Christians.
Early engraving of the Chain Bridge
Under right-wing and leftwing dictatorship: WW II and communism
Jane Haining, the most famous person associated with the church, became matron of the school's girls' home in 1932 in times of rising anti-Semitism throughout Central Europe. She returned from holiday to Hungary after the start of war in 1939 and remained throughout, to look after the welfare of the mainly Jewish girls.
The church and school were brought under the protection of the Swedish embassy by Raoul Wallenberg, a diplomat who sought to save Jewish lives. Many Jewish families survived by hiding in the church and school. Yet like Wallenberg - who died at the hands of the Soviets Miss Haining was to pay a high price for her bravery. She was arrested by the Gestapo in early April 1944, shortly after German troops occupied Hungary. She died of disease, according to the German authorities, on July 17 after two months in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. There are memorials to Miss Haining from both the Church of Scotland and Budapest's Jewish community in the church hall.
Jane Haining as a younger woman
Red Army soldiers stabled horses in the church during the 1944-45 siege of Budapest. Then the Communist authorities nationalised the school and church in 1950.
Hungarian and Englishlanguage worship was kept going on a monthly basis, however, by Hungarian Reformed Church ministers, including Rev János Dobos, whose granddaughter is a member of the congregation.
Recent history: A home for 99 years
After the collapse of communism, weekly English language services started again and the congregation was given the name St. Columba's. Since 1990 the Church of Scotland has sent three ministers to Budapest: Alison MacDonald, Susan Cowell and Ken MacKenzie. The congregation are being served by a number of interim pastors through 2006.
In October 2002, on behalf of the Church of Scotland Trust, representatives of the congregation signed a 99-year lease with the district council of Budapest's district VI to use the church, in return for a nominal annual rent. The agreement has given the congregation greater security in its use of the building, the status of which had been uncertain ever since 1950.
This has enabled the congregation to press ahead with extensive renovations, believing that God will continue to use the church as well in the future as He has in the past.
And how did Shofar Congregation get to this historical building?
The first meetings of
our fellowship started in 1999, in a small flat, in the city. Every Friday
evening, sometimes more than ten people came together in a small room to
celebrate the beginning of the Shabbat. When we had our first Passover
celebration in the spring of 2000, a Christian organization invited a Messianic
Jew from London to teach in Budapest. But they couldn't find a place for the
conference and called
us for help. That time we met Ken MacKenzie, we spoke about our fellowship, and
mentioned him this problem. He willingly offered the building, and moreover, he
invited us to have our regular Shabbat services in the main hall. Since that
time we have been coming together twice, sometimes three times a week,
in this beautiful building.
Because of the language differences we cannot do so many things together, still we have got a close, brotherly relationship with the leaders of St. Columba's Church.
We are thankful to God, that we can continue the work, that was stopped here in 1945. There are still people, how remember the sacrificial love they experienced here, and we always tell the new generation visiting our services all the things happened among these walls.