Rivers are no respecters of national borders. The Danube is the second longest river in Europe and makes its way from Bavaria In Germany to the Black sea (Ukraine) passing through or forming the borders of ten countries. Four capital cities are on the Danube: Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Budapest (Hungary) and Belgrade (Serbia).
This week’s journeyings took me to Budapest and Vienna for meetings with the Hungarian and Austrian Baptist Unions.
It is interesting to see the Hungarian Baptist response to all this. The map in the Union office is of the pre-1920 ‘Greater Hungary’ and there is some sense in which the Hungarian Baptist Union feels an ongoing pastoral responsibility for the Hungarian-speaking churches outside its borders, though they are also all members of their national Baptist Unions. The Hungarian Baptist Union numbers around 10,000 members but there is also a World Hungarian Baptist Alliance which meets every few years and attracts around 6000 delegates from Europe and North America.
A lively conversation over dinner explored the question about what place nationalism has in Christian faith and discipleship, especially for Baptists whose belief in their formal separation from the state and the state church has been part of their DNA from the beginning. Hungarian Baptists seem to want to emphasise both their ultimate loyalty to Christ whilst at the same time embracing something of the nationalism which arises from Hungary’s tragic history and unique position in Europe today. Interesting, and it would be good to reflect further on this.
With comparatively few resources the Union is doing some amazing work among young people and refugees and many of its churches in Vienna and elsewhere are ‘houses of prayer for many nations’, despite the (perhaps mistaken) impression sometimes given that the Austrian nation is cautious about foreigners. The Union itself has a significant number of ethnic churches, especially Romanian congregations, and is working well at integrating them.
Questions of nationalism, ethnicity, refugees etc are all about how secure we are in ourselves to be able to reach out the ‘other’ who is different from us. And for those of us who embrace the Christian faith it is sometimes a challenge to ensure that our unity in Christ is not undermined by nationalism. These are important issues in the whole of European Baptist life.
Meanwhile the Danube which flows in through so many nations and several capital cities could perhaps seen as a symbol of the life-giving Power that unites us…..