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Reformed Churches in Romania and the Ukraine - Slideshow

A slideshow or worship in Hungary.


Observations and reflections on the worship that sustains Reformed Christians in East Central Europe

During my first visits to Hungarian Reformed churches, especially in the Ukraine, I was struck first by the traditional, somewhat somber worship style, so traditional, in fact, that the women and girls, men and boys all sit in separate sections of the church. They take communion separately, and they leave the sanctuary separately. Worshippers in Romanian villages follow similar traditions. However, in the larger cities and bigger churches these patterns do not exist. Families sit together and communion is not segregated. In Hungary, it is rare that one finds segregated seating patterns, especially in the larger cities. I was also struck by the intense and deeply moving singing, especially of the psalms.

The liturgy, quite consistent over the churches I visited, resembles that found in many Christian Reformed churches thirty or forty years ago. Pastors lead all aspects of worship, and lay participation is limited to the music, either playing the organ to lead corporate singing or the cantor's vocal leading of unaccompanied singing. In many congregations the singing is in unison, but in some, as in Szaszcsavas, Romania, they sing in harmony.

Hymnals contain the Genevan psalms and depending on the region, contain a varying number of hymns. The differences in number and type of hymns reflect regional differences both historical and theological. In Transylvania, Romania, for example, the influence of the Puritan and Pietist movements reduced the number of psalms to forty of the best-loved and most familiar, replacing them with Anglo-Saxon hymns. However, the hymnals used in most other Reformed congregations contain all 150 Genevan psalms.

The psalms are sung throughout the different regions of the Hungarian Reformed Church, but with different frequency depending on the pastor and the inclinations of the cantor. Everyone knows and loves Psalm 90, and it always sung at funerals. For the older generation, those who survived the Communist era, the psalms have a deep and rich meaning and are sung slowly and intensely. They have passed along this tradition to the young people who formally learn the psalms in confirmation classes. The young, however, do not personally share the history of their parents and grandparents and through the wonders of 21st century technology, are becoming familiar with western music (both popular and popular Christian music), much to the chagrin of some of their elders. Others, those of Transylvania's Christian Endeavor movement, for example, welcome new ways to praise and worship without abandoning the richness of the old. In one young Budapest congregation that worships in a community hall, we sang both hymns and psalms led by an ensemble of musicians that included a guitar, keyboard, violin, and recorder. They face the challenge of maintaining the richness of the old while recognizing the influence of the new.