Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Mission Agency Makes Grant for Roma Church in Hungary

Global Ministries board approved $50,000 grant to United Methodist Roma church. Photo courtesy of Alsózsolca United Methodist Church

By Elliott Wright

New York, NY, April 16, 2013—The oldest United Methodist Roma congregation in Europe is closer to being able to complete its new church building with a $50,000 grant from the denomination’s mission agency.

The Alsózsolca United Methodist Church in the southeastern Hungarian town of the same name has existed since 1952. Worshipping first in homes and then in a small building, the church began construction of a new structure with worship, education and community space in late 2010 but ran out of funds before completing it. The Roma – often pejoratively called “gypsies” – are a growing minority in the area.

Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries, meeting in New York April 11-13, approved the allocation to the Alsózsolca congregation, which averages 150 people in Sunday worship and has strong outreach to children and young people.

The Global Ministries’ grant will allow construction to resume and is expected to provide funds for the sanitary block, including restrooms, shower, laundry and kitchen. It will not cover the full projected cost of finishing the structure.  Approximately $70,000 more will be needed.

The United Methodist Church has active ministries with the Roma in Hungary, where some 700,000 live, and other parts of Eastern Europe. The Roma are one of the poorest and most shunned minorities in Europe.  Their percentage of the population is increasing as their birthrate goes up while those of other ethnic groups are dropping.

The once wandering Roma were “settled” by European governments in the 1960s, often with negative implications for their culture and livelihoods.  Today, unemployment is high among the men, and most of the women have limited education.  The Roma children often do not do well in state-run schools.

The Alsózsolca United Methodist Church has one of the most successful ministries with the Roma people. Such ministries are a priority of the Central and South Europe Central Conference. Alsózsolca produced its own pastor, the Rev. Laszlo Erdei-Nagy, who is the first Roma pastor in Hungary.  The congregation is a rallying point for the Roma community and serves as a bridge to Roma participation in the civic and educational life of the area. It helps to equip children to attend public schools and provides family activities.

The town of Alsózsolca gave the church a choice piece of real estate for its new building.  The laying of the cornerstone in April 2011 attracted hundreds of people. A Volunteer-in-Mission team from Virginia has assisted with construction work, including insulating the building.

The Alsózsolca church is considered a model for Roma ministry in Hungary and Eastern Europe. A wide range of such ministries is featured in the May/June issue of New World Outlook, the bi-monthly magazine of the General Board of Global Ministries.