Saint Margaret’s Anglican-Episcopal Church
Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Most Anglicans around the world are probably familiar with the famous Christ Church Cathedral of Canterbury, England, the seat of the Archbishop and one of the oldest – and loveliest -- church structures in England. Fewer however may know of Canterbury’s modest Church of Saint Martin, just a short walk away from the Cathedral grounds.
But Saint Martin’s, Canterbury – if you are not aware -- has the distinction of being the oldest church in continuous use in the entire English-speaking world. Its function as a church in fact predates even the arrival of the great missionary to England, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, in 597 or thereabouts. And, some of the walls of that ancient church are still extant.
Should your travels ever take you to Canterbury, I highly recommend visiting the great Cathedral, of course, but also Saint Martin’s. As I stopped there some years ago, I tried to imagine “the great cloud of witnesses,” as the Book of Hebrews calls all those who have professed the faith in ages past – the great number of faithful believers who over the centuries have worshiped at this most sacred site.
By now, there must have been several thousands of them, I reckoned. Perhaps even over ten thousand. Among them, churchwardens and clerics too many to count. Day-labourers, attorneys, businesspeople, shopkeepers, factory workers, soldiers, sailors, scoundrels, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the homeless and destitute too. All of them part of this singularly holy place. All of them faithful witnesses of the Gospel over the centuries. Most of them, alas, forgotten in the history books, but not in the Book of Life.
And then, on my walk back to my Canterbury hotel, I thought too of Saint Margaret’s, back in Budapest, where I had just recently before become Chaplain. No great cathedral for us, I mused, although back in 2013 we did have a catacomb-like chapel not far from the Centre of town. Many of you will remember the church near Almássy Square.
In any case, Saint Margaret’s cannot count centuries of worshipers, the ministry having only been founded officially in 1992, although Anglicans have been worshiping in Hungary since at least the late 1800s, and probably even long before that. During Communist times, the community – still nameless back then – met and worshiped at the British Embassy.
I once counted as best I could – since 1992 – some ten or so worship sites used by Saint Margaret’s. I would have to corroborate the list with Canon Denis, our first residentiary chaplain. There may have been more. At one time, we shared space with Saint Columba’s. And, we used for a while a community room at the Magyar Szentek temploma. We also met, if I recall correctly, at the British School. And, so on.
So, in some sense, we could not be more different than Saint Martin’s, Canterbury, firmly rooted in the same spot for well over a millennium. And, I am not at all sure what the good people of Saint Martin’s would make of our peripatetic faith journey so far from their corner of England. Perhaps they would pity us for our lack of grounding in place. On the other hand, maybe they would count us lucky for not having the upkeep of an ancient structure to maintain and worry about constantly.
And so here we are this morning in yet another place – this beautiful church of the Józsefváros Lutheran Church -- worshiping for the first time in this locale. In some sense, itinerants still. Yet grounded not in bricks and mortar, but in faith and love. It is no doubt fitting that we should begin – and renew – our common ministry here on All Saints Day. For, we too like the good people of Saint Martin’s, Canterbury, can call upon a cloud of witnesses to our faith, among both the living and the dead.
The Hungarian language of our members, neighbours, and families reminds us that Church is more than templom. More that is than a building, no matter how old and beautiful. It is as well egyház, an ancient Magyar word meaning a sacred house, in other words, a communion of Saints. And, egyház Saint Margaret’s surely is and surely shall remain even if, some thirty or forty or a hundred years from now, a preacher then counts yet another ten or twenty worship sites as part of our history.
Our Lord himself had no great cathedral or synagogue to call his own. He often met people in open fields, as we see in today’s Gospel account. He here calls together – arguably for the first time ever – the Church, the Church gathered at his feel upon the plains of Galilee, and for the first time he calls its members blessed, or holy. Blessed in prosperity. Blessed in adversity. Blessed in weeping. Blessed in laughter. Blessed in hunger. And, blessed when filled. Blessed when loved. And yes, blessed even when reviled and hated.
The same applies of course to the people of Saint Martin’s and to us, the people of Saint Margaret’s, and to the people of every church community throughout history and throughout the world today. For, we are all the blessed, all the holy ones of God’s love.
The task of the Church after all, as Jesus goes on to describe it, is to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. [To do to] others as you would have them do to you." As long as we do that, I believe, we need not worry where we are or where we are worshiping. For, we will then know who we are. And, most importantly, whose we are.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs