Presbyterian Mission in Europe:
A Historical Overview
by Duncan Hanson
The history of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) work in Europe and the former Soviet Union during 1944–2004 is too rich to be told in a single article. This article can only present an overview of Presbyterian mission in parts of Europe.
European Churches Become Part of
Many theologically trained persons from Hungary became pastors of Hungarian-speaking congregations. Hungarian immigrants came to the United States in waves, between 1848 and the late 1950s. Some Hungarian immigrants joined existing Presbyterian congregations. Others founded Hungarian-speaking congregations; six of those are now related to the PC(USA). Approximately 40 still-existing PC(USA) congregations were founded by Czech immigrants during the years 1890–1910.
Europe Becomes a Presbyterian Mission Field
The first challenge of La Cimade was to find a way to offer shelter, meals and welcome to refugees leaving Alsace and Lorraine for other places in France. Then, in June of 1940, France surrendered to Germany; Spaniards, who were suspected of “Republican,” or antifascist, tendencies, along with foreign Jews, were herded into camps. Shortly thereafter, French Jews were arrested as well. The Cimade staff, all women, found creative ways to enter these camps and minister to the detainees. Just before the end of the war, the World Council of Churches and the Swiss Reformed Churches offered 20 large barracks to Cimade to assist in relief and rehabilitation in France and Germany.
Some leaders of the French Reformed Church were shocked at the idea of a “missionary” coming to one of Protestantism’s oldest churches. “L’Europe devenue champ de mission, vous vous imaginez?! (Europe is becoming a mission field, can you imagine that?)” Partly in response to such comments, the Board of Foreign Missions changed the title of those whom it sent abroad, from “missionary” to “fraternal worker,” a title that became, for several decades, the standard nomenclature for all Presbyterian appointees serving outside the United States.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is still thought of warmly in a number of European churches because of the work that was done or supported by Presbyterian mission after the end of World War II.
Learn more about Presbyterian Mission in Europe by reading the full text of this article in the March/April 2009 issue of Horizons.
Call (866) 802-3635 or subscribe to Horizons or order the March/April 2009 issue (HZN-09-210; $4 plus shipping).
Duncan Hanson was, for many years, the Europe Coordinator for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Maps by Jennifer Thermes/Photodisc, World Views.
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