Lee Hinson-Hasty, Coordinator for Theological Education and Seminary Relations, is home now, after a four-month sabbatical.   His wife, the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, a professor of theology at Bellarmine University taught as a Fulbright scholar this past fall at Debrecen Reformed Theological University, founded in 1538 in Hungary.  The Fulbright Scholar Program provided funding for the entire family— including 10-year old Garrison and four-year-old Emme— to be together in Debrecen.    In the second-largest city in Hungary, in the center of the Northern Great Plain region, Hinson-Hasty became “re-centered” by immersing himself in learning from the Hungarian Reformed Church and the “rich, yet tumultuous Hungarian history.”  “They have been oppressed by communist and fascist regimes among others in their five centuries of faith, yet they always find a way forward,” says Hinson-Hasty. “They have economic challenges, as we do, but they’re not giving up, they haven’t ever given up.  I am reminded that we have such a short history in comparison in the U.S. and how rich our Reformed heritage is.”

As Hinson-Hasty began to pray, read, and write about this reflection, he became aware at a deeper level how anxiety and fear that seem so present in church and society had affected him.  “I’m less anxious now,” he says, “because I stepped away from the tyranny of the urgent.   What has been impressed upon me is that there are bigger things in the world than the checklist we tend to make for ourselves to say we are doing God’s work.”

A statue of a phoenix raising out of ashes in a square, beneath a dark blue sky.

The symbol of Debrecen and Hungarian Church – a phoenix rising up out of the ashes, life emerging out of death, the resurrection.

Hinson-Hasty is walking more these days and driving less.  Without a car in Hungary, he got used to “using his feet.”  Everywhere he walked, Reformed Christians would greet him and each other with ”Áldás békesség,” Hungarian blessings for peace, quiet, and serenity.  “I would call that getting centered!”  

Now when Hinson-Hasty walks here at home, he remembers this blessing he received from his Hungarian sisters and brothers, and prays for the global church to experience this kind of peace.  “I wonder if this was a way Reformed Christians identified who they were, especially when the church was more oppressed,” says Hinson-Hasty.  “It was very private, but powerful.  The language of their greeting carried with it the meaning of wanting each other to have wholeness and reconciliation, which would heal the past, have power for the future, and be present in the now. 

Thanks to the extended study leave and vacation policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Hinson-Hasty got to experience the grace of peace and blessing that comes in sabbatical moments.  Hinson-Hasty celebrates how the Great Reformed Church stood at the center of Debrecen as constant reminder of how the Church can be a central witness in our cities.  His son, Garrison, talks to him now about “how he misses walking past the Great Church and singing the hymns at the opening of the school day.”   His daughter, Emme, remembers her friends and her teachers and “how much they loved her. “‘I’m going to tear up,” he says.  “Family, in the deepest sense of the word, matters. Before I went I didn’t understand what impact being a friend would have, but now I’m getting e-mails from people telling us how much they miss us, how they remember when I served communion in one of their churches, breaking the bread as they do with three fingers, passing it to them and remembering our creator, redeemer and sustainer.”

Lee Hinson-Hasty prepare to give Communion in a Hungarian church, with a man beside him.

Hinston-Hasty serving Communion in a Hungarian reformed church.

Hinson-Hasty pauses for moment.  How grateful he is to be Presbyterian— to have the opportunity as leader to “get up in the balcony to see the big picture.”  He has renewed hope about the true possibilities of the global community church. “My friends in Hungary told me how much they wanted to be in relationship with the church in the U.S. ‘We don’t have all the answers,’ they would tell me, ‘but they are living out their Reformed motto to make prayer be our work and our work be our prayer.’  That really became the essence of my sabbatical re-centering. When I left the country the Committee on Theological Education conversation on serving the church in new and exciting ways was at a very generative moment.  As I return, I am pleased to see leadership initiatives spouting across the PC(USA) and our Presbyterian Seminaries that I believe will help the church be a stronger witness in our cities.  I pray work will be my prayer and my prayer will be my work in service to the GAMC and the Committee on Theological Education.

Follow Lee Hinson-Hasty on his blog, a more expansive view: encounters with Presbyterians and our Seminaries.