Scottish missionaries bound for Palestine turn back after one falls off his camel. On their way to Britain they travel through the Austrian Empire, where illness forces them to stay longer and gives them the opportunity to develop ties with the Protestant Archduchess Maria Dorothea. After helping them recover, she urges the creation of a mission station in Budapest where Scottish missionaries can encourage Hungarian Protestants while reaching out to the Jewish community. At her invitation, a new delegation is sent and upon their arrival they encounter Scots and English working on the Chain Bridge.
As a Lutheran member of the mostly Catholic aristocracy, Archduchess Maria Dorothea enjoys religious freedom but all of her actions are observed and she is looked down upon. Longing for a more Pietistic community, and already familiar with Scottish evangelical literature, she promises to use her position to protect the Scottish Mission.
The Church of Scotland’s Jewish Committee appoints Rev. John “Rabbi” Duncan the first missionary in Budapest. Recognising the spiritual needs of English and Scottish bridge builders and their families, he gathers them into a congregation. This arrangement is made possible by his status as Assistant Pastor to the Minister of the RCH’s Pest Reformed Church. Rabbi Duncan started building relations with the Jewish community and its prominent members. He offers personal testimony and distributes Christian literature among Hungarians with the help of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
John Duncan becomes friends with Israel Saphir, a rich merchant and friend of the Chief Rabbi in Pest, who was on the board of the Pest Jewish school. Through their friendship, Duncan makes acquaintances among the Jews of Pest. Israel’s son, Philip, is among the first baptisms. Due to illness, Philip returns from studies in Karlsruhe to Hungary, where he starts the first local YMCA group. From his sickbed, Philip teaches children, and these efforts later lead to the founding of the Mission School. With other relatives, Israel is baptised in 1842. His other son, Adolf, studies in Scotland and is later ordained as a Presbyterian Minister.
With the Disruption of 1843, the ministers of the Scottish Mission join others in forming the Free Church of Scotland. In David Octavius Hill’s depiction of the first General Assembly of the Free Church, John Duncan can be seen as a man wearing a yarmulke and looking at an atlas. The young boy at the atlas is Adolf Saphir. The Reunion of 1929 resulted in the return of the Scottish Mission to the Church of Scotland.
By 1846, the Sunday School work begun by Philip Saphir leads to the establishment of structured classes where Christian and Jewish boys and girls receive education in German without needing to pay tuition fees. Known as Philip’s school, it faces opposition from the government, Roman Catholics, Jews and many Protestants.
In 1852 the Scottish missionaries are expelled by the Austrian authorities for supporting the Hungarians’ fight for freedom, leaving the Mission to local leadership until 1857, when a new missionary could take up the leadership again. As soon as the war ends, the missionaries return to Pest. Because the Brits left during the war, the English worship services are less frequent, but the school’s attendance increases and colportage thrives. The Scottish Mission loses much support in the city, partly because of the removal and death (1855) of the Archduchess Maria Dorothea from Budapest.
Rev. Adrian van Andel brings a new vigour to the Mission. He is convinced that the foundation of a congregation oriented towards biblically based diaconal work is an indispensable step. He and Theodor Biberauer initiate German language worship at the Széna tér Reformed Church and the school. Van Andel is not ordained, that is why he cannot be the minister of the congregation.
Rev Rudolph König starts work as associate pastor to the minister of the Pest Reformed Church, but in fact he becomes the entirely independent leader of the newly formed German-speaking Affiliated Reformed Church that is to become the hub of Evangelical-Pietist revivalism in years to come. Because the German-speaking Church uses the school’s assembly hall for public service, the congregation becomes an integral part of the Mission, representing major progress towards the Mission’s goal of establishing a relationship with the Reformed Church of Hungary.
After years of discussion in Hungary and Scotland, the Jewish Committee launches a Bursary program for Hungarians and Czech students. The Committee hopes not only to revive the RCH but also to involve the church into the Jewish Mission. The Bursary Scheme for Hungarians is approved in 1863. The first student, Ferenc Balogh goes to Scotland just two years later from Debrecen. He also attends the GA and after his speech money starts to be raised for the next years’ scholarships.
Bethesda Hospital is established and maintained by the German-speaking Affiliated Congregation. It was started by the Scottish Mission with the aim of carrying out diaconal work on a biblical basis. Twenty-two years later, in 1888 the German-speaking Congregation and the Scottish Mission separate from each other officially and this way the Congregation is responsible for the Hospital and the School stays in the care of the Mission.
A plot of land is purchased at Hold Street 17, where a permanent school can be built to replace classrooms used on an ad hoc basis. The school is coeducational until 1904, in which it becomes a school only for girls.
Andrew Thom is sent to Pest to assist Rudolph König with the school. Sensing that the Mission should move out of Pest’s German subculture into the larger culture of Hungary, he puts bigger emphasis on the Hungarian language. The “First Awakening of Home Missions” begins with the Hungarian Sunday School network, the YMCA and YWCA, and other home mission agencies.
With its wide range of activities, the mission begins to outgrow the Hold Street property used since 1869. Rev. Webster recommends selling that building and starts collecting money to build a new home for the Mission. Over the years, he will be recognised with honorary doctorates from Hungarian Reformed Institutions in Debrecen, Budapest, Sárospatak and Pápa. The hall in which St. Columba’s worships today was named after him in 1935.
The Mission grows and a girls’ school is built on Vörösmarty Street with Jewish and Christian girls living and learning together. The Mission is known for its religious tolerance and high standards.
During the time of wars, missionaries were called home and the work of the mission was carried out by Hungarians, but soldiers used the school building.
The seed sowed by the Scottish Mission begins to flourish on a national scale. Many mission agencies and associations are born thanks to the engaged work of the missionaries.
Within a three month period, George Knight completes his final exams, is licensed to preach, is ordained in Glasgow, is inducted at the Scottish Mission in 1935, and returns to Glasgow to marry Nancy Eadie. Their ministry together includes a manse with an open door and cups of tea while he gives talks about Christian-Jewish relations, travels for the Bible Society, and leads the mission during the growing war crisis. Many are baptised as a result of the Knights’ hospitality and evangelising.
At various times during the war, the Mission offers shelter to people in danger, ranging from Polish refugees to the Hungarian President Zoltán Tildy. When the missionaries are summoned home, George Knight returns with his family, but Jane Haining, the Matron of the Mission’s Jewish-Hungarian School for girls, chooses to stay. The School, in cooperation with the Good Shepherd Committee of RCH, took part in the Jewish Rescue Program. In the spring of 1944 Jane Haining is taken away and the building is occupied by soldiers. According to some accounts, by the end of the war, every window in the building will be broken and the roof will need repairs. Knight returns in 1946 but in 1948 the school is nationalised.
Under Communism, Scots are not allowed to serve in Hungary. Despite tensions and restrictions of the Cold War era, Hungarian pastors who participated in the Scottish Scholarship program ensure the continuation of the Mission with weekly services in Hungarian and occasional services in English. Within RCH governance, the congregation is considered an outreach of the Fasori Reformed Congregation. Rev. János Dobos is the first to continue the ministry in this way after the war.
As a result of previous work by the Scottish Mission and the British and Foreign Bible Society, including the distribution of tracts and other Christian literature, the Hungarian Bible Society is established in this year.
After the Communist era, Rev Alison McDonald is appointed as the first Scottish minister to serve since the 1940s, as Associate Minister to the Rev. Bertalan Tamás. During her time, the official name St Columba’s is chosen to distinguish the congregation from other mission agencies entering Hungary at the time. As a missionary who carried the Gospel to Scotland, Columba is a fitting namesake.
With the retirement of Rev. Tamás, the Rev Ken MacKenzie is inducted in 2000 as the first Scottish Minister to serve as senior minister since the war, and during his tenure Rev. Zoltán Tarr is appointed as part-time Associate Minister, beginning a new arrangement for how CofS and RCH ministers serve together. Having ministers from both churches recognises 160 unbroken years of partnership in mission, allows the congregation to maintain ties with both churches, and provides necessary stability whenever one of the positions is vacant.
Today the Scottish Mission serves as an international congregation preserving its Reformed identity, and has become a spiritual home not only for Hungarians but for international students living in Hungary, employees of multinational corporations, diplomats and refugees.