Calvin United Church of Christ is celebrating 110 years in the ethnic Hungarian Birmingham neighborhood of East Toledo.
More than 110 years ago, immigrants from Hungary were flooding into Toledo. Fleeing the spread of fascism and Nazism, Hungarians arrived in America, and eventually settled in cities like Toledo in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Many of them arrived as skilled tradesmen and women, worked as bricklayers, steelworkers and machinists. Others were skilled seamstresses, embroiderers and bakers.
They came as Protestant and Catholic alike, looking for better lives. What they did not know at that time was that they would significantly help to build a city from trades they learned from their “mother country.” Many of the Hungarians who arrived brought a vision of faith.
In 1903, a small group of committed Hungarian Protestants gathered on the East side of Toledo to build a church. The Magyar Református Egyház—The Hungarian Reformed Church of Toledo was formed. The official signing of the articles of incorporation occurred on the 16th day of June, 1903. The church leaders listed on the Articles of Incorporation included Gabriel Bertok, John Yakcsi, John Takács, Paul Materni, John Kankulya, Andrew Kondi, and Stev. P. Harsányi.
The name of the church changed from Magyar Református Egyház several decades later after the merger of the Congregational Christian and Evangelical and Reformed Churches in the United States as the four denominations became part of the newly formed United Church of Christ. In 1962, the Magyar Református Egyház became Calvin United Church of Christ, identifying itself with the Calvinistic theology of John Calvin. Although the majority of Calvin’s members now live outside the Birmingham neighborhood, the church continues to maintain strong ties with Hungarian culture and heritage.
Ties are maintained with both the Northwest Ohio Association of the United Church of Christ, as well as the Calvin Synod of the United Church of Christ. Hungarian foods are prepared throughout the year. Kolbasz (Hungarian sausage)-making is a big event. The Lorantffy Society continues to bake bread and meets weekly to make fresh homemade noodles. Nearly all members join together to help bake, cook, and serve food at the Birmingham Ethic Festival each August.
The vision from the forebears of Calvin United Church to build up and train young people in their faith continues today. As the church celebrates the oldest and largest Vacation Bible School in Toledo beginning at Calvin in 1904 or 1905, today the church celebrates the training of one of its own, Juli Bertalan, who is in the process of discernment for Christian ordination in April 2014.
The celebration of 110 years in Birmingham will be Sept. 29 with two services of worship at Calvin United Church of Christ, 1946 Bakewell St., Toledo. The first will highlight the church’s past. The Rev. Imre Bertalan and Juli Bertalan will co-preach at 10:45 a.m. Special music will include Ron Szilagye, saxophonist. A 3 p.m. service will highlight the future vision of the church. The Rev. Mary Wood will preach.
Special music will include “Revamped,” a violin duo from State College, Pa. A traditional Hungarian Dinner will follow the 3 p.m. service at Bayside Boardwalk, Oregon. Reservations are requested.