The First Hungarian Evangelical & Reformed Church

The First Hungarian Evangelical & Reformed Church

Founded in 1904

Hungarian Reformed Church
9901 Allen Rd
Allen Park, MI 48101
Phone: 313-382-1001
    The origins of the congregation known as The First Hungarian Evangelical and Reformed Church of Detroit are deeply rooted in the community which still bears the name of Delray. This thriving community on the outskirts of the City of Detroit, beckoned with promise to the emigrant population at the turn of the century. It's many small and large industries offered employment opportunities to the new arrivals from Hungary and elsewhere.

In the matter of a few short years a sizable Hungarian community was established, and in 1904, on October 27th to be exact, the founding fathers of our congregation obtained a state charter incorporating as "The Magyar Reformed Church of Delray, Michigan."

Within less than two months, the congregation elected its first pastor, Rev. Zoltan Domeny, and began plans to construct a church edifice on West End Avenue at Vanderbilt, on vacant property it had purchased a few months before. However, internal problems held up the building plans and in the following year Rev. Domeny resigned and returned to Hungary. (It should be noted that at this time the congregation was affiliated with the Reformed Church in Hungary.)

The congregation received its second pastor from Hungary, Rev. Laszlo Tegze, whom it elected on November 1, 1905. The building plans are resurrected and the first edifice completed in September, 1906. With the completion of the church building the burden of meeting construction costs became too great and three years later Rev. Tegze resigned. The congregation remained without a pastor for approximately five months, until the parent body in Hungary supplied a candidate for the vacancy, Rev. Stephen Borsos.

Rev. Borsos began a career which lasted until 1921. In the meantime, following World War I, the Reformed Church in Hungary became incapable of providing financial assistance to its congregation in the United States, and recommended that the congregation merge with the Reformed Church in the United States. A formal agreement, known as the Tiffin Agreement, so-named because the agreement was signed by the parties at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, was accepted by the two church bodies on October 21, 1921. Not all Hungarian Reformed congregations in the United States favored the merger, and as a result many congregations formed an independent church body or affiliated with other denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church in America.

Rev. Borsos resigned in 1921 but continued to supply the congregation until June, 1922, at which time the congregation elected a new pastor, Rev. Michael Toth, from Alpha, New Jersey. Rev. Toth commenced a building program which the leadership embraced enthusiastically. The program included the rebuilding of the church edifice as well as the construction of a parsonage and social activities building.

The new buildings were dedicated on January 22, 1928 amidst impressive ceremonies. While the total building costs have been estimated from $125,000 upwards, the congregation enjoyed growth in membership and income sufficient to be able to meet the payments. Unfortunately, in less that two years the "Great Depression" of the 1930's brought such economic and social changes as to completely nullify any possibility of repaying the large indebtedness of the building costs.

Although the mortgagor agreed to reduce the principal on two occasions, the remaining balance still created a serious financial problem. At about this time the congregation suffered a tremendous loss in membership due to internal problems, and Rev. Toth resigned his position as pastor.

On August 1, 1941 the small remnant of the congregation elected Rev. Zoltan A. Vajda of Chicago, Illinois, as its pastor. The young minister began a rebuildinng program with enthusiasm, and slowly but surely the congregation grew in strength, completely wiping out its indebtedness in four or five years. During the years of World War II practically every religious institution in this country experienced a sudden increase in attendance at services. Our congregation was no exception to this rule, as Sunday after Sunday, the number of worshippers increased.

With the cessation of hostilities and the safe return of servicemen, a decline in church attendance was experienced throughout the nation. However, the congregation continued its building program, adding a magnificent pipe organ (which is still in place today), bells and chimes, to enhance the spiritual aspect of the worship services.

Rev. Vajda served the congregation for more than 23 years, and died at a comparatively early age in the fall of 1964. Due to his inability to carry out the duties of his office during the latter days of his life, the membership of the congregation declined. However, the leadership of the congregation, with the help of the then president of the Magyar Synod, also known as the Calvin Synod, took prompt steps to fill the vacancy created by Rev. Vajda's death.

In December of 1964, the congregation elected as its pastor, Rev. Laszlo Vatai. Dr. Vatai began the arduous task of rebuilding the congregation. His task was made the more difficult in the period with the exodus of members of the Hungarian community from Delray. While at one time the percentage of church members living in Delray approximated 90 percent, gradually the movement towards the downriver suburbs by the Hungarian population reversed this figure.

Nevertheless, during the more than 11 years as pastor of the congregation, Rev. Vatai served well the needs of the members who remained in the Delray community, and his ministry extended to young and old alike, with emphasis upon the nurturing of a true Christian fellowship within the congregation.

In April of 1976, Dr. Vatai accepted a call from a Hungarian Reformed congregation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and tendered his resignation from our congregation. This resignation was accepted with a great deal of regret, and again, the leadership of the congregation took up the task of finding a successor. The search was rewarded with Rev. Joseph Sirmay, then pastor of a Hungarian Reformed Church in Buffalo, New York, accepted the call. Rev. Sirmay was duly elected at the congregational meeting held in April, 1876, and assumed his duties a few weeks later.

After coming to the congregation, Rev. Sirmay had to work diligently with the church leadership, seeking to find a solution to the difficult problem of maintaining the aging church structures in the face of ever increasing inflation. At the same time, the congregation had to face the problems of an ever changing neighborhood. However, this problem is not one which confronts the congregation alone, but it was the same problem facing all denominations in the Delray community, whether Catholic or Protestant.

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