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History

The Reformed Parish in Oberwart, Austria
(Evangelical Church of Helvetic Confession)
 
Reformed Christians live side by side with Roman Catholics and Lutherans in the town of Oberwart in the Province of Burgenland. Their parish is the only one in Austria that has been in continuous existence since the Reformation. 
The parishioners are descendants of the former royal Hungarian border guards, who had been living in this area for more than a thousand years. The name "Oberwart" (upper frontier guarding area) refers to their history. The border guards were raised to noble rank, they reported directly to the king. During the Counter Reformation, neither sovereigns nor magnates were able to force them to join the Catholic Church. However, the storms of the Counter Reformation did not pass over Oberwart without leaving traces. The original parish church was violently occupied by German mercenaries in 1673 and returned to the Catholics, even though the entire population of Oberwart confessed the Reformed faith at that time. A marble plaque recalls the "Reformed past" of what is today a Catholic church building, dating back to the Middle Ages, the steeple of which was built by Reformed Christians. 
Subsequently, the parish held its services in a wooden church for almost one hundred years. In 1681, the Provincial Diet at Sopron ruled that the Reformed church in Oberwart was to become a so-called "Artikularkirche" (i.e. one of few tolerated places of Protestant worship) serving a very large area. Even before the Toleration Act, the parishioners fought for and won the right to build the present church, which was constructed in 1771 - 73, ten years prior to the Toleration Act of Emperor Josef II. 
The Reformed church in Oberwart is thus the oldest Protestant church in present day Austria. The old vicarage of the parish was built in 1784 and is one of the oldest and most beautiful arcade-buildings of South Burgenland. It is a protected cultural property. 
Today the Reformed parish in Oberwart has approximately 1400 members. Services are now conducted both in German and in Hungarian. The community, which was originally all Hungarian, became part of Austria along with the province of Burgenland after the First World War. It is now a valuable member of the Evangelical (Reformed) Church of Helvetic Confession in Austria. 
Throughout the centuries, their sense of commitment to the Lord has prompted the parishioners to take responsibility for and to shape the fate of the parish. The democratic Presbyterian principles of the parish have shown the way for the future development of the town goverment. True, the parish is only a Diaspora, a small isolated minority, but it has acquired great importance in the past and also in the present. The Reformed school, which came into being in the 17th century, was a famous institution, until it was taken over by the state in the year 1938. One of the oldest cultural institutions of the province of Burgenland, the Reading Circle of the Reformed Youth, founded in the year 1889, has continuously played an important role in organizing the cultural life of the parish. The Reading Circle has within ist framework a large Hungarian library, a folk dancing group, a group of amateur theatricals, and a large variety of cultural events. It has acquired importance as an upholder of the Hungarian culture of the minority and it has encouraged the cultural life of the parish to come to fruition. 
On an international level, the parish has gained prominence in many parts of Europe through the "Oberwartkonferenz" ("Conference of Reformed Ministers in Europe") as well as through the many German and Hungarian language church services broadcast from Oberwart throughout the past decades, which in difficult times have been a source of spiritual strength for the faith of fellow Christians in many parts of Europe. 
The parish has played a leading role in creating a spirit of brotherliness between the members of all Confessions in Oberwart and in the realization of oecumenical activities. Many oecumenical services and other oecumenical functions have helped the parishioners along on their way to mutual understanding and appreciation of each other. 
Of most importance, however, is the ever-willing and clear witness this parish bears to the Lord, Jesus Christ.