Partner Church in Transylvania
First Unitarian Church of Louisville was partnered with the Unitarian Church of Nagyenyed in the Transylvanian region of Romania. In recent years, that partnership has gone on hiatus.
History of the Partner Church Program
Historically, Transylvania was part of Hungary – save for a brief period of time as an independent kingdom in the sixteenth century. After the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, Transylvania was awarded to Romania. Almost all of the surviving Unitarian churches (which at one time had numbered over 500 and now is about 160) in East Central Europe thus became not only a religious but also an ethnic minority in the vastly enlarged Romanian state. In the nineteen twenties the old American Unitarian Association instituted a “Sister Church Program” to match American with Transylvanian churches because for a time it looked as if the persecution of our co-religionists would entirely wipe out Unitarianism.
Louisville was one of one hundred Sister churches in the United States. It was linked to Kadecs, a farming village. By 1990 there was no memory of this connection in Louisville (though when I visited Kadecs in ’97 the people there remembered the partnership with Louisville and were pleased to hear news of it). Very few memories of those old connections with Transylvanian Unitarian churches survived anywhere in the US. Even the most successful partnerships broke down during World War II and the forty years of isolation under communism. Just prior to the so-called “revolution” in Romania in December of 1989, the UUA began to receive reports of a renewed danger facing the Transylvanian churches. The highly nationalist Ceaucescu dictatorship, intent on eliminating the “Hungarian problem,” proposed a kind of final solution. The proposal was to create large agro-industrial centers to which village populations would be moved and the villages razed. The effect would have been to mix the Hungarian population with the Romanian majority where, cut off from the roots of their culture — which was on the land and in their villages — it could be easily assimilated. Had this plan not been stopped by the fall of the Ceaucescu government the Unitarians would have lost the vast majority of their ancient churches. the threat was sufficient for the UUA to attempt to revive the old Sister Church program.
Louisville was among the first churches in North America to respond to the UUA’s mailing about the need for renewed partnerships. At the Annual meeting in 1990 the congregation passed a recommendation from the Board that we enter into the program. In July we received a letter saying we had been partnered with Nagyenyed, and we began what has become a long correspondence. Because of our involvement I was invited to a meeting held during the General Assembly in Charlotte, NC, to discuss the problems the UUA was having in administering the program and to propose solutions. The essential problem was that the UUA had neither the staff, the finances, nor the expertise to adequately supervise the rapidly expanding program. It had never really had “foreign missions” and therefore had little experience in dealing with people with different cultures and histories than our own. The eight or nine of us meeting in Charlotte decided that the only way to adequately deal with the Partner Church effort (at that time still called “the Sister Church Program”) was to create a membership organization separate from the UUA and to work closely with Dr. Judit Gellerd. Judit was the daughter of a famous Transylvanian Unitarian minister, Imre Gellerd, and had been living for some time in the United States. She was passionately committed to the cause of saving Transylvanian Unitarianism and had the knowledge and contacts in Transylvania the program desperately needed. We founded the Partner Church Council then and there, with Leon Hopper of the Bellevue, WA, church as President and Judit Gellerd as General Secretary. The rest of us, along with several others who soon came on board, constituted the Executive Committee and began to build an organization. (by Richard Beal)
Description of Nagyenyed
Meaning and Pronunciation: “Nagyenyed” means Big Enyed in Hungarian. As far as I know there is no longer a “little Enyed.” Perhaps Little Enyed was originally a small village, which over time was surrounded by the adjacent town and incorporated into it. “Nagy” is the Hungarian word for “big” and is pronounced Nadge (the “a” sounding like the “a” in Andre, the “d” being suggested rather than fully articulated). It’s okay to simply refer to the town and our Partner Church as “Enyed.”
Location: Looking at a map of Romania, Transylvania is the region in the northwest of the country, bordered by Serbia on the Southwest, Hungary on the West, and Slovakia and the Ukraine on the North. Most place names in Transylvania have Romanian, Hungarian, and oftentimes German equivalents. Thus you will find the provincial capitol of Transylvania listed on most maps as Cluj-Napoca. In Hungarian, and as used here on the web page, it is Kolozsvar (“var” means “castle”). Once you locate Cluj/Kolozsvar on a map, you will see that just to the Southeast is a smaller city: Turda/Torda. And south of Torda you’ll find Aiud/Nagyenyed. Enyed is somewhat separated from the majority of the Unitarian churches in Transylvania, which are further to the East in a section of Transylvania called the Szekelyfold. But it is central to the area in which the major events of the 16th century in Transylvania took place and the Unitarian church was founded.
Description: Enyed is a small city. It borders on the Maros River, but the town was located on a hill some distance from the river, probably for defensive purposes. By North American standards the Maros is a small river, but it is the principal river of Transylvania. On one side of the town the land slopes down to the river. On the other side rise higher hills, which are part of the Torocki range of small mountains. The higher portions of the hills are forested, but the lower slopes are covered with vineyards. Enyed is one of Transylvania’s better wine producing centers. The major industry of the city was iron working, but the factory has been shut down and a good percentage of the population became unemployed. It is also well known (or notorious) as the site one of Romania’s most brutal prisons. The two major cultural institutions of Enyed are the large “castle” or “fortified” church in the center of the city. For a time it was Unitarian. But when a Calvinist Prince from Enyed, Bethlen Gabor, became ruler of Transylvania he not only took the church from the Unitarians but also banished them from the city (they could come into the city only when the gates were open).
The Bethlen Gabor Gymnasium (or high school) is a famous Hungarian institution in Transylvania. Many of the region’s most important men, women and historical figures have been its graduates. It is located just off the City Square and now houses grades from primary through high school. Teachers in Transylvania are required only to have special training in Gymnasium in order to teach and Bethlen Gabor is also a well-respected pedagogical school.
Because the school offers classes in Hungarian many Hungarian students from villages in the area board at the school or live with families in Enyed during the week in order to study there. It now has Unitarian students and the minister of our Partner Church teaches them the religious education the State provides in public schools.
Description of our Partner Church
At the time of the granting of Transylvania to Romania there were vast disruptions to the lives of the Hungarian population. This was particularly true for young villagers, many of whom had to move to nearby cities to find work. This was the case in the Unitarian villages near Enyed. So a city which had had very few Unitarians living in it suddenly had a population sufficient to support a church. In 1928, with help from Hungary, a small church was constructed. The Unitarians in Enyed had originally been promised a site on the city’s marketplace, which would have been a prominent location near the Calvinist, Catholic and Lutheran churches. But the Romanians also wanted to have a church in Enyed, so a large Romanian Orthodox building was erected by the government (and took over the entire marketplace). The church is now on a small plot of ground, on the banks of a very small tributary of the Maros, about a ten minutes walk from the square. As you face it the minister’s garden is on the left, as well as a small building housing a parish hall. On the right is a small orchard containing a carved wooden post memorializing George Enyedi – a very important leader of the early Unitarians in Transylvania. The building is a two-story structure of brick covered with stucco. The minister and his family live on the first floor. The sanctuary is on the second, reached by a flight of steps on the facade of the church. It has a small bell tower, which contains a bell originally belonging to a Unitarian church deep in the mountains. That church was destroyed during the troubles that accompanied the Romanian occupation of Transylvania and the men of Enyed, accompanied by guards, took oxcarts into the mountains and brought the bell back when the Enyed church was being constructed. The sanctuary is small, seating about eighty people when they really crowd together. For large services, when they can number two or three times that number, people stand outside and listen to whatever floats out through the windows and the open door. It is pulpit-centered and has a small reed organ. Like all Unitarian churches in Transylvania it is decorated with panels of embroidery (in Enyed’s case red on white embroidery). In front of the pulpit is a round Communion table also covered with an embroidered cloth. The Transylvanians celebrate communion four times a year (Harvest, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost) as a memorial meal. When we first visited there was only a small wood stove in the sanctuary, but it is now heated with gas.
The Minister and his Family
The minister of our Partner Church is the Reverend Botond Sandor. (In Hungarian the family name comes first, so in Transylvania he is the Reverend Sandor Botond. His nickname is “Boti.” His wife, Eva (pronounced “Ava” with a long A) is a teacher at an orphanage school in a neighboring village. They have two sons, Ursi (pronounced “er-shi,”) and Elod (pronounced “el-ood” — as in “hood”). (In Hungarian the accent always comes on the first syllable.
Ors and Elod are both now in college. Ors is studying animal husbandry and Elod is studying history and plans to be a teacher. Elod would like to come to the United States to study for a year.
Boti and Eva have been ministering in Enyed for over twenty years. Originally Boti wanted to become a botanist, and this is still his avocation. But when it was time for him to go to university there were no places for Hungarian students (you had to be very well connected in the Communist Party if you wanted an advanced education) and his father was a Unitarian minister, very suspect because of that. The Bishop, the leader of the Unitarian church in Transylvania, offered Boti a place at the seminary and he took it. At that time only two Unitarian theological students a year were permitted by the government to enter ministerial studies. So it was a great honor even if it was not his first choice.
This is a wonderful family! Boti is (except in the pulpit) relaxed and funny. He knows a thousand jokes and stories. It’s not at all an easy life and they all have to work very hard. But they’re warm and hospitable.
Our Relationship with the Enyed Congregation
Over the years we have had a great deal of contact with Nagyenyed and there have been many different aspects to the relationship. The categories below break them down into general areas but are probably not totally inclusive of every component of the relationship.
The primary means of relating to Enyed has been through letters. Much of it has been between Boti and myself. Each of us has written both personally and as representatives of our churches. But there have been other letters exchanged. Several of our members who have visited Enyed have remained in at least occasional correspondence with the families who hosted them there. Children in the church school have had pen pal relationships with children there. Almost all of the “official” correspondence, both letters from here in English and letters from Enyed in Hungarian (along with an English translation) have been preserved in a Letter Book kept in the office.
In 2000, our church raised the money to purchase a computer for the Enyed Church. Since then, correspondence has been easier and more regular. But even more helpfully, our minister’s sons Ors and Elod have learned English and can now translate for their father. Even before Richard Beal left our church, the Partner Church Group (an informal committee) took on the responsibility of writing to our Partner Church once a month. Members took turns writing.
Of great importance have been the many visits back and forth between Louisville and Enyed. This is from Richard Beal:
- In 1992 I took part of my Sabbatical to visit, and spent time in Budapest, Kolozsvar, and two weeks in Enyed.
- In 1993 the first group visit from Louisville took place. This included Joan Johnson, then President of the church, Kim Johnson, then our DRE, Bev Moore, at that time Canvass Director, Marge Warden, our Office Administrator, Joyce Norman, Terry Robinson, and myself. We visited much of Transylvania as well as spending time in Enyed. A trip book, available in the church office, was prepared following that trip with many photographs and an extensive commentary. Kim Johnson wrote an account of a part of her visit, which was published in the WORLD.
- In the spring of 1994 we made a second group visit. Participants were Joanne Dillon, Julia Cobb, then 12 years old and wanting to meet her pen pal, myself, Tom and Mary Darner of St. John’s UU church in Cincinnati, and Nathan Sangster, a cameraman from Channel 15, Louisville’s educational television station. The main purpose of this visit was to take sufficient footage to produce one or more videos for showing on public television. Those were never produced, but I edited a video which has been widely distributed amongst Partner Churches and helped many groups decide to make their trips to visit their own partners. This video is available in the church office for anyone who would like to view it.
- In August and September of 1994 Professor Istven Kovacs spent two months in Louisville. He teaches the arts of parish ministry at the Protestant Theological Institute in Kolozsvar, where Unitarian students prepare for the ministry. He was on his way to study for a year at Meadville Lombard, our theological school in Chicago. His stay here helped him adjust to being in this country and several volunteers from the church tutored him in English.
- Boti visited us in the spring of 1995. A member of the Enyed church who speaks very good English and could help with translation, Betty Kiss, accompanied him. (Boti’s English was minimal). Boti was here about a month. He preached. He visited many homes. He was here at Derby time and saw one distinctive aspect of Louisville. He took part in one of our fundraising events for Enyed and accompanied our Intern, Doddie Stone, to an Ohio Valley District minister’s meeting. It was a good visit and he received a strong impression of American UUs and our church life.
- In the fall of 1995 we hosted the Reverend Denes Farkas, the driver of the Partner Church van and guide on many of the trips made by partner churches to Transylvania. He visited some of the people he knew from having conducted trips for us; spent time with Klara Papp and her family; and joined me in a Dedication ceremony, probably making the infant the only child in Louisville who is growing up with a Hungarian Unitarian blessing.
- The church was good enough to give me several weeks of vacation time in the spring of 1996 to make a special trip to Transylvania with Professor David Kopf, of the History Department of the University of Minnesota. He was doing research on a book about genocide and had requested I guide and make contacts for him. Klara Papp, a faculty member at the UofL Medical School, accompanied us. She speaks a very pure and literary form of Hungarian and had been helping us translate Boti’s letters. This trip provided opportunities to meet and interview a variety of Transylvanian political and cultural leaders.
In the summer of 1996 we made a third group trip. It included Joan Beal, Carol Findling, Anne Caudill, Ivey McGrew, Janice Green and myself. As well as visiting Enyed, we saw additional parts of Transylvania not visited before such as the fortress church at Szekelyderz and the Kos Karolyi museum in Sepsiszentgorgy.
- In the winter and spring of 1997, during my second Sabbatical, I spent two months in Transylvania, primarily in Kolozsvar. I was doing research for a book on the Partner Church Council (not yet finished) and made a special point of meeting and interviewing as many of the students at the Theological Institute as possible.
- In the fall of 1998, as President of the Partner Church Council, I presided – along with Bishop Arpad Szabo – at the first joint meeting ever held between UUA and Transylvanian organizations in Transylvania. In this case it was a meeting between the UU Partner Church Council and the newly formed Transylvanian Partner Church Council. I also had a chance to spend several days in Rava, an unusually isolated village where I was the first visitor from the United States and the first visitor from the West since the early 1920s.
Over the course of our partnership we have hosted many visitors from Transylvania who have spoken from our pulpit. They include students and interns studying in this country such as Julia Kochs, Szillard Sandor, Arpad Csete, and Noemi Szerida; the President of the Francis David Unitarian Youth Association, David Gyero; and the General Secretary of the PCC, Judit Gellerd.
Obviously all of these contacts, and the generosity of the church in allowing me the time for my various trips, to serve on the Executive Committee of the PCC, and to function for two years as the organization’s president, has meant a major contribution by First Unitarian to the organization and development of the Partner Church Council.
- In 2000 Greg Gapsis made a Partner Church Tour with Richard to the Czech Republic, Poland, and Transylvania, spending time at our Partner Church in Nagyenyed.
- In 2002, Agatha Walston and Elizabeth Drehmel participated in a Youth Tour with other youth from the US and Transylvania. During that trip they also spent a few days with our Partner Church in Nagyenyed.
- In September of 2004, Beverly Moore went on a Unitarian History Tour of Transylvania (Richard Beal was the history expert), which also included three days with our Partner Church Brothers and Sisters. She took gifts from the Church and participated in the Thanksgiving Communion.
One important — but not necessarily the most important — aspect of the relationship has been our financial support. When we agreed to the partnership with Enyed we made a commitment to provide $1,000 each year. We have continued to do this, raising the money in part from the church budget and in part from fund-raisers organized by our Partner Church Group. Though the economic situation has changed radically in Romania since 1990, we have kept the level of support constant. Our feeling has been that the money we send (usually in April of each year) is theirs to do with entirely as they think best. It’s our intention to provide assistance, not make them in any way financially dependent on us. Consequently our support has been about at the midpoint for North American churches. Some wealthier churches have been of much greater assistance, providing their villages with tractors, clinics, or scholarships. Many others have not provided either the same level or the same consistency of support we have.
The projects our assistance has helped make possible for the congregation in Enyed include the taking of a small building beside the church, originally a combination garage, shed, chicken house, and storage area, and remodeling it into a substantial parish house; completely repainting the church inside and out; updating the heating systems for both the church, the minister’s quarters, and the new parish hall from wood to gas; expanding the minister’s living quarters by moving the church’s meeting room from the minister’s area to the new parish house; helping them pay the fees to get clear title to their property; and providing a certain amount of religious education materials and supplies. The new parish house is ornamented with a plaque, which states that it was constructed as a partnership venture between the Louisville and Nagyenyed Unitarian congregations.
Most recently, the Nagyenyed Church has landscaped the garden beside the church and put up a memorial kophia (a carved wooden pillar of Seke origins).
The funds to do these things have come from gifts, donations, the church budget, and fund-raisers. Among the latter have been a series of jewelry sales organized by Kay Woodworth, Penny Nader, and members of the Partner Church Group. We have held dinners and entertainments with help from Klara Papp and members of the local Hungarian Club. In the fall of 1998 we held our most successful event, turning the entire first floor of the church into a facsimile of Rick’s Café and holding a Café Casablanca with Odile Saurat as chanteuse and Steve Taylor’s orchestra, Riviera, providing the music for dancing. We repeated this, using a “Speakeasy theme, in the fall of ’99. And for two years, with the substantial help of Joan Johnson and Ann Caudill, we had an “Hungarian Table” selling breads, pastries, cakes, cookies and other Hungarian delicacies at the church’s Food Fair – with the proceeds of the table going to our partner church.
Individual members of the church have been generous in helping fund many of the Partner Church Council’s projects. Whether through individual memberships or our institutional membership in the PCC, or through special gifts and donations, we have assisted with providing an English teacher to the Unitarian students in Kolozsvar; helped fund the Summer Scholars program at Meadville Lombard, which brings six Transylvanian students here to study and work as student interns in North American churches; and supported the year long study by a Transylvanian ministerial student at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA.
For the last few years, we have raised the money for our contribution to the Nagyenyed Church by special collections in addition to the special sales.
One of the great benefits of our partnership with Enyed has been the opportunity to learn a great deal more than we would otherwise know about the Transylvanian roots of Unitarianism. This has partly come about through visits and visitors, but we have also devoted at least one service each year to examining our relationship to our partners and to Unitarianism in East Central Europe. In addition, we’ve learned an extraordinary amount about the courage it takes to belong to a persecuted religious faith and the sufferings involved in being an ethnic minority in the Balkans. There is a difference, when you have visited and talked with people and gotten to know something about them and the life they lead, in how you read the accounts that appear in the local media about what has been happening in areas of ethnic conflict.
Our “Partner Church Group” Though every member of First Unitarian has been involved in our relationship with Enyed at some level, the bulk of our work has been done by a small group of volunteers. Most of them are people who have been on one or another of our visits. One helper, not previously mentioned, has been Michael Burp, who served for three years as the first English teacher in Kolozsvar. A true pioneer, he’s an exemplar of the major level of contributions First Unitarian, Louisville, has made to the whole partner church program. Others have been Joan Beal and Bev Moore, who have served as Networkers and PCC Contact People for the UUA’s Ohio Valley District.