There was some question about calling the choir trip to Transylvania, Hungary and Prague a religious pilgrimage. Why not simply call it a singing tour of Eastern Europe?
Now that we’ve made the journey there’s no question that it was, indeed, a religious pilgrimage — a journey to a sacred place, made holy by memory and hope; a journey inward.
While it’s not possible to put on paper the essence of that inner, spiritual journey, I can at least let you know that the trip was all we hoped, and more. Much more.
Two of the most moving moments for me were the dedication of the dormitory room in honor of Nick Paige, and the Sunday Service at our partner church in Alsobolodogfalva.
Nick’s mother, Carole, brought a framed photograph of Nick which we hung in the room in the new dormitory for students at the Unitarian High School in Kolozsvar, capital of Transylvania. After the fall of Communism, the building was returned to the Unitarians. I first visited in 1999, shortly after it was back in the hands of its original owners. It was in extreme disrepair. The top floor, which now houses the high school dormitory, was used as a storage area.
While Carole, the bishop and I were in the room, hanging Nick’s photo, the choir stood outside and sang May Nothing Evil Cross This Door, one of Carole’s favorite hymns — our Westport anthem. Everyone was touched. That was a deeply moving moment, making it a religious pilgrimage that took us down into the depths of the heart where the soul is nurtured.
I prepared a sermon for the Sunday service in Alsoboldogfalva. I brought a Hungarian version for our partner minister, Mihaly Biro, to read to the congregation. I’ll include that sermon in a Fall service, so I won’t go into detail now. Suffice it to say that the climb into the pulpit was a pilgrimage moment for me. How could I explain how it felt to stand, again, in that pulpit and look at all those appreciative faces looking up in wrapped attention?
Mihaly asked me to bring them an American flag. I chose a large pole flag. When we unwrapped and presented it they inserted a pole and hung it beside their Hungarian flag — a flag they are not allowed to fly except in church or in the privacy of their homes. They are foreigners in their own land, which was given to Romania after WWI. Raising our flag next to theirs was a pilgrimage moment.
In each of the venues I was proud of our choir and appreciative of Ed Thompson. On our final night in Prague we turned dinner into a commencement banquet. Each of us spoke, trying to find words to touch the depths we felt on our pilgrimage.
You’ll hear from the twenty-three other pilgrims who now know what can only be discovered by experience. I hope you are nurturing some soul stuff this summer and I look forward to seeing you soon. Egy as Isten — God is One.