We had dinner in the Northup Room with Arpad Szabo, bishop of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania. Yes, Virginia, the Unitarians in Transylvania do have a bishop.
Bishop Szabo is the 30th bishop in a continuous chain that started in 1568 when Francis David established the first Unitarian church in the world. Szabo is the first bishop to have a term limit. If nominated and elected by his colleagues in ministry, he can serve one more six-year term after completing his first term as Bishop next year.
When I was in Transylvania two years ago I visited the newly reclaimed headquarters in Kolozsvar, capital of Transylvania. After the fall of Ceausescu in 1989 the chains to which our Unitarian cousins have been shackled began to be unlocked–though in truth they still suffer a variety of oppressions.
The headquarters in downtown Kolozsvar houses a Unitarian seminary as well as a Unitarian High School for students who are scattered in villages without secondary schools. The building is in general disrepair, and its over-crowded attic has served as a make-shift dormitory. They sleep six or eight to a room with no quiet space for study. I was saddened to see the abysmal kitchen and toilet facilities there, as well as the beds crowded into those little rooms.
Bishop Szabo, with the support and encouragement of our Unitarian Universalist Association, wants to create The Unitarian Center for Students and Pilgrims at Koloszsvar. The plan is to create a home for ‘body and spirit in the city which is safe, clean, affordable and that gives the students a sense of community.’ The project will cost $900,000.
When the students are on summer break, the new dormitory and renovated building will serve as a bed and breakfast facility for those of us who go to Transylvania as religious pilgrims, to discover our roots, affirm our Eastern European religious heritage, and connect with our partner churches in the villages of Transylvania.
I told Bishop Szabo, and our Partner Church folks in Alsoboldogfalva, that I was sure we could participate in the project. As a $10,000 contributor a room in the new dormitory would be named for us: the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut, U.S.A.
One of those who attended the dinner with the bishop started the fund off with a lead gift of $1,000. In the process of raising the $10,000, I’m hoping we can raise awareness not only of our history in Transylvania, but awareness of the conditions under which they have suffered for so many years.
Before World War I the geography we know as Transylvania was annexed to Romania and later communist dictatorship. The people were cut off from their Hungarian roots, and 80,000 Unitarians became an ethnic and religious minority. Our Partner Church effort has provided much needed help, including the moral support they feel from us.
I hope you will be part of this special effort by contributing financially and in other ways. You can send a check made payable to our church with a notation that it is for the Transylvania Fund. If you are interested in becoming actively involved in this and our Partner Church effort, let Barbara or me know. Thanks!
I hope you’re well, and I look forward to seeing you soon.