Partner Church Facebook Group
A Facebook group was created to help us build a better relationship between our church and our Partner Church in Transylvania. We will be using Facebook to host digital listening circles to spawn group discussion. If this is something you would be interested in participating in please go to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1659501324127230/
2018 Partner Church Visit
By Vicki Pratt
This year is the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, a very significant year for Unitarians and coincided with the visit to our Partner Church in Romania. In 1568 eastern Hungarian King John Sigismund decreed from the city of Torda that churches in his kingdom were free to choose their own ministers – as long as they were Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, or Unitarian. While still not accepting Jews, Muslims, or the many other religions and non-religions, this was the first official recognition of Unitarianism. King Sigismund was heavily influenced by his bishop, Unitarian Francis David.
Most of King Sigismund’s realm is now part of Romania and we were there to witness some of the special activities commemorating Torda 450. The most significant is that the former residence of the Unitarian bishop in Cluj, a town a few miles from Torda, has been transformed into the Center for Religious Freedom. We toured this facility a few days after its July dedication in company with several UU ministers from the US and Hungarian Unitarian ministers who were participating on a walking pilgrim. The residence was built on top of Roman ruins, visible from the ground level. Upper floors now feature a research center, worship/meditation area, community meeting space, and museum.
Each of the Unitarian churches in the area had been asked to loan a special “relic” to display for the dedication. We were privileged to see Francis David’s bible and communion chalices still in use for nearly 500 years.
We met with the minister of the Cluj church after Sunday service and later with the minister of the church in Targu Mures and the minister of the current Unitarian church in Torda. He also showed us the much bigger former Unitarian church and the sculpture honoring the 450th anniversary. We toured several other Unitarian churches on the way to our partner church in Firtosmartonos and on day trips from there.
We spent four delightful days with Rev. Katalin (Kati) Szasz-Cserey and her family in the parsonage and experienced village life with the people in Firtosmartonos. We regret that Janet was not with us this year. Everyone in the village asked about her. Her care in arranging these trips for many years allowed us to carry on in her absence.
See photos from the trip below (photographer: Kandy Scott)
Partner Church History
By Janet West (published in the newsletter Feb 2018)
Do you know that First Unitarian Church has had a Partner Church in the Unitarian village of Firtosmartanos, Transylvania, Romania since 1992? In that year, Mary Jo and Mike Stoll were the first members of our church to visit the village. This visit took place only two years after the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceasuescu, had threatened to bulldoze these extremely poor Unitarian agricultural villages. In December 1989, Ceasuescu was assassinated. In January 1990, a delegation of American Unitarian Universalists traveled to Transylvania to meet with Transylvanian Unitarian ministers. Many of the Unitarian villages were then partnered with American Unitarian churches so that the American churches could augment the ministers’ salaries and repair and preserve the village churches—many of which date back to before the Reformation.
In 1993, when Rev. Ron Knapp (now the First Unitarian Church Minister Emeritus) led a group from First Unitarian Church of Omaha to Firtosmartonos, none of village houses had indoor bathrooms or kitchen appliances. There was only one road, unpaved, through the village and one village phone that hung outside the general store. No one in the village owned a car. First Unitarian Church began providing funds to supplement the village minister’s meager salary and to help maintain and preserve the village church and parsonage.
In 2005, 12 members and friends of our church visited the village. They were warmly greeted, just like relatives, by the village residents. The residents shared their traditions of communal bread-making, sheep milking, cheese-making, and producing palinka, the powerful plum-based alcohol. The village blacksmith demonstrated his skills of making horseshoes and other iron products that are needed in an agricultural village. The highlight of the visit was being a part of the village harvest ball. The village young people, dressed in traditional Hungarian costumes, performed Hungarian dances. A local band played so all could dance.
During the village stay, the Omaha visitors met with the village church board and asked how First Unitarian Church could best help the villagers. The answer was to provide scholarship money for the village young people. The Romania government pays for a high school student’s educational cost regardless as to whether the student attends a public school or a private/ denominational school. At that time, most of the village high schoolers were attending a Unitarian high school in a nearby city. Because oft he distance to the city and the lack of transportation, the students had to board at the school. The scholarship money from First Unitarian Church paid a portion of the teens’ room and board costs.
Starting in 2005, the Partner Church Team provided a total of $1,200 of scholarship money each year. That worked out to $120 per student. The Women’s Alliance donated $400 towards scholarships.
Since 2000, the Partner Church Team has also been sending $1,320 per year to subsidize the minister’s salary and to help maintain the village parsonage and church. The village church is 110-years-old and badly in need of repair and maintenance.