Our International Unitarian Partnership
Our congregation belongs to the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council (UUPCC) UU Partner Church Council which fosters relationships among Unitarian and Universalist congregations around the world, including Central Europe, the Philippines, India and Africa. Through the UUPCC, we have a longstanding partnership with a small Unitarian congregation in Transylvania, the Unitarian Fellowship of Gyulakuta (Fintinele), Romania.
This partnership helps to support the Gyulakuta fellowship and to foster ties with fellow Unitarians in Transylvania, whose history dates back over 450 years.
We pay for each Gyulakuta family to receive the Hungarian-language Unitarian magazine and for an organist for their worship services. For four years we helped one of their youth attend high school. Any extra funds beyond those needed for the musician and Unitarian magazine go to support Rev. Tokes’ expenses to travel among his three congregations.
Two of our former partner ministers have visited Sharon, most recently the Rev. Erika Demeter and her family. It was enlightening to experience our connection with the Unitarians of Transylvania firsthand. And it was fun, for them and for us. Erika wrote after her return to Rumania: I am really happy to hear the news that some people would love to come to Transylvania. We will be very happy to give back the hospitality that the congregation and especially the Paul and Colleen Tuck family gave us. When we began our trip, I had a feeling that we were like the “holy family” looking for a place to stay. As the days went by our experience was much different than that of the story because we found everywhere warm with hospitality and wonderful people.
Later, UCS members Beth & Rory McGregor, Colleen & Paul Tuck, and David Nelson visited Rev. Demeter and her family. We enjoyed a week of visiting quaint churches, picturesque towns and historic cities. Since then she has moved on to serve another Unitarian congregation, Corond, in Transylvania. The current minister is Rev. Lorant (Lori) Tokes. Our church member Colleen Tuck, last visited Rev. Tokes and the congregation in September 2015. While there have been no visits since then, he and our minister keep in touch by email. He serves three congregations, each of which has a partner congregation in the US; Csokfalva (where he lives in the parsonage), Erdoszentgyorgy, and the smallest, Gyulakuta. There was a hope that he might visit the US partners last year, but that was cut short by the birth of his third child.
What is our partner congregation in Gyulakuta, Romania like? Their former minister, Erika Demeter, expressed it well in a letter to our congregation. “We have nothing. We haven’t a church. We haven’t capital. We are just 48 people come from different Unitarian places, but we exist and we want to have a spiritual religious life together.”
There are over 200 Unitarian congregations in Romania, in cities, small towns, and villages. Our partner congregation, Gyulakuta, is in some ways typical and in others not. Unlike many of the Unitarian churches which date back centuries and occupy simple but beautiful old buildings, the Gyulakuta congregation is very small and fairly new, in a town with no Unitarian tradition, and has no building. Now a town of 6000, the village of Fintinele/Gyulakuta was chosen by the government in the ’60s as the site of an enormous power plant and other industry, built right in the center, with large concrete apartment blocks to accommodate the workers. Thus although it is in a beautiful, picturesque rural area, it is not a particularly scenic town. Like a number of state-owned industries started under Communism, the plant was poorly constructed and maintained and did not fulfill its potential.
Most of the members of our partner congregation moved to Gyulakuta from other small towns for work. They include teachers, office and factory workers, a few small farmers, and retirees (who live on small pensions badly eroded by Romania’s chronic inflation). Like many people in Transylvania, their first language is Hungarian. Transportation to other towns with Unitarian churches is not easy, so they formed this small and struggling fellowship, which meets on Sunday afternoons in the hall of the local Calvinist church. Their minister, Rev. Lorant Tokes, conducts their services once a month and on holidays, and provides pastoral visitation and care. They have little in material goods, but are rich in strength, good will, good humor, and friendship for each other.
View photographs of Unitarians in Transylvania.
In addition to our formal UUPCC partnership with Gyulakuta and Rev. Lorant, we carried on for several years an informal partnership forged by Rev. Jim Robinson with John Pounds Memorial Chapel, a British Unitarian congregation in Portsmouth, England (named after an activist Unitarian cobbler who helped establish schooling for impoverished children in England.) This partnership consisted mainly of pen pal relationships among members of the two congregations. With the death of its leader in Portsmouth and others, and the lack of face-to-face contacts after Jim’s retirement, this relationship has waned.