Having heard so much about Unitarianism’s roots in Transylvania over the years, I was pleased to represent EUU at the recent opening of The House of Religion in Kolozsvar. I had set myself several goals for the visit: to refresh our contacts and discuss opportunities for cooperation with other like-minded organizations, to publicize our upcoming Cologne Retreat and the EUT Gathering in Berlin next spring, to solidify the details of our youth exchange program, and to learn more about Unitarianism in Transylvania. With the support of my daughter Cara (former EUU R.E. Director; currently R.E. Editor for the Unifier and Webpage), I am happy to report that we made progress on all four fronts.
There were many dignitaries present at the opening ceremonies, of which your president, I’m afraid, was a rather minor one. Cara and I were a bit starstruck in the presence of Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the UUA, who gave a brief speech at the opening ceremony on Saturday and delivered the sermon at a bilingual worship service at the Kolozsvar Unitarian Church on Sunday. I did have the presence of mind to thank her for UUA’s support of our ambassador program and relay what Diane Rollert’s visits have already achieved in strengthening our fellowships and our leadership. EUU friend Eric Cherry was traveling with Susan, and although he is leaving his post as Director of the International Office of the UUA to become minister of The First Universalist Society in Franklin, he assured me that the ambassador program was on solid footing for the years to come.
I was also able to touch base with Inga Brandes, President of the ICUU, and had a fascinating discussion with her, Derek McAuley (Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, UK) and Joan Cook (President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, UK), about religion as a local and an international force. Our EUU members are used to the idea of traveling to attend retreats, but I was encouraged not to forget the power of the local. Many Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists and, I would guess, church folk in general, are more concerned about their local churches, their local support programs, and their dwindling attendance than they are about connecting once or twice a year with a larger group. They want someone who can address their needs 24/7 not 2/12.
I saw this as a real challenge for us at EUU – how to provide Fellowship both at our retreats and between them.
I had headed off to Transylvania with a stack of invitations to both our Cologne Retreat and the EUT Gathering. Everyone I spoke to was interested in what we were doing, even if they doubted they could manage a second major trip so soon after visiting Transylvania. Still one never knows where and how a seed may sprout. One of the most exciting parts of the trip was meeting three younger Transylvanian ministers who were interested in greater cooperation with EUU and EUT. They felt sure that the Transylvanian Unitarians would send representation to the EUT Gathering in Berlin and didn’t rule out closer participation in the future.
Getting the details for our upcoming youth exchange ironed out was a relief. As has been the tradition for several years, several students from the John Sigismund Unitarian Academy will be attending our Fall Retreat. This year is particularly exciting, as we are sending three of our youth to Transylvania the week before the retreat so that they can learn a bit about the school and travel back to Cologne with the Transylvanians. We tried this model two years ago, and all agreed that the R.E. program was enhanced when our youth were already familiar with our Transylvanian guests before the retreat.
The history of Unitarianism in Transylvania is extremely rich and obviously attractive to North Americans, whose religions can sometimes make them feel like the new kids on the block. We were treated to a tour on Sunday that featured the “highlights” of Unitarianism, from the Edict of Torda to today. As with all histories, politics could not be ignored, and the frequent changes of governance in Transylvania can be baffling to the outsider – both intellectually and emotionally. It was a bit disappointing to discover that the House of Religion was actually a House of Christian Religion and that interfaith in this context only meant a neutral space for the various varieties of Catholicism and Protestantism to meet. One could also see quite a bit of wincing in the audience when some of the speakers chose to use the pulpit as a bully pulpit and espouse highly conservative attitudes on social issues. At points like these, I wondered if a shared skepticism about the Holy Spirit was really the kind of tie that could bind. It was comforting, however, that these ideas seemed very generational, and I hope they will soon be replaced by attitudes that will create a truer affinity between our faiths.