My friend Jill and I had sworn to one another that no matter where we were in ministry in the summer of 2000, we would take youth on a trip somewhere. So when I got a call from her in the fall of 1999 asking me if I wanted to take youth to Transylvania come summer, I said, “Sure!” And then got off the phone and looked up where Transylvania was on the map. I was still in the United Church of Christ at the time and was not aware of the importance of Transylvania to Unitarianism. By the end of that trip, I was well aware of the importance and on my way to becoming a UU and leaving the UCC.
I learned many things about Unitarianism and Transylvania that summer. The whole Dracula thing is just so annoying and frankly, offensive- though we did visit the supposed castle. Unitarians in Transylvania celebrate communion and use the Lord’s Prayer. They also affirm a God and on many pulpits, you will see these words: “Isten egy” which means, “God is one.”
The ministers wear heavy black capes to preach in. There is a societal pecking order in Romanian society: Romanians at the top, then the ethnically Hungarians (which the Transylvanians are) and then the Gypsy or Roma people. When the 40 or so of us all went camping, there was no fancy gear. The main tent was an old Russian Army tent. The “cook stove” was a huge cast iron kettle where many of our meals were made. There were several cultural differences between the American youth and the Transylvanian youth. The one I was most aware of was that when U.S. youth were asked anything in a discussion, they automatically jumped in and answered. The Transylvanian youth were slower to speak, spoke with their heads down, and spoke softly. Under the dictatorship of Ceausescu, neighbors spied on neighbors. People hid their beliefs and their feelings. A concept totally foreign to the youth from the U.S.
Two years later, the UCC church I served and the local UU church as well as Jill’s church in Michigan worked together to bring 16 Transylvanian youth and 4 adults to the states. Many of you may be aware of the Partner Church Program that was started after Romania began to open up again after Ceausescu was deposed. UU Churches in the U.S. were matched to Transylvanian churches. The program consisted of many Americans visiting their partner churches in Transylvania and sponsoring Transylvanian ministers to visit the U.S. But no one had raised money to bring Transylvanian youth to the states. The UCC and UU churches raised $30,000 to make this happen. Given the difficult economic situation in Romania at that time (2002), this sort of trip would forever been out of reach for the Transylvania youth.
One of the things we did was set up an entire day of volunteering at the animal shelter and at the Food Bank. This concept of service or volunteerism was entirely new to the Transylvanians. The youth had also requested to see a hospital and a farm. We took them to both. As it was June, strawberries were in ripe so we all had a blast picking them at an organic farm. We then contrasted that experience by visiting a factory farm. One of the young women on the trip said that tasting the strawberries was familiar but new- a way to connect an experience of home to an experience in the U.S.
This summer, Paige Marler, Kensi and Kylie Hartman, and Ashley Lacy will join a national youth trip to Transylvania. While there they will do many of the things I got to do in 2000 such as visiting the historical Unitarian sites. They will also have the chance to do a service project. In support of this project and to raise awareness of our Transylvanian roots, the youth will be holding a Hungarian dinner on Saturday, April 16 at WUUC. Rosemary Lowden will be showing her photos from her trip there this fall.
I would encourage as many of you as possible to attend this event; more information can be found here. And then, to come to church on Sunday, August 21 to hear these youth report back to us about the trip and their experiences.