Dear Follen Congregation!
Dear Reverend Claire!
I am very grateful that on this Sunday we have an opportunity to talk to each others’ congregations. We have in both congregations, members who before we came to serve knew each other and also others who only recently found out about this partnership.
The relationship between the two congregations began in 1990 when with the help of Dr. Judit Gellerd, the Unitarian congregations which were liberated from the dictatorship of Ceusescu, had the opportunity to find partner congregations in America. I feel that it was not by accident that God ordered that the Follen congregation should be partnered with the Alsófelsőszentmihály Unitarian congregation. Exchange of letters began, people formed personal bonds, which still exist between many members of both congregations.
I got involved in this relationship when I was called to be the minister at Szentmihaly. In April of 2004, at the invitation of the Follen congregation, my wife Csilla and I spent 10 days with you. I was able to meet in person many Follen members, the Partner Church Committee’s members and Reverend Lucinda. In June of the same year Lucinda and Edie Engel visited us. The worship services we shared and getting to know about each others lives formed the foundation for the following years.
We agreed that the more members of Follen congregation come to visit us, get to know the history of Unitarian roots in Transylvania, see the lovely scenery and get to know the people here, the stronger the relationship would get. It was important that our partner congregation committee and yours worked together, we often sent each other news of programs at each others’ congregations, and sent many photos keeping in mind that pictures speak better than words.
One of the biggest and most important of our programs is the Scholarship program, which has been and is a very serious help for our families here, so that they can further the education of their children, under better circumstances. It helped the program that many of the donors got to meet their students, and they were informed when their donation was received by their students. In some cases there developed an almost “Godparent” style of relationship and those are keeping up with their communications to this day.
In the past 15 years we have hosted many people and groups from you, and endeavored to make sure they had a good time and would keep in their hearts the land and the people. Since the relationship grew, in 2014 a group of 11, our lay leaders and my wife and I were invited by you to visit Follen. Since then everyone talks about their experience happily and with pride.
I would like to say a few words about our congregation, since it is one of the oldest ones in Transylvania. As evidence of this, Francis David’s (he was the founder of our Unitarian church) colleague was István Basilius, the first minister of Szentmihály’s congregation! We have written evidence of this from 1587. Our church was built in 1722, it was rebuilt several times, the tower was completed in 1819. The ministers residence was built in 1937. The Unitarians have gone through much hardship through the centuries and especially under the 40 years of Communism. I am the 30th minister to serve this congregation.
After I was called here, the lay leaders and I were able to build a community life that runs well. We try to reach every age level with programs. The children have Sunday School, the youth have their club, we have a Mothers’ School for young adults, a Women’s Group, we have a program for all members, and one Sunday when we honor the elders of the congregation. On community occasions we often have the local chorus sing, because there is a long tradition of choral singing in Szentmihály. This is an ecumenical chorus, whose musical leader is Zsombor Szabó, and I am their president since 2005.
We strive to do some renovation each year to keep our buildings in good repair, and to beautify the grounds. In recent years we have been renovating our András Gálfi Communal House. Our congregation built this building in 1927 to be our church school. In 1948 the Romanian government took it from us and in 2007 after much effort, we got it back in very bad condition. We began the renovations in 2013, inside and out, bit by bit each year, and in November 2018 we dedicated it. The chorus will practice in one room, and the other will be used for various programs.
We know that right now you are renovating your church building. We saw the plans on the internet, and send you accolades for taking on such a big project.
Our church leaders and I have talked about how through the years we have received so much financial help from your congregation and now we would like to contribute something to your project. We could erect a wooden traditionally carved “kopjafa” on the grounds of your church, or for the inside, a traditionally Transylvanian carved wooden table or a corner cabinet, or something else that you would like. We are thinking that we
would buy the wood there, and send a master carver to do the work. Please discuss this with your building committee, and we can communicate about it.
I would like to send you Szentmihály’s lay leaders’ and members’ good wishes, we greet all our dear friends and those we have not yet met, we ask for God’s blessings on your lives and your work!
With brotherly love,
Learn about our Partner Church here.