Immersion–part two

You can’t separate the churches from the sausages, the bright green hills from the wool embroideries, the pálinka from the kisses (left then right). You can’t separate language from religion, or the future from the past.

This is Transylvania.

This pocket of farmland encircled by the sylvan treasure of the inner Carpathian foothills is the possession of Romania. Governed by Romania for, now, 100 years, it is becoming ever more inhabited by Romanians. But the force of national, and nationalistic, authority is moderated now by participation in the European Union. Safeguards for minority rights and the ideals of peaceful co-habitation have given endurance some breathing room. The Hungarians who live here, once the ethnic majority, survive in a state of staunch optimism, underpinned by fierce determination.

To be Hungarian in Transylvania today is to exemplify a will to live. To be Unitarian, a minority within a minority, the will to live is most readily seen in the will to protect and sustain churches and church life. And so this post continues the immersion into the world of Unitarian churches. Because that was the point of the trip. To understand what it was to be Unitarian in Transylvania in the 21st century. And to understand, you have to begin with the churches.

You’ll recall from the last post, I connected with Csongor* at the Bolyai Street Church in Marosvásárhely, and after the baptism and Mother’s Day celebration, we headed to Segesvár for the send-off celebrations for the Reformed Church minister on his way to a new assignment in Edmonton, Canada.

Csongor took me first to Fehéregyháza, a village just outside of Segesvár where his father preaches twice a month. Before retiring, the previous minister built a new church and guesthouse complex (with financial assistance from a Unitarian Universalist partnership church in Princeton, New Jersey). This took seven years—1994 to 2001—to complete. It is a structure of both vision and good taste that both lifts the spirit and exceeds the needs of the small congregation it houses. In consideration of heating costs, services are held in a small chapel in winter months.

Each church revealed its own cultural insights; in this case, a glimpse of funeral practices.

By contrast, the Segesvár church dates to the 1700s, relatively recent for a Unitarian church. Many village churches date to the 13th and 14th centuries.

The crest of Hungarian Unitarianism features a snake circling a dove, symbols drawn from the verse in Matthew where Jesus instructs his follows how to deal with persecution—be as shrewd as snakes and but as innocent as doves. In Segesvár the crest was rendered in three traditional Transylvanian crafts: wool embroidery, chisel wood carving, and crewelwork.

The visit to Segesvár lasted two days. It was a chance to deepen my friendship with Csongor’s mother, Enikő, who had been on the bus trip to Venice, and to get to know his father, Jakab. Staying with them gave me an opportunity  to see the historic sights of the medieval city—and to become more acquainted with parsonage life. Jakab will retire in two years and he already has a well developed honey production business that he will continue to pursue in retirement. They run a well-ordered parsonage and productive garden. I wish I could have observed the chimney-cake baking that the parish women undertake on Saturdays to raise funds to attend conferences, but I did get to enjoy this traditional treat as dessert at both lunch an dinner.


These shots are from of the original 13th century Saxon city of Schaäsburg the 13th century when the King of Hungary invited Saxon craftsmen and merchants into Transylvania in a strategic move that both enhanced defence capacities and developed the economy. The Saxons were granted political liberties in exchange for their services. The walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After the two days in Segesvár, I left Maros County and headed to the Harghita.

*pronounced, in Canadian, Chongor

One thought on “Immersion–part two

  1. “Be ye as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves.” Indeed. I am glad to have this account of the present social underpinning of Unitarianism where you are.

    Liked by 1 person


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