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An Astonishing Gift from the Unitarian Church in Székelykeresztúr to First Parish Church in Concord

It came as a huge surprise during the September 20th Transylvanian Thanksgiving service at First Parish Church in Concord (MA) when Réka Gagyi, representing the Unitarian Church of Székelykeresztúr, presented Rev. Gary Smith with an accounting of a major contribution. In the history of the Unitarian Universalism, this is one of only a few instances where an American church has been on the receiving end of such a financial gift from its Transylvanian partner.

Accompanying the presentation was this letter from Reverend József Szombatfalvi. minister of the Unitarian Church of Székelykeresztúr:

Dear Brothers and Sisters from Concord!

We love you all and try to express this love whenever we meet or think of you. We have learnt from the Bible, and life has taught us, that: “A friend is a loving companion at all times and a brother is born to share troubles.” -Proverbs 17:17-

You are now repairing and enlarging your church. In these hard economic times this isn't an easy undertaking. Therefore we would like to give something back after all the help you have given to us, year by year. I suggested to our leading board that we organize fundraising in order to help on your project. My suggestion was greeted with joy and people asked with tears in their eyes: Can we do this?

Yes, we can. The proof is that a retired person from our board was the first to offer $100. This is half his monthly pension. A businessman also offered $100. Then a student who was once sponsored by your student scholarship program offered $100. And at the time our gift was only a rumor. We (made it) official on our Thanksgiving Day.

[As noted in the accounting presented by Réka:] The leading board of our community has determined that by the end of October, $10,500 will be collected and sent to you. Please take our offer with love. God bless your work and lives.

With love,

József and the Congregation of Székelykeresztúr

First Parish and the Unitarian Church in Székelykeresztúr (aka Keresztúr) have a fabled partnership. Unitarian since 1568, that church’s origins stretch back to the 13th Century in an ethnically-Hungarian region of Romania. Our Transylvanian brothers and sisters have kept their spirit alight through the centuries, often as an ethnic minority, through Communisim, Facisim, famine and war.

December of 1989 brought the downfall of one of the most egregious of these destructive forces, the Ceauşescu regime. The gunsmoke had barely cleared when our own Rev. Gary Smith joined an historic UUA [Unitarian Universalist Association] delegation to Transylvania. Our partnership with the Keresztúr Church began soon after, based (in UUA parlance) on: “our shared principles, a belief in freedom of conscience, the use of reason in matters of faith, and a tolerance of those with differing opinions.” It’s sobering to remember that for our friends, these avowed values have often had consequences.

Although never a partnership based on charity, financial aid has been vital in helping the Keresztúr ministry to rebuild and carry out its countless responsibilities. Since 1997, our sponsorship of Székely (region) students in need has also been crucial. In conjunction with the Hungarian Society of Massachusetts, 133 students have thus far received essential support in pursuing an education.

Through the years many esteemed visitors have visited our sanctuary, including distinguished clergy, scholars, even László Tőkés, illustrious hero of the Romanian Revolution. Of course, Rev. József Szombatfalvi and his wife, Anna have become familiar faces, as have numerous members of the Keresztúri congregation. Just last year, eight dear friends were here for our Transylvanian Thanksgiving service including Réka Gagyi who, back on a college work-exchange program, contributed again to this year’s service.

Conversely, many among us have been joyously welcomed in Keresztúr, with four youth service pilgrimages (YSPs) and two adult choir excursions since 2002. Independently, we have attended weddings, celebrated births and since 2007 have represented First Parish at each Keresztúr Unitarian High School graduation. As time has flown, past-youth service pilgrims have returned on their own. For them Keresztúr is a place to go, like going home, even for the holidays.

And five members of our congregation were there “at home” during this year’s Transylvanian Thanksgiving, celebrating our marvelous partnership with a two day dedication of the newly completed community house. You know the story, built in the 19th Century, the building had been neglected by the former regime. Through generous donations, Social Action Grants (SAC) grants and special collections, First Parish supported its reconstruction all along. Two of our YSP groups even provided physical labor. Now it’s open with: a parish hall, ministers' offices, a library for centuries-old archives, women's and youth centers along with rooms to accommodate dozens of guests and generate much needed income in a town with no hotels.

It has nearly been a generation since Ceauşescu fell and Gary and that UUA contingent rushed off to Transylvania. Yet our kindred spirits still try to recover from a history of oppression as progressive Unitarians and ethnic Hungarians, in a modern Romania that is itself experiencing unrelenting change. Clearly the years of much-needed aid have been deeply appreciated, but so have the cherished friendships formed along the way.

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This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.

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Rev. Gary Smith, Senior Minister, accepts the check sent by the Unitarian Church of Székelykeresztúr.

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