Blog: Trip to Hungary and Romania

I’m on a pilgrimage to Transylvania! Hearing that you might say, Vaaaat? But Dracula vill suck your bloooood!

Actually, in Transylvania (which is a region of Romania, right below the Carpathian Mountains), we have 450 year-old Unitarian churches, which are the oldest in the world. These congregations were gathered around the same essential notion that today’s Unitarian Universalists are gathered around: religious liberty.

What turns laughter about vampires into a more sober mood is the knowledge that 450 years ago, Transylvania was the one of very few places in Europe where folks committed to religious liberty could gather without being murdered. Everywhere else, to be out of step with what the king believed or with what the head of the church believed (like the Pope or John Calvin or Martin Luther) meant torture and death. Not so in Transylvania…

So it’s a pilgrimage. I’m joined by eight congregants from the church I serve. It’s a big trip: two weeks long, 6000 miles away. A couple days in Budapest, Hungary, and then off to Transylvania we go.

Here are our guides: Csilla and John. They are completely wonderful, patient, and seemingly all-knowing. I say this last part without one trace of irony. Pretty much every question they get, they can answer. We are extremely lucky to share this adventure with them.


Thanks for checking out this blog. I’ll be writing as the Spirit moves me, about the historical foundations of Unitarian Universalism, about traveling, about life in lands far away, about my own life and history.

This is a pilgrimage: I am traveling 6000 miles, in both my outer and inner worlds…


Wednesday, 9pm, Budapest

Around 5pm, after having gotten off the bus that took us from the Hungarian National Gallery (where we saw a brilliantly designed exhibit of the works of Modigliani) to within walking distance of our hotel (the Hotel Belvedere), I ask one of my companions, June Lester, “What day is it?” I swear I felt like it was Thursday. The plane to Paris left Tuesday at 3:40pm and we arrived at Charles DeGaulle at 6:30am-ish Wednesday morning and we had just one hour to hustle through security and then a passport screening (which took so long that there was scuffling with police). But somehow we made the connecting flight to Budapest and THAT flight seemed even longer than the first (though it most certainly was not). So many hours of travel that the hours lost their hold on meaning. Just like what happens when you repeat a word over and over and over again. The word becomes mere sounds without sense. Thus: “What day is it?”

Go back to before the flight from Atlanta. It’s 1:53pm on Tuesday and I am sitting at the piano bar at the International Airport, with a glass of chardonnay. I realized that, in the past, I would just walk on by this sort of thing. I would smile at the music and just walk on by. Not today. Today I leave for two weeks in Eastern Europe. Today begins a new chapter in my life. Today I’m not going to walk on by. I’m going to sit and enjoy even if it part of me feels vaguely restless and unworthy of such pleasure…

During the flight to Paris I watch the map charting our progress. It’s a small plane arcing from ATLANTA on the North American continent to PARIS on the European continent. The  map is displayed on a screen on the back of the seat in front of me.


Map 2

It zooms out to show almost the entire planet and how this journey crosses over an enormous global distance, and then it zooms in to show the cities and mountain ranges near by Paris. And then I search the map beyond Paris–beyond France, beyond Austria, beyond even Poland. I realize that I’ve never been to a country that was once communist. I also realize that where I’m going is a hop, skip, and a jump from the land that my Ukrainian ancestors originally came from: villages outside of Lviv. The Transylvania communities we are visiting are just below the Carpathian Mountains; Lviv is just right above. In other words: I am going to the general region of the world from where my DNA ultimately originated. I’m going to where my blood comes from.

This pilgrimage has personal reasons behind it, too.


Map 1


Thursday, Sept. 1, 8:29am, Budapest

Back from breakfast, refreshed after a lovely meal in a sunroom. Even though there was an American loudmouth jerk windbag going on and on about a misadventure related to cappuccino. Apparently he asked for a cappuccino and the reply he got was, What flavor? His response was not curiosity but indignation. He was sitting at a table with his partner and another couple. His incessant complaining was like a fishnet dragging his table mates down deeper and deeper into a drowning sea….

Me too, sitting within earshot, although I would not let him, since I was busy thinking about what I’d write about in my blog today. Writing makes me buoyant. I had not intended to write a blog, but a friend suggested I do so, and I am grateful. Grateful for friends.

Last night after my blog post I closed up shop and, as is always the case with sleep, allowed myself to be taken away. Dreams, dreams. Also thoughts–one about clustering travel experiences around themes. So that’s what I’ll do.

One theme: “Look for the helpers.” It’s a phrase that comes from Mr. Rogers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.'” It came to mind not so much because scary things have been happening but because helpers are real and they come in such surprising ways and forms. One came in the form of the face of an infant, sucking on her pacifier, suddenly popping up between the seats in front of me, eyes big with curiosity and mischief, looking at me in a way that adults rarely look. This was en route to Budapest. I was beyond tired but reached out with a finger and the baby did the same and it was like a moment in the movie E.T. “Phone home.”


Another theme: surprises. The dry heat here in Budapest, combined with cool winds, reminds me of summers where I grew up in Alberta. My hotel room: how the master switch for turning the electrical system on or off is my key card. Breakfast: Orange Crush-colored egg yolks, tomatoes, cucumbers, bacon…


Yet a third theme: traveling. Realizing that you live surrounded by wonders but you can’t see them until putting yourself in strange places, like 12,000 feet above earth. Studying and struggling with unfamiliar food menus. Fat fingers fumbling to reach credit cards through the tiny zippered mouth of a money belt (take that, pickpockets!). Surmounting the dizzying heights of the museum cupola and right there sitting on a chair is the museum guard but he is sleeping… You creep past him and go outside where you are opened up to the wide blue sky and the scene of Buda on one side and Pest on the other and there is the Danube and the rooftops are like waves spreading outwards in every direction and it’s mind-blowing… But you think of the sleeping guard, and then you think of yourself back in Atlanta (or wherever you happen to live) and assume that it’s the same for you–miracles all over–but you are sleeping on the job too…



Thursday, Sept. 1, 8:12pm, Budapest


Our fantastic tour guide today informed us that Hungarian is the second hardest language in the world to learn (#1 is Latvian). The linguistic family it hails from comes from Mars; English’s family of origin is from Venus. It means that Hungarian words are practically inaccessible to English speakers. It means that my Left brain was rather quiet today since it could not grab hold of any words it saw, or any parts of words, to make meaning. All the work was by the Right brain, trained as it is on images and symbols….

The tour began at 9:45 when our group met the gorgeous and brilliant Agnes. Super knowledgeable, super smart. We are each handed a earphone which will help us hear Agnes while we are touring popular sites. No one will mistake us for locals 🙂 We get on the bus, and immediately she’s filling us up with history and politics and gossip and it is all so interesting–but how much will be remembered? No matter–it’s tasty in the now.


Her words are quicker than the bus. The traffic is so thick that it’s as if we need some Moses to part the waters. Finally, we are off. The real miracle is that no curses spring off the tongue of our bus driver.

At one point she says, “The Magyar settlers carried on the lifestyle of their Hun ancestors, raiding and killing. But it’s not like that anymore, unfortunately.” Did I hear her right?

Budapest, she says, is in the middle: to get anywhere you have to go through it. So: it is the most seized capitol city in Europe. I carry this in mind as I wander the streets hours later and watch tall beautiful Magyar women and stocky muscular Magyar men and wonder about the depths at which ancestral melancholy flows through them…

We go the the Square of the Holy Trinity. There is a famous cathedral next door, but who cares. This Unitarian is fascinated by the depiction of the Trinity, atop a tall pillar. A European-looking Jesus, with cross; a European-looking Father God sporting a beard that puts to shame all those currently worn by hipsters; and the Holy Spirit portrayed as as a sphere with rays bursting forth.


I smile at Agnes after she tells us all about it. “This is pretty ironic you know,” I say, “seeing we’re a bunch of Unitarians.”

We walk and walk. Cobblestones. We bake in the sun. My hot face and forehead.

We find ourselves looking out over and across the Danube River, to the Parliament Building in Pest. But not ONE building–THREE. Evidently the top three designs were built. The Hungarians evidently have a healthy sense of self….

We talk politics. Agnes uses phrases like “the authorities.” “The current regime.” She says that new developments echo 1930 trends–she’s referring to Naziism. Donald Trump is a favorite of the President. We all groan.

Later we talk about the “Bottle Opener”–that’s what people call the sculpture that the Communists built post-World War Two. Of course the Communists had a different name: “The Statue of Liberty.” Agnes readily agrees that for some people, the coming of the Communists was liberating (i.e., the Jews were saved from total annihilation by the Nazis). But the 45 years following were also another kind of occupation. I’m taking this to mean that few were really sad about the fall of Communism. Something like a 7th or 10th of the population spied upon everyone else, and 25 years later they still don’t know who the rats were/are–and of course this implicates the “authorities” themselves. The public knows who the rats are, and doesn’t, and does…


On to Hero Square, which we travelled to via the Champs Elysee of Budapest–a hugely wide street, designed after the one in Paris. Hero Square is immense. Everything in Budapest is immense. Everything is big and romantic. … (Remember THREE Parliament buildings, not one?)

Something else interesting about Hero Square. Among other things, it celebrates the conquerers of the Carpathian Basin from a thousand years ago. In truth, these conquerers looked Asian and were probably no more than five feet tall, but in the 19th century (when Hero Square was built) Hungarians wanted their heros to look like tall, square-jawed Finns. Everybody’s a historical revisionist, right?

The tour ended around 1:30, whereupon our group had a late lunch. And then I struck out on my own. It took something like three hours walking to get back to my hotel…


Friday, Sept. 2, 2:13am, Budapest

Uuuuggghhhhhh…. Can’t sleep.




Friday, Sept. 2, 8:25am, Budapest


Despite my bout of insomnia, I was very excited to get up and enjoy breakfast in the sunroom again. When I arrived and looked around me–saw once again the plenitude of breakfast items–I realized that there was no more need to take pictures. I had taken them all yesterday. I had already captured the sights. Today was just like yesterday, so why repeat?

The thought made me sad. And I went ahead and took more pictures anyway.

While I was reflecting on all this and sucking down coffee, in a magnificent sunroom, I was also paying attention to the family sitting across the way. The baby was going, “ma ma,” arms waving. She sported a pink headband with flower. Her mother was cooing French at her–it was a French family. The six-year-old son with straw yellow hair sat straight up in his chair and his nose was level with the table. There, a piece of toast waited for him and he was ignoring it. The dad was a big man, bald guy. Yesterday he wore a black shirt that shouted RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS. This morning his black shirt shouted RAMONES. Meanwhile his sweet baby daughter is banging away on her high chair, her mother sings sweetly back at her….


Friday, Sept. 2, 9:31pm, Budapest

Last night in this amazing city. Tomorrow, early, we are off to Romania. In the evening we will arrive in what the resident Hungarians call Kolozsvar but the ruling Romanians call Cluj. Aaaand immediately you get the politics of this trip. The Transylvanian Hungarians call themselves “Pathfinders” and identify as as indigenous to the region, unlike the Romanians, who came in later to settle. Thanks especially to the Treaty of Trianon (from World War I), the Romanians were granted rulership over the region, and ever since the Pathfinders have struggled to preserve their culture and traditions. The situation is somewhat analogous to Quebec’s relationship to Canada–except Quebec got what it wanted. The Pathfinders still struggle.

THIS is the political backdrop of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania. 450 years ago, Hungarians built our first Unitarian Churches around the vision of religious liberty; but except for three golden years, our spiritual Pathfinders have struggled to exist against the encroachments of the Catholic Church and others. The struggle still continues, but on social and political fronts. The struggle is for equal political rights to affirm Hungarian language and folkways, against “the authorities” who want to refuse them the right to name themselves (again, Kolozsvar vs. Cluj).

Talk about many layers, many wrinkles, to this 450 year old church.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We leave Budapest in the early morning, and I’ll miss it. Well, I won’t miss this:

toilet paper

But I will miss the friendly people, great food, amazing sights. The scale of the city is ridiculous–the width of the streets, the size of public squares, the span of monuments. A resilient people: despite being the most sieged city over the past 1000 years–despite the destruction of two world wars–it is beautifully alive.

Two stories: one has to do with the Shoe Memorial.

shoes 1

It’s mid- to late-1944. Up till that point, the Hungarian government has resisted colluding with the Nazis in exterminating the Jews. But finally they succeed in installing a puppet government and that fake government’s brownshirts (called “Aerocross”) raided the safe houses protecting the Jews. They are marched to the Danube River. It is night. “Take your shoes off.” Women, children, men do. They are shot and their bodies pushed into the dark waters below. They are swallowed up, they are gone, gone, gone. And they are NOT gone and never will be. The replica shoes are bronze and permanent. They testify. Some have candles in them, flowers, candy, coins.

Second story:


That’s the scene from my table tonight at Bocelli’s. A beautiful walkable street full of bars and restaurants and towered over by apartment homes. I walk through and see tons of people enjoying themselves, families together, lovers walking holding hands. I even see toddlers racing their tricycles.

I go back to the dark Danube waters, and the Shoe Memorial. Do they banish the right of the living to enjoy? The Bible says, “There is a time to laugh, and a time to mourn.” Can it be that such time is like a coin with two sides, and we are always both laughing and mourning simultaneously? Can the human heart be big enough for that?

Can a heart BE truly human unless it does exactly that?

Goodnight …


Saturday, Sept. 3, 6:13am, Budapest

Just needed to say that last night my dreams were in Hungarian. At least I think so: the music of the language of my dream figures seemed to match what I’ve been hearing the past several days. But my dream ego’s experience was precisely that of waking life: not understanding a word of it. The dreams unfolded as the complex dramas they always are, but my dream ego–closest thing to my waking self awareness–had no clue.

It was like I have a foreign TV channel within my own soul.


Saturday, Sept. 3, 6:02pm, Kolozsvar 

Arrived in Transylvania! I’ll be staying at the Hotel Victoria during the two nights we are in Kolozsvar. We need to regather downstairs for our evening events at 6:45. Not much time, but enough to have a mini-panic about there being no towels in the room since I didn’t see any in the bathroom but just before I was going to descend downstairs and give someone a piece of my mind I spot nice folded towels on the ends of the two single beds. I can be so silly. Someone give me a drink to calm down 🙂

I hang up my grey suit. It’s the nicest thing I’ll wear all two weeks. It’s for the Sunday right before we leave. I’ve been asked by the minister of the Szekelyudvarhely Unitarian Church (our Partner Church) to preach, and I’m honored beyond belief. My 12 minute piece has been translated to Hungarian, so it will be a paragraph or so of me, then the minister (Rev. Mozes Kedei) speaking the translated version, then me, then him, back and forth.

I want my suit to be as fresh as possible. So it’s one of the first things I do: hang it up. Allow the wrinkles to fall away…

I unpack my beloved UUCA stole and lay it down, let the wrinkles fall away too…

Back in Budapest, my last afternoon there, I was enjoying a beer and indexing a book by Rev. Kedei. Don Milton III had brought it to me from the 2012 choir trip but I had not read it until now. It was splendid. A compilation of voices of many Unitarian ministers, sharing stories about their journeys into ministry, how the churches have been invaluable in preserving Hungarian culture in an antagonistic time, the fall of Communism and its aftermath, and so on. I’m indexing it, regarding major topics and passages I want to be able to easily access. It’s a thing I do with books I suspect I’ll need to draw on down the road.

So, I’m drinking a beer and out of the corner of my eye I notice a blow up sex doll being held high and then thrown about. The blow up doll body was standard plastic pink, but a man’s face had been taped to the head. The woman brandishing it like a flag and grinning like a fiend was the bride, and she was followed by around 20 friends. They all streamed out of a hotel across the street, to where I was, a bar. Laughter, shouts. They were going to get really drunk. And they are British! I was witnessing a destination wedding! I found myself right in the middle of it!

I bring this up because, here I am hundreds of miles away in Kolozsvar, and as we weary travelers roll up to the front, we see a wedding party stream inside the hotel….

As I sit here writing this, hunting and pecking away like the eccentric typist I am, I hear a steady thump, thump, thump from somewhere within these walls. Is that a Michael Jackson song? Boom boom UH boom boom UH boom boom UH. Our guide told us, “It’s going to be loud until 11pm, folks.” Right in the middle, again!

I like life.


Saturday, Sept. 3, 9:52pm, Kolozsvar

Politics (William Butler Yeats)

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

An hour or so outside of Budapest, the land has become as flat as Kansas. Our tour guide is telling us about the insurance system in Romania. Then the education system.

It’s interesting how tour conversation is so much about politics and policies and history and monuments and so on, but what about the more personal, vital aspect of life that Yeats addresses in his poem?

The issue of dress codes in Budapest culture is fascinating. Csilla tells me that she dresses in ways that feel inauthentic because Americans have a hard time tolerating a Hungarian woman’s more open sense of sexual expression. Women in Hungary feel comfortable with their sexuality and enjoy its strength and influence.

It means that I have totally related to the speaker in Yeats’ poem:

But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

Although in my case I have not gone to poetry but rather philosophy. I have been reflecting on the rather remarkable difference between “lusting after” and “taking pleasure in.”

Taking pleasure in: an act of curiosity, a willingness to experience with openness.
Lusting after: an act of narrow focus, an investment in only a narrow profile of features. The wrong look turns a person off. The wrong time and place turns a person off!

Taking pleasure in: can happen with every person, no matter how “ugly.” This act of curiosity is endlessly open to variety. Abundance.
Lusting after: happens with relatively few people. Scarcity.

Taking pleasure in: endlessness. There never needs to be an end to taking in pleasure. Wants to allow.
Lusting after: wants a conclusion as fast as possible. Wants to possess.

Taking pleasure in: appreciates meandering.
Lusting after: a straight line, an urgency, an arrow.

Taking pleasure in: hurt is never involved.
Lusting after: can hurt terribly, especially when unsatisfied.

Suddenly I’m realizing that there’s connections between what I’m saying here and James Carse’s interesting book Finite and Infinite Games.

Reader, I don’t know how far I can take all this. It’s fascinating to see the ideas unfold and gain clarity and definition. What do you think? Is this your experience when you take pleasure in something, and when you lust after something?




Sunday, Sept. 4, 8:44am, Kolozsvar

I’m off to worship services at First Unitarian, Kolozsvar, at 11am. But first, a little blogging….

Breakfast this morning at the Hotel Victoria. The first thing that happens is I get punched in the face by rock and roll. It’s 7am on a Sunday morning and I’m eating my egg with an Orange Crush-colored yolk and the radio is on and blaring “all the hits.” An officious man comes in the breakfast room and there’s no smile, just a serious question: what is my room number? I say “#217” and he checks me off his list and I feel like I am meeting Communism for the first time. He wears a white shirt and tie. All the men wear white shirts and ties. They rush around, serious.

Is my sense of communism a construct of all the movies I’ve seen, from James Bond onwards?

No sunroom here. Everything is carefully laid out.


[“I need you, I need you, I need you right now // Don’t let me down….”]

Ugh, the WiFi is spotty. It comes in and goes out. In and out. Out and in.


A lot of bus time yesterday–early 8am start. I’m sleepy. I sit in the middle, and conversations in front and behind wash over me, roll over me…. Traffic is light and the bus flies through Budapest and breaks out of the city, flies along winding roads, up hill, down hill. We speed through one community after another, through individual scenes that each have a story that shall remain a mystery to me forever. Two men cycling–where are they going? A woman in a field, wearing a pink two-piece bathing suit, scything her way through wheat–is this her life?

[Oh my God, is that 50cent? Are we really listening to 50cent?]

Approaching the border, our guides warn us to be polite, don’t make political jokes, this is not the time to test your language skills and risk insulting the police…. You would think this is obvious, but no. One story has to do with another congregation that came visiting on pilgrimage and it was the President of the Board who would not move her legs to allow the police to proceed down the aisle so he could check everyone’s passport. He asked three times politely, and she refused. One of our guides asked, and she refused. The police took our guide (Csilla) aside and said, “You stay in the air conditioning; I’m going to cook the rest.” He directed the bus to park in the hot sun, told the driver to turn it off, meaning no AC. Three hour later, he let them go.

That President of the Board: talk about anti-authoritarianism. And how ironic she was that congregation’s authority…

But we got through without incident…

[Disco disco disco disco disco disco disco]

At one point, I think about how many things this pilgrimage has taken me into, how many things I’ve seen, how much knowledge I’ve absorbed, how many thoughts I’ve thunk 🙂 This is all so amazing, and I am filled with gratitude. And then it strikes me that what’s happening in this tour is analogous, on a small scale, to the much larger experience of being a part of the Unitarian Universalist community. How being Unitarian Universalist is itself a kind of pilgrimage and does not allow me to sit and do nothing but gets me up, gets me going, pushes and pulls me into engagement with life, opens me up in truly distinctive ways. My life would be so less rich without Unitarian Universalism….

Finally, we are in Transylvania–literally, “the land on the other side of the forest.” Green rolling hills. Hay bales built upon wooden structures, which poke out of the sides of the bale. At one point we pass immense houses with complexly-designed tin roofs: the houses of the Roma. Only few are actually occupied. They symbolize the immense wealth Roma gather via the efforts of organized child begging rings working in London and other major cities. They also symbolize the dream of entire families living together under one roof.


And finally–FINALLY–we are in the Boston of Romania: Kolozsvar. Boston, because it is the intellectual/educational center of the country. Back in 1568, in one day, Francis David inspired the entire populace to embrace Unitarianism…

The hotel Victoria:

hotel victoria

[Boom UH UH boom UH UH boom UH UH UH]


Sunday, Sept. 4, 3:36pm, O’Peter’s Bar in Old Town Kolozsvar

Jackson Brown just finished on the radio; now it’s The Cars. Smoking happens furiously around me and it’s giving me a headache. I’m sitting just off a fairly narrow walkway where a couple holding hands walks past. Someone with ITALY splashed across his green T-shirt. Three teenagers. One tall guy and one short guy talking very loudly. A man walking slowly with his hands crossed behind his back and his lips pursed. A man with a shirt reading “I may not be perfect but parts of me are awesome.”

A stone’s throw away is a building that’s been around for so long that it’s hard to know what to call it. In the 16th century it was a Dominican monastery, and in its topmost, center room (because it was the warmest room) Queen Isabella nursed little John Sigismund, who would become the first and only Unitarian king in history. Later the building would become a theology school and here is where Francis David had his first job, as the school’s dean. Later it would become the music school, and now it is a Franciscan monastery which is leasing space to a Calvinist school.


How do you talk about something for which so many vivid and important reincarnations are known? It’s not JUST its current name or function….

From here we went to the massive St. Michael’s Church, which was originally Catholic and is now back to being Catholic. But in the 16th century, it was the church from which Unitarianism was originally preached. Francis David was the preacher. What I wanted to see most of all was the pulpit. I squinched my eyes and tries to perform magic and see not just across space but time, to witness his rhetorical magic…


Afterwards, we went out to the square and saw a marked off space. Close up, we looked down to see uncovered Roman dwellings and artifacts. They had been dug up, covered up with plexiglass so they would remain undisturbed. This is what the entire area of Cluj-Napoca would look like if 6 feet were suddenly removed.


I wonder what it is like to grow up in a place where, just a few feet below, there’s an entire Roman civilization. Roads, dwellings, artifacts, bones. And then the other civilizations in between….


Sunday, Sept. 4, 5:28pm, Karolina Augusta Pub in Old Town Kolozsvar

What? you ask. He’s at another bar? Well, in my defense, this is how I’m getting free WiFi. I also have free time before tonight’s educational events and there’s still so much more to process from this morning… … …

selfie during worship

That’s me from this morning during worship at First Unitarian Church in Kolozsvar, together with some of the group. June (beside me) is giggling because I just made a crack about how, by taking a pic during worship, I have just demonstrated I have the manners of a Visigoth. UUCA people, do not do as I do!! 🙂

Worship started at 11am, but we came earlier to be welcomed by the Intern Minister there at First (Jùlia Jobbagy). Here she is, sharing a little about Unitarianism in Transylvania:

First 2

I liked how Jùlia articulated the 1568 Edict of Torda, in which King John Sigismund legalized religious liberty. The practice beforehand followed the rule of “whoever owns the land owns the religion.” THIS is what the Edict of Torda reversed, and it did so in a time when oceans of blood were being spilled over religious conflict…..

The thing that immediately jumped out at me about the interior (finished 1796) was the lack of visuals. It could have been a mosque.

Here’s what the worship was like:

About 15 minutes before 11am, the organ started up. The music is measured and slow and grave. People are gathering, of all ages. At 11pm, the three ministers in robes process up the aisle, to sit at the front.

At this point we all stand and sing a hymn. (I mean, everyone ELSE sings–the language here and throughout the entire service is in Hungarian.)

Then we sit. The organ continues playing its slow, sad song. Then it ends and the Senior Minister goes to the Communion Table at the front to greet people and share announcements. LOTS OF WORDS. Don Milton III, I know that this would be your favorite part of the service! 🙂

Actually, a nice part of the service was when the Senior Minister greeted us in English. It was like a little door opening, and a ray of light shining through. Then BAM, door is shut, and all the rest is Hungarian.

After announcements, the Senior Minister sits and the organ comes on again. We all sit. Then there’s  special music from the cantor–a singing piece by one voice.

The Intern Minister ascends to the pulpit. (I should say at this point that the pulpit is raised above the ground. It’s something like a little space ship, and the minister speaks out of the window to everyone else below. A unique aspect of Unitarian religious architecture is that the stairs heading up to the pulpit are hidden, so as he/she starts to climb, she disappears and then, POOF, she appears at the pulpit. M-A-A-G-I-C!)

She appears (POOF!) and we all stand there. There is quite a long, quiet pause at this point and I’m wondering what the heck is going on. But she’s praying! The people around me have closed their eyes, but … but … (and this is why I was confused) her eyes are open. But I see she is looking up, she is speaking to “Good Father God.” I can’t understand a word but I shift my focus from meaning to emotion. I close my eyes and sense moments of urgency that swoop and swell; I experience moments of letting go and vulnerability that are soft and sweet; I feel moments of resolve that are firm and strong.

Now she shifts her gaze downward, and she says AMEN. She leaves the pulpit (GONE!) but we are still standing, the organ comes on, and now it’s another hymn.

Throughout, the tone of the music is measured and slow and grave and deep.

Then the Assistant Minister appears in the pulpit (POOF!) and we are still standing! (All this standing, together with my complete inability to understand anything of what’s being said, take me back to my experiences as a kid in the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church.) She does a reading (later on I learn it’s from the Bible, and of course it would be–the Bible is read from in every Transylvanian Unitarian Church). The emotional tone is solemn solemn solemn.

Finally we sit. Is it the sermon now? It is! It is! And here is where the emotional range of the service finally expands beyond solemnity. Finally a bit of personality shines through, a bit of individuality. Everything else has been a full immersion into something collective that is old and deep and sobering and grand and sad. I realize that through the liturgy people are connecting with this collective something. But even during the sermon–this single foray into something more personal–there is NO LAUGHTER, NOT EVEN ONCE.

I look around me and some folks are listening, other folks have their eyes closed. There are families with three-year-olds and the kids are sitting very quietly through this. Not one peep from them.

The preacher says AMEN, we all stand (standing again!), she says a few more words, we continue standing and the organ comes on, very gently….

AMEN, again. The organ stops but she talks some more. is she praying? He eyes are closed. I look around and everyone’s head is down. We ARE praying! Yikes!

AMEN, once again. She holds her palms up and open to the people. Benediction. AMEN and AMEN.

Everyone else sits, but at this point our guides usher us out of the sanctuary. We have to begin our tour, but on the way, they take us to see this:

First 3

It’s 1568. The brilliant Francis David has just returned to Kolozsvar after winning a debate with the leading Calvinist scholar of the time, and the townsfolk meet him at the gates. Today, that would happen to a sports team. But back then, the heroes were the religious leaders.

They meet him at the gates and beg to know what happened. Francis David starts to go through the debate but you know what? The brilliant and charismatic man was also short. So they have him stand on a boulder so more people can hear him. He goes into impassioned oratory and inspires his countrymen and, that day, the town of Kolozsvar becomes Unitarian. The boulder marks the occasion.

I am delighted. I knew the story, of course. But I did not know he was short and that the boulder actually had a very practical use!

I like him even more now. Short people gotta stick together! 🙂


Monday, Sept. 5, 8:41PM at Hotel Sarmis in Deva, Part 1

Reader, it’s been a full FULL day. Also, WiFI sucked in Kolozsvar, so this installment is NOT about my adventures today but yesterday in Kolozsvar. Part 2 will focus on today.

Check out examples of Kolozsvar graffiti:









Monday, Sept. 5, 8:50PM at Hotel Sarmis in Deva, Part 2

First day it’s rained. I’m on the fourth floor of the hotel. A window is open and the sound of cars zooming past is like bacon sizzling in the pan.

I am overwhelmed. It was a day of visiting various important places for the Unitarian Universalist faith community. My heart is full.

The day started at Unitarian headquarters in Kolozsvar where we chatted with Maria Pap, Secretary of the Unitarian Church in Transylvania.


For me, the conversation was incredibly rich, and what I have to take away from it will go into a sermon. For now, check out these extremely cool pics:



After this, we hopped on our bus and drove to Torda, where King John Sigismund affirmed, in 1568,  the Edict of Torda, which was the first official statement of religious tolerance in the West. In part it says this:

In every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel, each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well; if not, no one shall compel them, for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the Superintendents (Bishops) or others shall annoy or abuse the preachers on account of their religion, … or allow any to be imprisoned or punished by removal from his post on account of his teachings, for faith is the gift of God.

In other words, a person’s faith is their secret way of being with the mystery, and it cannot be compelled by any external force, it can’t even be compelled by the person in question gritting their teeth and trying to force themselves to believe. It comes from a place within that’s deeper than trying, it comes from the soul, it comes from God.

Just to provide a bit of historical perspective: This is happening at the same time the Inquisition was trying to crush the Protestant Reformation in Wester Europe; Protestants were put to death by thousands in the Netherlands and in France; deniers of the Trinity were burned as heretics in Catholic and Protestant countries alike.

In other words, the Edict is an absolutely remarkable achievement for its time and place.

Here is where it happened, where King John Sigismund embraced the Edict as law 448 years ago, through this gate:


The marker at the site reads:


But I want you to see something very curious:


The church is Catholic. Am I being paranoid, but why is it that the statue is half-covering the plaque? Aesthetics would dictate that the statue should be in the other corner to balance things out. But instead, it crowds out the marker that affirms something the Catholic Church tried to murder off for hundreds of years. (Think of how the American government treated the Native Americans–that’s how Unitarians were treated after King John Sigismund died. I am not kidding you.)

Sigh and tears.

On to the next holy spot. To Gyulafehhervar [pronounced hu-la-hey-far, I think] which was the royal city, where King John Sigismund and his mother Queen Isabella reigned. Take a look at this church, which was built in 1009:


How do you enter such a place? How?

I come in, and this is what I see:


Francis David was the Court Preacher: 450 years ago, he was in that pulpit preaching Unitarianism. King John was seated somewhere. His mother too. Once again, I’m wishing I had magical sight to see him….

We wander around and eventually come to see this:


These are the resting places of Queen Isabella and her son. They are buried in this cathedral. But the moment is spoiled when I learn that there are no plaques to indicate to the viewer who these people are. Why they matter. The Catholics have plaques up to honor their folks. The Presbyterians do. Others do. But what about the Unitarians? I don’t know what the story is, why nothing has happened, but I vow to find out. I will find money to pay for the plaques. It is an outrage that no one gets the news about who lies here. Hopefully I’ll find out more of the story in a few days, when I meet with some Transylvanian Unitarian officials. I don’t want to be an obnoxious American. But it hurts that the story is not being told.

From here, we go on to Deva. Deva is where Francis David was imprisoned in a military facility high up. Can you tell that today was heavy with remembrance and grief?


When I say high up, I mean high up. It’s 1579. Francis David has been tried as guilty for “innovation.” In other words, the government found loophole in the Edict of Torda and used it as a way to persecute. So off to prison for him. They take him to Torda because, in all of Transylvania, it is the most remote from his Hungarian Unitarianism.

Francis David is ill. He had been at a theological debate around this time and he couldn’t even stand. He died in just six months. When we were up there, the winds cut through our clothes and to the bone. And it was just September. He died in November, 1579

Here’s the prison, closer up:


When I got to the top, I found myself reflecting on all the many highpoint of Francis David’s career. Literal highpoints: preaching from the pulpit in St. Micheal’s and as court preacher at the church in Gyulafehhervar. Or how about standing on the boulder right at the city gates of Kolozsvar, passionately preaching God’s love as he understood it? Lots of high points in his life, and now this moment in his life which is literally the highest of all…

In a small chapel there on the site, the minister of the Deva church, Zoli, leads a service. He sings a song written by Francis David, says a few words. I say a few words. We gather in a circle and I ask folks what they are feeling. The moment is prayer. I lead us in singing “Spirit of Life” and the room vibrates.


Once we are back down I take a selfie with Zoli:


Zoli takes us on a brief tour of his congregation. Here are some scenes from the sanctuary:




The evening ended with a magnificent dinner and this dessert:


Thank god for dessert (called Papanasi–“traditional baked donuts with cottage cheese”).

What a day.


Tuesday, Sept. 6, 8:22am at Hotel Sarmis in Deva

I look out my hotel room window and the day is moody. Rainy. Clouds drift low among the hills and distant mountains….


Before the day’s adventure begins, though, I want to double back to an event in Kolozsvar. During our last evening, we were treated to Hungarian music and folk dancing:


This was the best thing ever. The singer (to the right of the man playing violin) drove the dancing with a high-pitched voice sounding somewhat like yodeling. The male dancer’s athletic routine was fascinating by the way he slapped at his feet and thighs so that his movements were punctuated by sharp snaps. At times he was joined by a female partner, and her role was not athletic or showy at all. Just fluid, graceful.

After about an hour, we travelers were invited on the dance floor. Our job was to follow the steps of the dancers. Smiles, lots of laughter. Such things cross all borders with ease.

Later I thought about growing up in Canada, and how my parents wanted me to connect with my Ukrainian roots. They had us take Ukrainian language lessons and also dancing, and while I have forgotten anything I might have learned about the language, I still remember some dance moves.

I also thought, “How about that. My faith tradition is just like me. I am Canadian/American, but my family comes from the Old Country. The congregation I serve is in Atlanta, Georgia, but its larger family has Old Country roots, too.”

I never made this connection before.


Tuesday, Sept. 6, 9:03pm at Hotel Sarmis in Deva, Part 1

There’s just too many interesting sights! Here are just a few snaps that I think are interesting/funny/ironic. More about my day in Part 2.








Tuesday, Sept. 6, 9:21pm at Hotel Sarmis in Deva, Part 2

As of today, Tuesday, it’s been officially a week since I’ve left Atlanta. By now I’m sure the plants on my porch are dead, dead, dead. Sorry plants–I couldn’t find someone to take care of you….

I must say, I’m glad to take a break from my hummingbirds. At first, having a hummingbird feeder was the coolest thing. A little guy would speed up to it, hover like an alien spaceship, look left and right and up, and then dive right in. Pull out, look left/right/up, then feed again. Repeat until it’s done, and then go into warp. GONE. It would be sweet, it would be quiet.

Until recently.

Recently, what started to happen was several hummingbirds found out about my feeder and each of them wanted it all to itself. As it turns out, hummingbirds are insanely territorial and masculine. One would zoom up but then another would suddenly break out of warp and that’s when they’d start to bark at each other. There I am, drinking my morning coffee and wanting to enjoy the quiet but it’s not quiet anymore, I’ve got West Side Story happening on my porch, the Sharks and the Jets, and there’s lots of noise.

NOW I know why South American cultures symbolize the warrior spirit with the hummingbird.

So that’s how my romantic vision of sweet quiet hummingbird enjoying nectar at my feeder died. They are not sweet. They will CUT YOU.

But it’s been a long week since I’ve been on my porch, or since I’ve been in my house, or since I’ve been in the office, or since I’ve been coaching skating, and on and on. There’s a sense in which all of this is exoskeleton, and now that it’s gone, I’m feeling like I’m losing my shape. Feeling lumpy, wobbly.


But don’t think I’m complaining. Oh no, it’s all good. Things are happening. Connections are being formed…

So: today. We said goodbye to Deva and drove to Hunedoara, where the attraction is the amazing 13th century castle of Corvinilar. Apparently the folks who created the Harry Potter attraction in Florida visited here to get ideas. I mean, it’s the real deal.


But I was also caught up in the tension between this and the reality of the surrounding town. Hunedoara is a steel town without the steel–all the iron mills (except one) have been shut down. John (one of our guides) calls the area a “moonscape” because of all the sites where the earth is gashed. It is not pretty. “The Pittsburgh of Romania.”


So I am struck about how we drove straight through the poverty and the tragedy of the town to a sightseeing stop as only tourists can….

My Unitarian Universalist superego is showing 🙂

Afterwards, we stopped off at a children’s home founded and operated by a relative of one of my fellow group members. At one point, out of the corner of my eye, I saw our driver Istvan leaping at a tree. What is he doing? Our other guide, Csilla, was there with him. He leapt and leapt and it looked like he got something, which he promptly started to crush under his shoe. What? Turns out he was collecting walnuts! Peeling the skin, cracking them open, getting to the meat. Turns your fingertips greenish. Leaves a stain. Csilla shared a story about when she was a kid starting school, the expectation was that your hands would be clean, but she and her friends would go after the walnuts and they would fail all the expectations. I love stories like this. Growing up in a communist world, she said, meant having little to nothing….

Near Sibiu Csilla goes into the corruption of the Romanian government, during communism and post-communism. It’s the #1 corrupt government in Europe. I am nauseated, hearing all the stories.

But now we are in Sibiu, this town that was built out of the energies of German Saxons (whom, in this century, the Romanian government thoroughly screwed over)… I love it. Beautiful.




Wednesday, Sept. 7, 9:28pm at DoubleTree by Hilton in Sighisoara, Part 1 

We spent this morning exploring Sibiu and then at 2pm left for another adventure: the Saxon fortress church in Biertan (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Do you know what a 1000 years smells like? A very distinctive smell.

Some images for you:






Wednesday, Sept. 7, 9:47pm at DoubleTree by Hilton in Sighisoara, Part 2

Let’s talk about walking. Solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking.

Walking is something a tourist does a lot of, especially when they are a part of a group. Is something solved?

I think of all the kinds of walking I’ve engaged in over the past week: striding to some official place; hurrying up only to wait; wandering aimlessly; fast-walking, trying to fly somewhere; shuffling in some kind of queue; I will even include the lack of walking, as in my ass stuck in an airplane seat, or in the seat of a tour bus.

Don’t let me forget the kind of walking that’s in concert with a group, and we are following our guides like ducklings follow their mother. At times the group has used headsets, so as the guide speaks, his/her voice is in our ears, and we can even be ahead of the group and still be with it….

Perhaps the worst is the shuffling in some queue kind. Dehumanizing.

My favorite is wandering. I love walking for hours in a new place. Allowing a new world to wash over me. Feeling the energy.

Walking: carpet, brick, pavement, cobblestone, dirt, grass, linoleum.

The gentle agitation of the motion of walking, loosening things up.

One of the first words in the old Dick and Jane readers: LOOK. We are walking and looking. A whole new world pours into our senses.

Is something solved, or is it dissolved: one’s sense of certitude, one’s sense of complacency? The exoskeleton of habits that closes you off to something new?

Tomorrow: Vlad Dracul! Sighisoara is his birthplace!


Thursday, Sept. 8, 11:20am at Teresa Scara in Sighisoara, Part 1

Sighisoara turns out to be this amazing walled medieval city, and so very well preserved. Age oozes out of everything. Here, in fact, is the height of irony in this place:


I mean, any wall that does NOT have this on it is lying….


Thursday, Sept. 8, 11:23am at Teresa Scara in Sighisoara, Part 2

While I’m here drinking a latte and resting after running up 144 steps to the Biserica din Deal (the Church on the hill, built in the 13th century, with catacombs underneath and churchyard next door), I’ll say a few words about “you know who.” Yup, that guy: Dracula. His namesake, Vlad Dracul, was born here.

Only in two other places have I seen anything referencing that most famous Transylvanian:



I found the wine in Kolozsvar, and the cartoon Dracula was off the square in Sibiu.

But here in Sighisoara, all restraints are off. References everywhere:






Isn’t that something?

I suggest a quick read of Wikipedia’s article on Dracula. At one point, it says (and note especially the underlined portions):

Between 1879 and 1898, [Bram Stoker, author of Dracula] was a business manager for the world-famous Lyceum Theatre in London, where he supplemented his income by writing a large number of sensational novels, his most famous being the vampire tale Dracula published on 26 May 1897.[5]:269 Parts of it are set around the town of Whitby, where he spent summer holidays.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, authors such as H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells wrote many tales in which fantastic creatures threatened the British Empire. Invasion literature was at a peak, and Stoker’s formula was very familiar by 1897 to readers of fantastic adventure stories, of an invasion of England by continental European influences. Victorian readers enjoyed Dracula as a good adventure story like many others, but it did not reach its iconic legendary status until later in the 20th century when film versions began to appear.[8]

Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent seven years researching European folklore and stories of vampires, being most influenced by Emily Gerard’s 1885 essay “Transylvania Superstitions”. Later he also claimed that he had a nightmare, caused by eating too much crab meat covered with mayonnaise sauce, about a “vampire king” rising from his grave.

The Dead Un-Dead was one of Stoker’s original titles for Dracula, and the manuscript was entitled simply The Un-Dead up until a few weeks before publication. Stoker’s notes for Dracula show that the name of the count was originally “Count Wampyr“, but Stoker became intrigued by the name “Dracula” while doing research, after reading William Wilkinson’s book An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them (London 1820),[10] which he found in the Whitby Library and consulted a number of times during visits to Whitby in the 1890s.[11] The name Dracula was the patronym (Drăculea) of the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, who took the name “Dracul” after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In the Romanian language, the word dracul (Romanian drac “dragon” + -ul “the”) can mean either “the dragon” or, especially in the present day, “the devil”.[12]

This is all super interesting: the invasion literature bit, the last-minute name changes.

Also super interesting is the fact that “too much crabmeat covered with mayonnaise sauce” was the physical trigger for a story that has captured people’s imaginations for more than 100 years.

Crabmeat/mayo combo, anyone?


Friday, Sept. 9, 11:56am, Homorodkaracsonyfalva, part 1

We are in the Homorod Valley and it’s been years since I’ve been somewhere so remote. Internet access is very limited and I’ve just a small window of opportunity to post some items. Today we will travel to Szekelyudvarhely and begin our home stays–I don’t know if there will be internet access there either… Just know I am thinKing about you!

For now:

Unitarianism in the Homorod Valley: it is a religion of farmers. After dinner at the parish house in Homorodkaracsonyfalva (consisting of polenka, sour cherry soup, mashed potatoes with meatballs, and dessert), and during our walk back to the bed and breakfast, we saw cows returning home for the evening. Water buffalo also. Enormous moos. Shit everywhere on the street, and the sour/rich smell blended in with everything. Clop-clop-clop of horses carrying wagons filled with hay. Sun-weathered farmers who could not possibly read William Ellery Channing or Ralph Waldo Emerson, never mind the postmodernists of current day.

We American Unitarian Universalists completely underestimate the reach of our religion. It is far more adaptable than we know.

It is time we cease our judgmentalism and engage in more curiosity about what our faith might become, and who might be interested in it.


Friday, Sept. 9, 11:56am, Homorodkaracsonyfalva, part 2

My encounter with religion in Hungary and Romania has resulted in a fascinating discovery. Over and over again, I’ve heard that, here, “ethnicity trumps theology.” I’ve heard that “if you don’t like your church, you just stop going. You certainly don’t go elsewhere else, because giving up the ethnic ties is unimaginable.”

This suggests that the deep meaning-making of Transylvanian religious community is inextricably tied up with preserving and transmitting Hungarian ethnicity. And, as ethnicity is intersubjective by nature, religion is felt as a dynamism between/among people. The word “God” does not so much point to an individual’s private experience of something divine as it points to sacred architecture, music, prayer, scripture, stories, seasonal celebrations, ethnic traditions, and all the other ways that people publicly manifest divinity.

This, by the way, is why Communism’s attempt to erase religion was so thoroughly destructive. To erase public manifestations of the divine was to take both God and ethnic heritage from the people. It was a one-two punch. People felt erased to the depths of their being.

Another way of getting at all this is to ask, Where do people feel most real? A self-aware Transylvanian will say, In the dynamism of community. A self-aware American, on the other hand, will say, In the dynamism of my private self. For Americans, the locus of personal reality is INTRAsubjective. People in the land of “bowling alone” can easily give up ethnicity or heritage without feeling fundamentally diminished. They can easily give up certain public manifestations of divinity, as they see fit. That’s why, if they grow to dislike the church they grew up in, they can move on. They don’t leave anything critical to their identity behind them, as is what would happen for a Hungarian Transylvanian or a Romanian Orthodox.

My pilgrimage to Transylvania has taught me something important about the gospel of free religion: the very different ways it gets refracted through different cultural lenses. In Transylvania, people experience their freedom as they exist within a shared language of religion/ethnicity. In America, people experience their freedom as they engage individual feelings, thoughts, intuitions, and experiences and as they try to create a workable sense of self while also being in right/creative relationship with others.

A powerful illustration of this comes from a conversation with Maria Pap at Unitarian headquarters in Kolozsvar. She described an incident when she was at Starr King in California, our Unitarian Universalist seminary on the West Coast. She started to talk about the God of her Unitarian understanding, and various Starr King students pushed back at her, hard. “Don’t use that word,” they said. “That word triggers all sorts of hurt. People have suffered tremendously because of that word.” What trumps theology for Americans, in other words, is intrasubjective factors (feelings, thoughts, intuitions, and experiences). If God doesn’t agree with them, God goes.

Something is always trumping theology, right?

Maria’s response to the students was outrage. She said, “Love hurts like hell, too, but no one wants to remove that word from the language.” (What a mic drop of a statement!) But the reason why no American Unitarian Universalist would want to remove “love” from the language is because its intrasubjective reality is readily available to everyone. Everyone has felt love. Not so with God, if that word is pointing to a kind of inner experience. Only few people have experienced God directly, as the mystics do….

But for a Transylvanian Unitarian, this is missing the point! God is fundamentally known intersubjectively not intrasubjectively. God has as much energy and presence as the ethnic traditions, architecture, seasonal celebrations, sacred music, prayer, and all the other ways that people publicly manifest divinity. God, from this perspective, is not so easily kicked out….

Reader, where do you feel most real? Among people, or within your solitary self?

Reader, tell me: where is God?


Saturday, Sept. 10, 3:43pm, Székelyudvarhely

Listening to Nora and Samuel sing. Nora is the middle daughter of three in the Kosma household; Samuel is her boyfriend. I met them yesterday when our bus finally reached our partner church town of Székelyudvarhely. Kati Kosma is the President of the Board. She and her husband, Errno, own and operate a printing business. Their youngest daughter is named Kristina.



I am taking lessons in how to offer hospitality. The Bible is a great source for stories about hospitality, and so is this trip. The Kosma family is so very welcoming and warm. These are beautiful people.

Last night before d… <I am interrupted by the family. They want me to see a video of their family trip to Montenegro. I come and sit on the couch. Samuel (who will be starting film school in Koloszvar this fall) created the video. It’s just excellent. The family embraces him and loves him. It is a thoroughly surreal experience for me, as I remember my own family situation and how worlds apart it was.>

But as I was saying, last night before dinner, the family took me to go see Samuel perform traditional Hungarian folk dance with others from his school.


Watching this blows my mind. It’s the sort of thing I did growing up, except it was Ukrainian dancing, not Hungarian. I know this. I believe in this.

This was not on the itinerary. Not for this first time am I finding myself returned to my family. It was like this the day before, at the bed and breakfast in Homorodkaracsonyfalva, where the treated pine wood walls of my bedroom, glowing gold in the sunlight, took me right back to my Baba and Dido’s house, where the walls were identical.


I hadn’t seen something like this for 20+ years. This, as well as the down comforter. It brought me back to Baba’s down comforter which, I swear, was four feet tall at the center. It was full and soft like a huge marshmallow. You would nestle underneath it and it did not matter that the entirety of Canada wanted to freeze your bones. The down comforter won every time. How could I have ever forgotten it? But I did. Until Transylvania.


Sunday, Sept. 11, 7:55am, Székelyudvarhely, Part 1


Friday afternoon we were greeted at the Székelyudvarhely church. Rev. Moses Kadei and a group of congregants met us with wonderful warmth, and they ushered us into the church building, where we saw this:



The group then sang some songs for us:


And then we were ushered into Rev. Kedei’s study, where, among other things, we saw a great framed picture of Francis David, preaching Unitarianism at the Diet of Torda in 1568:


And it was underneath his gaze that we were offered a traditional greeting meal of bread and palenka (which is distilled fruit brandy, often clear but it can come in any number of colors–delicious but deadly). The bread was passed around, shot glasses of palenka were handed around. Mozes offered yet another greeting and then I said a few words. I said, “All throughout the world, the very basic things that people need to sustain life are symbolized by bread and water. But today you give us your special version of that, and we are honored and grateful to be here.” It got big laughter, and I’m glad.

This is one of the scenes around the table, after the first round:



To say “welcome” in Hungarian is literally to say, “God brought you.” It felt like that.


Sunday, Sept. 11, 7:55am, Székelyudvarhely, Part 2

Saturday morning before breakfast, Errno and I are in the kitchen. We are talking about Friday night’s meal at the restaurant and I ask him if the family goes out a lot. He does not speak very much English, but the meaning of what he’s trying to say is clear. There are more hungers at stake than just for food. There is a hunger for belonging, there is a hunger for the feeling of being together, there is hunger for family. That is why they don’t go out to restaurants very often. Something being made at home has far more nutritional value, on more levels, than anything from a restaurant….

Breakfast is eye-poppingly good. I find myself worrying that, from all the consistently excellent food I’ve been eating, together with a radical drop-off of my usual exercise regimen, Sunday morning will roll around and I’ll need to wear my suit (since I’m preaching) and the pants won’t fit!

Aaaand, I go ahead and take another bite! I guess the worries aren’t big enough to stop me 🙂

During breakfast, I find that I’m having a hell of a time cutting one of their delicious garden tomatoes. Errno gestures that I should use the other side of the blade. I had been using the side that curves, as we do in America. That’s the sharp one. But here, it’s the OTHER side of the blade that is the sharp one–the straight one that ends at a point. And that does the trick. Tomato, you are MINE!

But what’s funny is that I caught myself reverting back to the American side of the blade, and the entire family saw too, and we all laughed. Then I just decided to come clean about how goofy I felt about the whole thing and I turned the blade completely around and started cutting my tomato with the handle. A slapstick moment.


Sunday, Sept. 11, 5:44pm, Székelyudvarhely, Part 3

Worship this morning with the church in Székelyudvarhely. My heart is full:





Tuesday, Sept. 13, 3:05am, Victoria Hotel in Kolozsvar

Down in the lobby at 4am, we’ll call some taxis to take us to the airport. Our flight leaves at 6:15-ish. To Bucharest, to Munich, and then to Atlanta, with a scheduled arrival time of 3:30pm.

No more 7 hours ahead. Like entering into a time machine. We go back in time.

Endings and beginnings. Or, as I like to say, endBeginnings.

Our entrance into our partner church town, Székelyudvarhely, was interesting. From out of the Homorod Valley, we had taken some back roads, risky roads. Coming upon a bridge, we all got out because our driver Istvan was unsure about the bridge’s strength. We walked across, and then came the bus. Soon after this, a rock got stuck between the right double tires in the back and the sound of our passage was THUMP THUMP THUMP. Ivan got out with a hammer. BAM! BAM! BAM! The damn thing wouldn’t budge. Our beginning in Székelyudvarhely, our entry song, would sound like THUMP THUMP THUMP.

But it was not to be. Still a couple miles out, all the physical forces of our arrival were too much. The rock flew out and our sound was solid and clear.

And it continued to be so. The visit with our partner church families was amazing. More stories than I have time to tell right now. I was so sad to leave.

Monday morning my hosts Kati and Errno were both in the kitchen preparing breakfast:


Reader, you have no idea how good these breakfasts were…. And it was a busy morning, too. Nora and Kristina were starting another year of school that morning. Here is one of Nora’s notebooks:


I wish all these things for her, for Kristina as she begins her new year, for their parents, and for us all. GO FIND YOURSELF. GRAB THE CHANCE. LAUGH LOTS. BE CLASSY. STAY AWAKE.

Be bacK home soon–







  1. One of the things I learned on my trip to Budapest was that there are many towns in Transylvania where everyone is Unitarian. Imagine how that feels! Wanted to share, also, that my genetic upline comes partly from the Caucasus. That would be my mitrochondrial DNA. I lay it on the feet of the Vikings, who roamed all over Europe. From the National Geo Geonomic project, I learned that my haplogroup came out of Africa (as did we all), and ended up in the area just under Norway. They were also precursors of the Ashkenazi Jews. We are all one big family and related somehow. I think it’s wonderful. Enjoy your trip. Big adventure.

  2. Thanks for the delightful writing. Travel is such a wonderful life experience; seeing how others live makes us all seem more like one.

  3. Wow! Life as a coin with two sides. Experienced simultaneously. Profound. But what I want to see is a picture of Agnes! Love, Dave

  4. Loving this trip blog. So full of wonder. At the large and the miniscule and the thoughts that bubble up from it all. (A nice escape for me as I sip coffee in Atlanta before starting Saturday chores!)

  5. One of the things you notice is how ornate the Catholic churches are in Transylvania, but how plain the Unitarian churches. The entire interior is white except for the natural colors of the wood furnishings. I suspect that it is the Unitarians’ way of rebelling against the over-the-top displays of church wealth and a desire to return religion to simplicity. I don’t know if my theory is true, but it’s definitely the impression I got while visiting Transylvanian churches.
    And then there’s image you see repeated in the Unitarian churches of the bleeding swan and its babies feeding on their mother’s dripping blood. The church in Szekelyudvarhely has this carved atop its pulpit. Touching and beautiful, yet kinda creepy.

  6. Dear Anthony – what a blessing it is for me to hear your thoughts and experience your feelings as you go on this wonderful trip. We also stayed at the Hotel Belvedere and the breakfast room was really lovely. The eggs are so brightly colored because the chickens eat real chicken food — bugs, etc.
    Not Purina chichen chow.

    Our experience at the church service in Budapest was not too different from yours in Transylvania. Much Hungarian. We had long-winded politicos. Our guides (I think the same ones you had) were sort of rueful about the Soviet occupation. I think, like Moussalini in Italy, they made the trains run on time. Did you get to ride in the old Soviet-made subway cars.

    I was impressed that our partner church had been able to survive during the Soviet occupation. The Soviets weren’t so very pro-church, and it must have been a fine line to walk. But, they kept the congregation together. Another one for the UUs.

    I wish we had been able to go to Transylvania, but maybe next time. Thanks again for sharing yourself. Very charming.

  7. Hi Anthony,
    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I have so enjoyed your blog and especially your pictures and descriptions of the trip. I feel that I am with you and Ines and the group!! Hello to Ines!

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