Friday, August 3, 2007

In Budapest; selections from Nancy's journal

We are back in Budapest after an amazing week of love and friendship in what we now think of as "our" village of Homoródszentmárton. It was quite a contrast to have to deal with speeding cars and traffic signals when we were used to a walking pace, in a village where the traffic jams were caused by the cows going out to pasture in the morning and coming home at night, and the honking we heard was that of geese, not car horns.

We were sad to leave the village but look forward to sharing our journey with everyone back home.


Below is a copy of Nancy's email covering Kolozsvár and our first few days in the village.

My dear friends at home,

Below are my lonnnnnggg journal entries from the past few days, drawn mostly from my e-mails to Kevin (with just a "few" edits, of course). We miss you, and feel so connected to you, even though we are far away!

There is much more to come!



Wednesday, July 25, 2007--from Koloszvar

After a good full day in Budapest on Monday, yesterday we took a 12-hour sleep-inducing bus ride to Koloszvar, which is in a bit of a valley in the midst of the western Carpathian mountains. Almost no "freeway" in our terms, but smallish winding roads most of the way. It was amazing how the look of things changed almost as soon as we crossed the border into Romania. After the requisite Communist-era poorly kept cement buildings, we were soon out in the countryside with rolling hills in the distance (hills into which we would climb, as we steamed upward into the Carpathians--which are "old" mountains, fairly low, green, rolling). Picture-perfect villages nestled in valleys (near the water, instead of on ecologically unfriendly hillsides for the VIEW, the way our U.S. developers do it--all such details noticed and decoded by my brilliant fellow pilgrims). Farmers were working fields with horse- or mule-drawn carts, and giant hay bales stood like fairy-tale pictures in the fields. We stopped in a tiny town that has turned itself over to roadside crafts shops--lots of embroidery, pottery, wood carvings, and elaborate traditional dresses. I resisted! But I had some great conversations with the locals with my slowly increasing Hungarian vocabulary and their broken English. The people seem friendlier here than in stern, urban, weary Budapest!

Finally we got here, to Koloszvar, totally knocked out, and climbed 95 stairs (one of my fellow pilgrims counted them today) with our luggage up to the fourth floor of the Unitarian headquarters (Transylvania's "25 Beacon Street") where there has been a Unitarian high school for 450 years! With help from partner churches, they have completely renovated the top floor as a dormitory--and it has much-appreciated air conditioning--and this is where we are staying. Our skylights open to a view of the large inner courtyard--it is a little like living in the inner courtyard of the Louvre or Versailles. We all took turns standing on a chair in my room (shared with Crystal and Rev. Erika) to stick our heads out through these open windows to catch the view and to watch (briefly!) a fabulous lightning storm that broke the heat and zigzagged across the night skies.

We were met at the dorm by two wonderful young university guys from the village, Dyobbi (sp??) and Istvan (pronounced, roughly, Chawbee and Eeshtehvahn); they are here to "carry us home"--home to our village, that is! Meanwhile, they are having a fabulous time touring the city with us and playing poker with our youth until the wee hours. Our little community expands one by one, already deeply embracing Rev. Erika Orban (last year's Balacs Scholar) who has been our AMAZING guide.

Today we went as a big group through the Unitarian school (now expanded to elementary and high school), and into the teeny, steamy, but fascinating library there, with a book from 1555 just sitting in a cabinet and held in bare hands by the young professor who showed it to us. "It's the best we can do in terms of preservation!" he said. Then on down the street a few doors to the big Unitarian church here--this is Transylvania's "Mother Church" in many ways. A bunch of our youth led a group of us waaaayyyyyy up some dusty old narrow wooden stairs to the rafters of the bell tower, adrenaline pumping as each level, which had seemed to be the last, revealed yet one more staircase. The kids were all saying, "I wonder how long it has been since anyone has been up here!" There has been a lot of that sense of first-time discovery and awe for us pilgrims, both young and old, throughout the day, as we move more deeply into the heart of our pilgrimage.

The church itself is beautiful, and we all sang a couple of familiar hymns out of their tiny Hungarian hymnbook: "Find a Stillness, Keep a Stillness" (which is in our gray hymnal) and "Nearer My God to Thee"! Then on to the home of this really famous good Hungarian king from the fourteenth century, and then to the now-Catholic cathedral which had been taken over by the Unitarians in the 16th century after Francis David came back from the Diet of Torda (where the first act of religious toleration was passed). When he returned, he stood on a rock in the middle of Koloszvar (the rock is now in a special room in "our" church--and I will get to stand on it tomorrow [see our blog!]). There he preached such a sermon that the whole town converted at once to Unitarianism, and lifted him onto their shoulders and carried him over to the then-Catholic cathedral and took it over! And they promptly set about covering all the glorious 13th-century paintings on the walls with plaster, so as not to "worship idols"! Today you can see where the current occupants (Catholics once more) have chipped the plaster away to show the old paintings.

It was tough on all of us moving in one huge group this morning, but everyone has been very patient. I'm so impressed with the spirit and attitude of our pilgrims! Of course we can see all of our "stuff" starting to prickle outward from weariness and the stress of all this newness and the way we are traveling, but I've only heard of one major meltdown, and I am have really only shown my USUAL neuroses, which I've been able to catch fairly quickly. :-)

Most of all, the multicultural situation is really fascinating, and it's particularly fascinating to see Romania through the eyes of the long-oppressed Hungarian minority. Here is our brilliant 28-year-old minister-guide Erika offering all this depth of history, making me feel how current 500 years ago is to these people! She strives to give an "objective" picture of the situation with the Romanians now, but she knows too that she can't suppress her strong feelings sometimes. When we visited the home of the Hungarian king, for instance (the "truthful king," they call him, or "the king of truth," for his virtues), it's not a museum, but its Romanian caretakers let us come into the inner garden area for a moment--and then they stood glaring at us and rolling their eyes. When I interrupted Erika mid-sentence to say we needed to go (yes, this was one of my neurotic moments), Erika said with some heat and great pride, "We can relax. I know whose home this is!"

It's outrageously hot here, including in this internet cafe. One of my best moments came at about 2:00 today, when Geoff and I found a little cafe where we could sit outside in the shade, and an actual cool breeze fanned us, and they had lovely salads and even DECAF cappuccinos. It was so exactly the kind of place that Kevin and I like to hang out in that I missed him EVEN more, if that's possible!

Friday, July 27--from Homorodszentmarton

Here is the scene from where I sit, at Joszef's computer in his and his wife Erika's bedroom:

Across the unpaved street right outside the window beside me, half our pilgrims are clearing and leveling a ten-meter-diameter area in the churchyard, the part that is outside the old fortifications, and there we will place a stone labyrinth, our permanent gift to them. It is quite amazing ... I worked with them for an hour, sorting rocks, shoveling, even some pickaxing, and everyone made a big deal out of that, :-); I knew that was all the time I should take procrastinating getting to work on my sermon for Sunday. And more procrastination is the reason I am writing this journal now, of course!

Yesterday, I experienced a true state of grace. It was a glorious day from my early morning solo stroll in Koloszvar, through the bus ride into ever more beautiful hill and mountain scenes, with a surprise stop at the very church in Torda where the very first Edict of Religious Freedom was passed after a bunch of theologians gathered for the Diet and argued their theologies, and the king converted to Unitarianism, and Francis David won the day. My heart just leapt. I could not believe how powerful it felt!

But that feeling was nothing compared to how I felt when we arrived here in the village. I was truly so deeply happy--no, so truly joyful, not in an overly elated or hyper way, but in that deep calm sure sense of grace, gratitude, God. I can't explain or describe it exactly, and it has already dissipated from its pure state, but it was profound. It felt like a moment of discernment, like I had found my place. Kind of like the way I felt when I walked into the San Jose sanctuary for the first time. This is where I am supposed to be. I am home.

Saturday, July 28--Szentmarton

Our congregants leveled and cleared the area of the churchyard and laid out the labyrinth in a day!! It is a miracle. All of us can sense something much greater than us going on here (they discovered yesterday that the church tower and this funny rock-and-cement low mound, which has been built as a surprise to be the center of the labyrinth, are completely aligned east-west-north-south with their corners, so all us pagans are thrilled with the earth-centeredness of it all). Some young folks from the village and a few of us began a mural inside the small building on the church grounds that serves as Sunday school classroom and winter sanctuary. And some of our youth and adults unearthed a few tombstones that were sinking into neverneverland, including an old one that had been made from a round millstone. The radiance on everyone's face is blinding. I am preaching on the Transfiguration tomorrow (Mark 9:1-8)!

In the evening, we walked half an hour into the hills to a picnic by the river. The lay president of our congregation here brought his horse wagon, then unhooked the horse, gave it a bath in the river, and saddled it for folks to ride! It was the biggest gathering of "us-and-them" so far, and once the wine and beer began to flow, and MM's bead-making had gathered the children in both languages, the mingling across borders began to flow too. On the way back, Rev. Erika, John Butcher (Josh's dad), and I were walking along, admiring the moonrise over the hills, when we were almost literally kidnapped by the local veterinarian, who had also been our main barbecue chef and my avid conversationalist about politics, etc., throughout the picnic. They demanded that we get into a car, and then drove us to a restaurant, where they wanted us to drink more wine with them! We managed to teetotal and forced them to drink quickly, as we were all due at a folkdance performance and teaching session at the local cultural center. But we weren't allowed to leave until the vet-chef made us promise that we would bring the whole gang to his home for another party on Monday night! Never mind that we include four vegetarians, one wheat-sugar-sensitive person, and me, with my sensitivities to garlic and onions (the latter a main staple of Transylvanian food). Never mind what Jozsef had planned for us! The guy said, "The program must change, just as the nuclear program has changed!" He is, needless to say, a character. As I write, it remains to be seen whether this "extra" party will really take place, or whether it was just "the wine talking," but however it turns out, it was an unforgettable day.

Monday, July 30--just before we leave for Bran Castle ("Dracula's home")

In the middle of Saturday, when I was closeted in Joszef and Erika's bedroom working on the worship service for 16 hours almost straight through, Joszef came bursting in, his face alight. "I am SO excited!" he said. "Wait until you see the mural! Yesterday I thought it was good and nice, but today, ... it is AMAZING!" Indeed, when you see the pictures, I hope your breath, too, will be taken away. Working together, we are truly "transfiguring" our Transylvanian home!

I will tell you more about the worship service and labyrinth dedication on Sunday later!

Now I must run to the bus to visit Dracula's castle--it's a Romanian tale and doesn't mean so much to our Transylvanian brothers and sisters, but of course we Americans must go.

My love to everyone,


Sunday, July 29, 2007

First day in the village

Below are Monty's notes on our first day in the village, which was actually a few days ago.

Sziastok Friends and Members of FUCSJ,

We have had many, many experiences today in our village. Yesterday, Friday the 22nd, was our first full day. A mural was begun in the youth room/winter Sunday church service room. We removed a very large headstone from the graveyard. Only about 12 inches of the headstone was visible when we began. In the end the stone was about 4 1/2 feet in diameter and was a used stone from a mill. This stone dated as being placed in 1825. There are many headstones where only the last
few inches are visible. We will try to save those in the most danger of completely disappearing.

Our third project is the installation of a labyrinth. The site was far from level. One end of the labyrinth area was a meter higher than the other end. By lunch time we were able to level the area completely by hand since no machinery was available. Tomorrow we will install the borders of the labyrinth. All of these projects were performed with the help of many Unitarian villagers.

Dinner was a long walk beyond the outskirts of the village. A large fire was built under a pot in which dinner was cooked for 45 people. It was indeed a very large pot. Horse carts were used for bringing supplies to our dinner. I was impressed to see one of the carts driven by one of our youth, Aaron Smith. After cooling the horses in the creek, they were saddled and rides were offered to everyone. Impromptu soccer games and volleyball games were started throughout the evening.
We had an amazing time with our hosts in the warm summer air. The village cows (about 200 head plus a herd of goats) strolled by on their way to their homes. This was the signal for the end of dinner.

Later that evening, we attended a dance performance of the local village youth. The music was provided by a violist and a viola player. After the performance, we learned a four person dance. The musicians played on and I was very excited to do couple dances with the villagers of the Szekelyfold region.

As you can see, our first full day was indeed a full and exciting day.



Thursday, July 26, 2007


Szia Friends and Members of FUCSJ,

We have spent a day in Kolozsvár. (This is the Hungarian name; in Romanian it is Cluj-Napoca.) We had a wonderful tour of the Unitarian High School. The recent history of the high school parallels that of the Transylvanian Unitarian church. It was built in 1901. The building was confiscated by the government during the Communist era. It was not returned to the Unitarian church until around 1996. Since then they have had access to only one half of the building. A public school uses the other half.

We toured the Unitarian Church in Kolozsvár which also contains the rock that Ferenc Dávid (Francis David) stood upon to preach the unity of God in 1568. At that point Unitarianism became the state religion of Hungary. The church itself is very large and with a simple bright interior. In contrast to the simple designs, there were embroidered cloths used to border the front pews and the alter in the front of the church. The cloths were white and the embroidery was red with a Hungarian motif. It was a stunning effect.

Today, Thursday the 26, we left Kolozsvár on our bus to travel to our partner church village of Homoródszentmárton. On our way we stopped in Torda at the church where the Diet of Torda was held. This afternoon we arrived at the village, where we received a very warm welcome from our hosts. Tomorrow we will begin our labyrinth project and graveyard preservation. We have found that we will need to move a great deal of earth to flatten the labyrinth site. We have found several headstones that have sunken into the ground so far that only a couple of inches remain above the ground. We will need to dig very deep to retrieve these heavy pieces of stone.

We are looking forward to a fantastic experience here in our village. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. We feel them here.



Monday, July 23, 2007

Nancy's note from Budapest

Dear, dear Friends in San Jose,

First Unitarian's pilgrims have arrived in Budapest and begun our adventures. We are thinking of you often and striving to represent you well!

A group of us visited the "Buda Labyrinth" today--not a labyrinth like ours, though its flag looks exactly like ours, but rather a labyrinthine series of underground rooms, originally carved out by water, then paved with stones in the Middle Ages, and used as hiding places or military positions in the Renaissance and the World War eras (as many as ten thousand people would cram together down there during air raids in WW II). Now a whimsical mix of ancient cave and modern tourist attraction, we delighted in the dark watery rooms (a relief from the heat aboveground) and in the "Labyrinth of Courage" walk, tracing a path through the pitch-dark by holding onto a metal "thread"--"there is nothing of fear here," the sign said, "the fears are all inside you"--a good topic for a sermon, I thought. (Meg Trask and I managed to get ourselves thoroughly convulsed with giggles, especially when the thread ended just before the exit door, and we couldn't figure out a way to open it. We knocked; Rick Morris knocked back, helpfully, from the other side. Finally, Meg shined her cell phone on the door so that we could find a handle! Ah, how our youth can lead us! :-)). We were momentarily taken in by a tongue-in-cheek, completely anachronous art exhibit featuring petrified "relics" of "Homo consumeris"--Adidas footprints, computer keyboard imprints, and microwave shapes frozen in stone. Andy Warhol, move over!
Geoff and I particularly enjoyed a glimpse of a crumbling Bible in one of the big churches here--the first full Bible printed in Hungarian in 1626. On our return trip through Budapest, we plan to visit the Unitarian church here, too.
Our ears are full of the polyglot of many languages spoken by locals and visitors, and our tongues stretch to learn and pronounce a few words of Hungarian, often drawing smiles from the solemn faces of shop owners here.
We miss you all, and hope you too are having inner and outer adventures, which we will all pour together when we share the waters of the world in September. 

Our first day

Hello Friends and Members of FUCSJ!
( in Hungarian, Hello (Szia) = Hello in English )
We arrived in Budapest yesterday afternoon after various flight delays which also resulted in no luggage for most of our group. [NPJ note: Since our flights took essentially a day and a half--with an otherworldly view of Greenland on the way--this meant we certainly got our money's worth out of our travel clothes!] The temperature yesterday was 99 deg F so we are a little warm.
Even so, we have found Budapest to be a wonderful city to explore with many historic and cultural sites. The city is divided by the Danube where one side has hills supporting a palace and a fortress. The other side is a flat plane with restaurants, shops and more shops.
We will spend our second night here tonight, and tomorrow morning we will take a chartered bus to Koloszvar where we will spend two nights in the dorms of the Unitarian High School. We will be hosted by Rev. Zsolt (a teacher there--the Balacs Scholar a year ago, who offered that wonderful children's story and sermon in June 2006) and Rev. Erica ( she was the visiting scholar at Starr King last year ).
After that, we will be off to our partner church in Homorodszentmarton.
Stay tuned for further updates.
( in Hungarian, Hello = Goodby in English )

( yep this is not a typo)
Monty Low

Monday, June 18, 2007

Our Trip Begins

Hello, Szia, Jo Napot,

Welcome to our FUCSJ Transylvania Pilgrimage blog. This blog is open to entries from our travelers and hosts. Any visitors to our blog are encouraged to post comments.

While our plane leaves about 4 weeks from now, the journey has already begun. Over a year ago Mark Flynn, Crystal Lanier, Jozsef Szombatfalvi and I began discussion of a possible pilgrimage.

During this last year we have had many fundraising events, a partner church service and informational meetings. Many people from our congregation have contributed their time to help with our fundraising events. We have several donors to our scholarship whose donations of money and airline tickets made it possible of many of our youth and adult travelers to make this journey. $1500 from a special collection will be directly applied towards projects costs for the Homorodszentmarton church. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our trip preparations. Today we have 28 travelers in all; 10 high school, 5 college age and 13 adults.

I must give huge koszonom szepen (thank you very much) to our host minister, Jozsef. For the last 3 weeks, I have been talking with Joszef almost every day. Jozsef has given many hours of his time to make travel and room arrangements for us. This is besides all of the planning for our stay in Homorodszentmarton.

May you all enjoy our trip through our blog.