NORTHAMPTON AND KARÁCSONYFALVA, 1990 –
The Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence has been partnered with the Unitarian congregation of Karácsonyfalva since the summer of 1990, when the Unitarian Universalist Association issued a call to come to the aid of our sisters and brothers in faith, who were demoralized and destitute after years of totalitarian rule in Romania, economic deprivation, and isolation. UU congregations all over the U.S. and Canada responded with moral and financial support; a coordinating body, the UU Partner Church Council, was formed. Letters and photographs flew back and forth. Americans began to travel to ancient villages, carrying money for tractors and bringing back hand-embroidered cloths to sell. Frienships formed. Americans discovered that Unitarianism did not originate in Boston.
Photo: Rev. Janet Bush and Rev. Mihaly Benedek share the pulpit in Karacsonyfalva, July 2011
The tractor which USNF bought for the Karácsonyfalva congregation in 1993 served them well for a number of years. We also raised funds to repair their strikingly beautiful medieval church; to pay a young woman’s fees at an agricultural school; to help buy the former collective farm barn, so that the development agency Project Harvest Hope could establish a model dairy farm in the village; to renovate the parsonage meeting room; and to help buy a van which serves as a school bus.
Gradually we learned that successful global partnership does not place money at its center. We learned that successful partnership avoids paternalism and embraces mutuality. We learned that Northampton has as much to gain as Karácsonyfalva, that this connection ties us to our denominational roots and gives us an opportunity to expand our minds and deepen our faith. Today our Partner Church Committee’s highest priority is to bring together USNF members and friends and Unitarians from Karácsonyfalva, so that we can develop friendship on a personal level while leaving open the possibility of financial aid on an institutional level when our partners express a need.
UUs from Northampton began visiting Karácsonyfalva in late 1990. To date more than twenty of our members have made the journey. In 2007 four members of the USNF Youth Group participated in the UU Partner Church Council’s annual Youth Pilgrimage to Transylvania. In April 2010, the Reverend Mihály Benedek and Enikő Benedek came to Northampton for a week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our partnership. They were joined by their friend, the Reverend Csaba Todor, minister of the Unitarian church of Homoródszentpál, who served as translator. It was a joyous time of worshiping and feasting together, sightseeing, serious discussions, laughter and tears. We agreed to explore ways in which Northampton could help Karácsonyfalva develop tourism in the village. In June, 2011, the Reverend Janet C. Bush and Dr. Booker Bush traveled to Karácsonyfalva for a week to experience the lives of the Benedeks and their parishioners. Among other things, they discussed youth visits and service projects.
Taken together, the ministers’ visits of 2010 and 2011 constitute a milestone in the common journey of the UUs of Northampton and the Unitarians of Karácsonyfalva. We have renewed our commitment to walk together in a spirit of love, and we look forward to many more anniversary celebrations. So may it be.
The Reverends Benedek and Bush lighting the chalice together at USNF, April 2010