Mission Statement of
THE FRIENDS OF SZENTLASZLO
St. John’s Partner Church Program
St. John’s Partner Church Program builds awareness of the history and culture of Unitarianism in Transylvania. The program provides concrete assistance to our partner congregation while fostering communication and friendship, both remotely and in person.
Approved February 12, 2018
St. John’s Partnership with the Unitarian Church of Nyaradszentlaszlo/Sinvasii, Romania
In 1990, Rev. Diana Heath initiated St. John’s involvement in a partnership with the Unitarian Church of Nyaradszentlaszlo, Romania. In the first few years it was difficult to get letters to and from our partner. In 1994, St. John’s members Mary and Tom Darner went to visit this rural Transylvania congregation; Thus began a transformational partnership for those involved. We have gained lasting friendships. We have worked at walking in others’ shoes, expanding our minds and faith through exposure to Unitarians of a different history and of the Hungarian language and culture. We’ve been the recipients of beautiful handmade crafts and incredible hospitality. We have learned about our historical roots in Transylvanian Unitarianism dating to 1568. We’ve come to appreciate what courage it takes to keep their faith alive in spite of wars and long-standing oppression. For them, Unitarianism is a faith that cannot be taken for granted.
We have celebrated our partnership with 22 years of Partner Church dinners, often eating Hungarian foods. In 1997-98 St. John’s raised funds for a community building for the Szentlaszlo congregation and concurrently made a quilt for them. Szentlaszlo volunteers constructed the building and it was dedicated when St. Johners visited there in 1998. In 2000, Rev. Mihaly Kiss, his wife, Rozsa, and daughter, Csilla, came to visit St. John’s. Mihaly and Rozsa visited again in 2009, participating in our partner church dinner and again in 2016 to celebrate Rev. Kiss’s completion of 40 years of ministry to the Szentlaszlo Unitarian Church.
St. John’s choir traveled to Transylvania, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 2001 to sing in Unitarian churches. In May 2014, 48 St. Johners including Rev. Mitra Jafarzadeh made a pilgrimage to Szentlaszlo. On that trip our church choir sang in Unitarian churches in Budapest and Transylvania. Additional trips by congregants to Transylvania include a harvest trip in 2004, Rev. Carpenter and others visiting there in 2005, a trip with Rev. Denise Tracy, interim minister, in 2011, and a craft-learning trip in 2012. Through the years we have hosted several Transylvanian ministers and family members and in 2017 we hosted Vera Kelemen from the congregation and assisted her attendance at the International Convocation of Unitarian Women.
Over the years St. John’s has sent funds to help the congregation in its activities, to help maintain its church buildings and to add to the minister’s salary. In 2005, at Rev. Kiss’ request, we began serving Sunday soup and bread lunches at St. John’s to raise funds to buy a weekly loaf of bread for each elderly Unitarian in the village. That effort continues today as does funding of scholarships to send children to Unitarian summer camps.
The Friends of Szentlaszlo and the broader St. John’s community have worked tirelessly to keep St. John’s role in this partnership vibrant. We finalized a Covenant of Partnership between the congregations in 2006. Connections between visits have continued through regular Skype calls with the minister there and their lay leadership. Rev. Bela-Botond Jakabhazi is now the interim minister serving the Szentlaszlo church. Bela visited St. John’s some years ago while in the USA. He currently also serves as minister for three other Unitarian congregations near Szentlaszlo, including Nyomat, which is partnered with the Lexington, KY, Unitarian Church.
(Prepared by Mary Darner, January 2018)