Speaker: Rev. Carolyn R. Brown
During our pilgrimage to Homorodszentpal, Transylvania, Romania, Will and I met many women very much like the women pictured in the DVD we saw this morning. We found it is easy to admire the qualities of each of the women we met. They were all generous and shared their homes and their finest food with us. They gave us many gifts to bring home with us. Hospitality is a part of their faith. Even though most people learn both Hungarian and Romanian, several of the women we met were trying to learn English. And many were forced to study Russian under the communist regime.
The women of Transylvania are part of a village tradition that has existed for hundreds of years. Many of them have achieved in spite of the hardships of their lives. I introduce you this morning to one special woman, Dr. Judit Gellerd. I chose her because she represents something that is so important to me, the knowing that each one of us can achieve beyond our wildest dreams. We can in fact change the world, we can create human good.
Judit Gellerd is the daughter of a Unitarian martyr of sorts. Imre Gellerd was a Unitarian minister and scholar, who was persecuted under the reign of the communists. He was imprisoned along with thousands of other intellectuals. He had a few days before being arrested and saved his doctoral dissertation by hiding it in the attic of the parsonage. He also stole old books from the seminary in Kolosvar and hid them in the church library.
During his six years in prison, he was told that his wife killed his two children and then committed suicide herself. He lived with these lies for three years until pressures from the free world forced the release of many of these political prisoners. In fact his wife had had to divorce him when he went to prison, and his children had to disavow him in order to continue to attend their schools. When he learned that he was about to be arrested once again, he committed suicide rather than return to the Romanian Gulag.
Judit is a talented violinist and was able to study and graduate from the Music Conservatory of Tirgu Mures. She attended medical school and became a psychiatrist with a specialization in neurology. She practiced medicine until she attended a meeting of the International Association for Religious Freedom in 1987, where she met the man she would marry, an American.
In 1988, several churches had reached out to Unitarians in Japan, while Judit built up contacts in Transylvania. After the Iron Curtain came down at the end of 1989, Judit and several others, including two California churches established contacts with churches in Transylvania.
In 1991, the Unitarian Universalist Association was planning to cut all support for the Partner Church program. Judit, Leon Hopper and Richard Boeke began what is today the Partner Church program by inviting over one hundred people to meet at General Assembly.
Judit worked tirelessly as a full time volunteer over the next decade to make certain these partnerships were established and nurtured. She is the founder of the Partner Church Council and was its general secretary from 1993 to 2000.
Judit entered Boston University School of Theology and received yet another degree in 2002 and was ordained as a Unitarian minister by the Romanian Unitarians. She is currently working as an intern at the Starr King Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.
In a sermon she delivered in Norwell, Massachusetts in 1999 Judit said the following:
[One often asks] “Why is the simple faith of the Transylvanian Unitarians so compelling for the sophisticated educated American Unitarian Universalists?… Why does the encounter seem to fill a spiritual void on a large scale? A Transylvanian visiting minister intuitively answered it: “You Americans hold your faith far from your core.” For us in Transylvania, religious and cultural identities are our core value. Ours is an active faith, an active existence against odds, against persecutions of all kinds. We have always been aware that our faith would keep us. It did. I am not talking about a Unitarian denominational membership. I am talking about faith. We are born into our religion, yet it never came cheap to practice it. Each generation had to fight for this basic right throughout the [past] four centuries. Some died for our faith. My father was one of them. … Physically broken by torture and deprivation, he continued writing even after prison–and the Secret Police continued persecuting him. Facing a new arrest, he chose active martyrdom, he ended his own life on his sixtieth birthday. But I was able to carry on his broken dreams and through you and the other almost 200 UU partner churches, we have saved Transylvania’s Unitarian Church. I have translated and just published his life scholarship, the only intellectual history of Unitarianism’s four centuries in Transylvania.
The power of the Partner Church movement lies in the discovery of historic roots and of a faith that heals the ‘pessimism of the intellect with the optimism of the will.’ Gary Smith, minister of First Parish, Concord, Massachusetts, puts in this way: ‘We need each other, more than emotionally, more than psychologically, more than socially. We need each other spiritually, which has to do with the divine flame within each of us; with our spiritual mentors in Transylvania who had to fight for our faith, not in the time of the Council of Nicea, not in the Middle Ages, not at the time of the Reformation, but in our own time, in our own generation. Even if they lost everything to wars and dictatorships, they kept their faith. They had the courage to stand up for something, to live a life far simpler than ours materially but richer in the spirit, a shared faith.’ …The small Transylvanian Unitarian church of 80,000 members has become the clear spring where spiritually thirsty American Unitarians make group pilgrimages, and they come back transformed.”