'Faith is the gift of God': A pilgrimage will leave us all changed

Elizabeth Greene.
Elizabeth Greene.

A few days after this column appears, the choir of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will embark upon a pilgrimage to Transylvania (no vampires), a very early stronghold of Unitarianism.

We will visit our partner church in the village of Mészkö, and we will sing several concerts in other parts of this northwest corner of Romania. Our songs include four in Hungarian, since Unitarian churches and villages in Romania are all ethnic Hungarian. (It is an incredibly difficult language to learn and memorize, for us English speakers!) We will also sing some good old American tunes (like “Home On the Range”), some jazz standards, some Gospel spirituals and some religious songs in Latin.

We are all looking forward to our pilgrim adventure, for a lot of reasons: musical community, seeing new lands, connecting with our heritage.

It is this last that makes us pilgrims, not simply travelers. Transylvanian Unitarianism has been celebrating a free faith — in the face of deep tension with Romanian Orthodoxy, plus terrible oppression, both historically and in the 20th century. During the Communist regime of Nikolae Ceausescu, speaking or teaching Hungarian was outlawed. Ceausescu planned to annihilate Hungarian (read “Unitarian”) villages, a plan that failed only because he was executed.

I have visited Mészkö and other parts of Transylvania several times, and am always surprised by how touched my heart is to share with the Transylvanian sisters and brothers. We Americans can so easily take for granted our freedom to believe and worship as we choose. We may also forget how violent religion can become, how truly dreadful, when any specific group imposes its “truth” upon others.

Through all the centuries of suffering, the Romanian Unitarians have held to the truth within their hearts, have cherished the belief that God is known by different people in different ways — because God is beyond human comprehension, so will always be known only partially, as humans perceive and choose.

A member of the Hungarian church writes:

“The very essence of Unitarianism is religious tolerance and a consistently firm attitude in support of liberty of conscience. Francis David [a Transylvanian Unitarian champion of religious freedom in the 16th century] constantly emphasized that religion must be free, that in question of faith there is no place for compulsion and that the spreading of God’s words requires no weapons or violence, because faith is the gift of God.”

We American Unitarian Universalists stand in the deepest respect for a people who have held up the banner of a free faith. When we visit this lovely land, sharing and laughing and worshiping through language differences, we are so proud and honored to lift our voices in their churches and halls. Walking the cobblestone and dirt streets of these towns and villages, we feel, with our brothers and sisters, the holy spirit which calls us each to each.

Isten lelke jojj el hozzonk,

Aldd meg szivünk minden öszinte nagy álmat.

Spirit of Life, come unto me,

Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.

We will return changed, understanding as we perhaps have not before, what a gift our faith truly is. We will, we hope, act in greater love and compassion and openness, because we will have sung with everyday heroes of our faith.

The Rev. Elizabeth Greene is Minister Emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at

The Idaho Statesman's weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.