Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

A Terrible Thing Has Happened

Some of you may not know that Unitarian Churches have existed in Eastern Europe since the late 1500s, early in the Protestant Reformation.  Many UU churches have partner church relationships with village and city churches in Transylvania, which is a Hungarian-speaking province in Romania.  I visited in 1998 and hosted several Unitarian colleagues to preach when I served in Silicon Valley.

Unitarians in Transylvania (50,000 of them) are ethnic and religious minorities in a country where Romanian and Eastern Orthodox nationalism are rampant and frightful.  They are Unitarian Christians who use the Bible for their worship services and sermons. 

 They look and sound rather traditional in contrast to most North American UU congregations, but they are religious liberals and often the only social liberals speaking out on issues of concern, such as fairness for LGBT people and Roma people (Gypsies).  Every year a minister from Transylvania comes to Berkeley to be a special student at Starr King School for the Ministry.

After Sunday worship at General Assembly I learned terrible news.  A village minister in his mid-30s, named Denes (=Dennis) Cseh, killed himself after murdering his two young sons.  His wife has had serious cancer for a number of years and was out of town, staying with her parents. Hence, she is left without a husband or children, and still facing cancer.   Horrifying and sickening news, to be sure.

In the early afternoon there was a support circle in the Minneapolis Convention Center for ministers from Transylvania as well as those who are friends of Transylvanian churches to grieve and offer support.  Please extend your condolences to any people you may know from Transyvlania as well as those North Americans involved in the UU Partner Church Council.

Two days after the deaths came this pastoral letter from the Bishop of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, to be read at the Sunday morning services of all the churches on July 4.   (At 4:00 PM all the ministers of Transylvania were to gather in the village of Medgyes.)  The letter has been  translated from Hungarian into English by Lujza Nehrebeczky, a member of our UU church in Lexington, KY.  It appeared first on the
website of the Transylvanian denomination.

Pastoral letter to all congregations

 June 29, 2010
[Cluj-Napoca in Romanian]

To our Unitarian believers and brethren of other denominations:

This past Sunday, as we were preparing to go to church with gratitude to
God, we were shocked to receive the horrifying news. It caused us both pain
and bewilderment to find out about the terrible crime committed by the
pastor of our congregation in Medgyes. As a Unitarian minister and as a
church member, my soul was tried by hearing the news. This widely publicized
event evokes many questions in us both as individuals and as a community.

I write these words with the belief that God is near us even in such trying
times, only we don’t know how to look for him. Our forebears had succeeded
in finding their way out of severe circumstances. In case our faith in God
has been weakened or we have lost the path shown us by the exemplary lives
of our ancestors, let us hear the prophet’s message: “Seek the Lord while he
may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their
way, and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them return to the Lord, that
he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon”
(Isaiah 55:6-7).

One individual’s actions are not the actions of the community. However, this
event casts its shadow on all of us. Of course, we do not disown a minister
of our church who has served three different congregations over ten years.
And we certainly do not disown a family man who has shown exceptional
devotion in raising his children and seeking a cure for his terminally ill
wife. We regret enormously that this heavy burden that required superhuman
strength to bear caused a nervous breakdown in him. This man, who had
received psychiatric care for his illness, did not take those lives in his
position as a minister. His deeds reach far beyond the life of our church
and are considered explicitly criminal acts. While we stood by him, aided
him financially and followed his tribulations as his fellow servants, we
cannot bear the responsibility for the horrible murders he committed. One
individual’s actions are not the actions of the community, but this event
casts its shadow on all of us.

Many press sources have been objective in reporting on the immeasurable
tragedy that befell this family, and we hereby express our gratitude to
them. However, the scandal-craving tabloid media and the public opinion it
manipulates have attempted to judge our entire community based on this
event. Being Unitarian will become difficult in the coming days and weeks,
and it may remain so for a long while. Some people may ridicule or slander
us. Others may attempt to associate our faith with ideas we have never

We need the strength and sobriety of our religious community now more than
ever before. This community consists of us, of each individual person. Let
us stand by one another and our faith. Together, let us expect the blessing
of our providing God, which we can experience even in the darker days of our
lives. Let us remember that our forebears made difficult but sustaining
sacrifices for this precious faith, in order that they may pass it on to us.
Let us remember the pure and simple faith of our cherished Unitarian
religion that has always compelled us to love God and serve people. Over
four and a half centuries, our church has enriched humanity with
immeasurable values. Let us ensure that this legacy lives on.

Together, let us pray for the tried but strong congregation in Medgyes; for
our shaken believers; for the minister’s wife mourning her children and
husband. Let us implore our eternal, one true God to dwell amongst us with
his providence and power, compelling us to do what is right. May God protect
our physical and mental health, send us help in our illnesses, and defend us
from family and community tragedies. May God give us spiritual strength so
we can stand firm beside those in need. With our godly lives, let us prove
that we are brothers and sisters, children of God.

May the love of God remain among us.

Bishop Ferenc Balint


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