Church Partnerships

The Partner Church Program partners the FRS with the Unitarian Church in Ujszekely. This Transylvanian farming village of 600 is in the ethnic Hungarian region of Romania. The church is led by the Reverend Zsolt Jakab, Minister.

All told, 45 members of the FRS have visited Ujszekely since 1998, some on multiple occasions. The church organ has been completely renovated, thanks to the vision and fundraising talents of Barbara Owen. Modest financial assistance has been provided to the church (for repairs to the church building and parsonage, work on the guest house, support of the minister's family, travel, and purchase of a milking machine among other things) since the beginning of the partnership. Enduring friendships have been made and lives have been changed. Most importantly, we have provided assistance in maintaining a historic liberal religious presence in Eastern Europe.

Timeline of the Relationship

  • 1920s - Treaty of Trianon gives the Transylvanian region of Hungary to Romania as a spoil of war. Ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania who make up the Transylvanian Unitarian Church are henceforth separated from Hungary.
  • 1922 - FRS participates in post-World War 1 "Sister Church" program partnered with the village of Komjatszeg, helping Transylvanian Unitarian Churches replace their church bells, melted for armaments during the war. (FRS or the Women's Alliance may also have been partnered with the village of Vamosudvarhely, as a small sign to that effect exists in our archives.) The Sister Church movement founders on the shores of the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the Second World War, and the imposition of Communist rule in post-war Central and Eastern Europe.
  • 1990 - Shortly after the fall of the dictator Nikolai Ceaucescu in Romania, then UUA President Bill Schulz calls for re-starting the "Sister Church" program. (This eventually leads to the founding of the UU Partner Church Council [UUPCC] in 1993.  Harold Babcock served as Chair of the UUPCC Board from 2007-2009.
  • FRS Minister Emeritus Bert Steeves, in partnership with the Haverhill and North Andover UU churches, responds to the call, and the FRS is re-partnered with the village of Ujszekely (Romanian "Secuieni") in Transylvania (now in Romania, where Unitarianism has existed for over 400 years). Haverhill and North Andover later withdraw from the partnership.
  • 1990-1995 - Despite Bert's and the congregation's efforts, contact with Ujszekely is sporadic, made more difficult by the language (Hungarian) barrier and unreliable mail service. Some monetary support is given, but the minister in Ujszekely seems uninterested in pursuing the partnership.
  • 1994 - Bert Steeves retires as minister of the FRS.
  • 1995 - Both the FRS and the Unitarian Church in Ujszekely have new ministers, Harold Babcock and Zsolt Jakab. With assistance from Transylvanian Unitarian activist Judit Gellert, a citizen of the US, contact is re-established by mail (letters are exchanged by church school and ministers).
  • 1997 - The Rev. John Gibbons, UU minister in Bedford, MA, visits Ujszekely during a visit to his own partner church, bringing information about the FRS and Newburyport, as well as a small gift of money.
  • 1998 - FRS members Steve and KC Swallow visit Ujszekely for a day during a visit to Romania and attend a church service at which they present a hymnbook and sing for the congregation. They meet Zsolt and his wife Borika for lunch afterward.
  • 1999 - With FRS providing assistance with travel expenses, Zsolt accompanies his father, the Rev. Denes Jakab, and his mother Eva to the USA. Denes, also a Unitarian minister, then President of the Transylvanian ministers association, had been invited by the UU Ministers Assocation to address the UUA General Assembly in Salt Lake City. Zsolt, Denes, and Eva visit Newburyport for several days, during which Zsolt preaches at the FRS and is presented with a Blake Hughes drawing of the church. Harold and Zsolt become better acquainted during GA.  (Sadly, the Rev. Denes Jakab passed away in 2010.)
  • 2000 - Harold and Sabrina Babcock accompany the Swallows on a return visit to Ujszekely for two days. Harold preaches and participates in a special "Millenium Communion Service." We present a banner and proclamation created by FRS member Rochelle Perry-Platine. We travel to Kolozsvar (Romanian "Cluj"), home of Transylvania Unitarian headquarters and of the Unitarian seminary, and famous in the history of Unitarianism. E-mail access begins to make communication easier and faster. Construction begins on a guest cottage next to the parsonage.
  • 2002 - During a sabbatical, Harold Babcock travels to Ujszekely for a three and a half week visit during April and May and preaches for a second time. Harold brings toys and non-prescription drugs donated by the FRS. During the summer, FRS member Jessica Brown, an environmental consultant, visits Ujszekely during a conference in the Romanian city of Sibiu. FRS member Max Russell also visits after a two week stint with Habitat for Humanity in Kolozsvar/Cluj, and builds a floor in the guest cottage. FRS provides scholarship assistance to Zsolt's brother Denes Jakab, a graduate student in Budapest who has served as our translator during visits to Ujszekely.
  • 2003 - Nine FRS members (Harold Babcock, Peg Nicol, Josie Seymour, Russell Meade, Max Russell, KC Swallow, Barbara Owen, Michael Fosburg, and Pat Skibbee) spend six days and seven nights in Ujszekely working on the guest cottage. Members stay with church families in the village. Two FRS youth (Brody Pagel and Josh Babcock) also visit Ujszekely for three days as part of a UUPCC sponsored youth trip. Barbara Owen gets one rank of pipes to function on the church's historic organ, and gives a moving concert of Hungarian music. The organ had not been played in over twenty years.
  • 2004 - Harold Babcock and FRS Administrator John Mercer visit Ujszekely for five days and work on the guest house.
  • 2005 - April/May - With financial assistance provided by the FRS, Zsolt Jakab visits Newburyport for a second time, accompanied by his wife Borika, his brother Denes, and congregation president Jozsef Buzogany and his wife Zsuzsa, and preaches again at the FRS during his two week visit. Zsolt and Harold also lead a "Transylvanian" communion service during this visit.
  • 2005 - August - Harold and Sabrina Babcock, Russell and Rochelle Perry-Platine, Barbara Owen, Michael Fosburg, and Max Russell visit Ujszekely for five days and help to celebrate the organ renovation which has been organized by Barbara, as well as to celebrate Zsolt Jakab's tenth anniversary as minister. Unitarian Bishop Arpad Szabo preaches and Harold Babcock speaks. Eight FRS youth (Steph and Sam Steeves [granddaughters of Bert and Maxine], Anna and Jenny Nicol, Justin Turner, Mackenzie Mathieu-Busher, Danielle Gorski, and John Speck) also visit for three days as part of the UUPCC's youth tour to Transylvania, staying with families in the village. Harold Babcock speaks on behalf of the UUPCC at the "World Gathering of Unitarians" in the city of Szekelyudvarhely.
  • 2006 - FRS members Max Russell and Steph Steeves visit Ujszekely; Max helps organize UUPCC flood relief efforts in the Nyiko Valley. Max also installs a septic sytem for the parsonage, and assists Zsolt in the purchase of a car. Zsolt's brother Andras Jakab from Transylvania works for the summer at Russell Orchards in Ipswich where he carves a traditional Transylvanian "kopjafa" or memorial pole for the FRS in honor of our partnership (commissioned by Max and dedicated during a worship service in 2006, subsequently installed in the yard between the Meeting House and the Parish Hall). Russell Orchards also employs Denes Jakab's girlfriend from Transylvania, Annamaria Kollos.
  • 2007 - February - Harold Babcock visits Ujszekely for two weeks following a two week intensive Hungarian language course in Debrecen, Hungary. (Russell Orchards employs Annamaria Kollos' brother Istvan for the summer.)
  • 2007 - Summer - the Mitchell/Brown family (Brent, Jessica, Ryan, and Elise) visits Ujszekely for a day and a night while engaged in environmental work in Transylvania.
  • 2008 - April - Harold Babcock visits Ujszekely for four days following UUPCC meetings with the Bishop and Consistory of the Transylvanian Unitarian Church in Kolozsvar.
  • 2008 - August - Harold and Sabrina Babcock and Michael Fosburg and Pat Skibbee accompany six FRS youth (Katrina Turner, Kit Dyer, Kathryn Tolley, Dan Iascone, Liam Wilbur, and Ryan Mitchell) on a visit to Hungary and Transylvania, spending four days and five nights in Ujszekely (itinerary). We sing for the congregation in Hungarian during the worship service. Harold preaches in Ujszekely for a third time. Later we are joined by Max and Meredith Russell, who have been doing Habitat work in Poland.
  • 2008 - November - Harold Babcock represents the UUPCC in Kolozsvar for the 440th anniversary of Transylvanian Unitarianism and the retirement of incumbent Bishop, Arpad Szabo, and visits for several days in Ujszekely.
  • 2009 - March - Harold attends the installation of a new Unitarian Bishop (Ferenc Balint Benczedi) on behalf of the UUPCC, and has dinner with the former Bishop (Arpad Szabo).  He also spends several days in Ujszekely, where he attends a community celebration of International Women's Day.
  • 2010--February--Harold travels to Kolozsvar in his new role as UUA Ambassador to the Transylvanian Unitarian Church, where he meets with Bishop Balint Benczedi and other church representatives.  He also spends several days in Ujszekely
  • 2010--July--Harold and Sabrina Babcock attend a 20th anniversary celebration of the restart of the Partner Church program and visit in Ujszekely, where Harold preaches once again.  Harold also takes part in the wedding ceremony of Denes Jakab and Annamaria Kollo.
  • 2011--April/May--Harold travels to Hungary and Romania, where he meets with Bishop Balint Benczedi in Kolozsvar and visits the American Consulate in Bucharest to discuss United States Visa requirements effecting our Transylvanian partners.  He spends two weeks visiting in Kolozsvar and Ujszekely during the Easter season, participating in two Easter communion services.
  • 2012 - Summer - Fourteen from our church visited and stayed in Ujszekely for a week (Harold Babcock, K C Swallow, Barbara Owen, Linda Ingram, Bruce, Julie, Linnea, and Noah Menin, Bill, Vicki, Mateo, and Sam Lincoln, Phoebe Lanham, and Galen March). Highlights for the trip included learning how to milk a cow; witnessing the best sheep dog ever doing his job with his Gypsy herder; huge communal meals; being enticed to drink at least a sip of Palinka, the strongest aperitif ever consumed; outdoor plumbing; the different personal and family values that seem perhaps more fundamental, more important, than those experienced back home; and always, always the daily, hourly hospitality from people who lead busy, busy farming lives and whom you had just met and stay with for a week.
  • 2013--April 21-29--Harold travels to Kolozsvar in his role as UUA Ambassador to the Hungarian Unitarian Church to meet with Bishop Balint Beczedi, spending five days in Ujszekely.
  • 2014--February 24-March 3--Harold returns to Kolozsvar in his role as UUA Ambassador and visits for five days in Ujszekely.


In recent years financial support of the partnership has been provided by the yearly Christmas Eve Family Service offering, by the sale of Transylvanian craft items, and by the personal contributions and gifts of FRS members. The FRS Alliance has also provided occasional support for the partnership. Please let any of the folks mentioned above know if you are interested in getting involved. Your participation is welcomed!