Francis Balázs Scholars Program — Scholar’s Biographies

Balázs Scholars

(Video interviews with Balazs Scholars produced by Dakotta J.K. Alex.)

Károly Vass (2013-2014) finished his initial theological studies in 2010, and has been serving as assistant minister in his home congregation in Sepsiszentgyörgy while completing a master’s degree in theology.  Before committing to ministry, he studied economics at Babes Bolyai University. “I am,” he says, “particularly interested in social ethics, but also in how Unitarian Universalist churches are organized, how religion is reflected in your daily lives, and how you welcome newcomers and share your values with them.” Rev. Vass is joined this year by his wife Gyöngyi, a former teacher in the Unitarian kindergarten in Kolozsvár who runs the Sunday School program in Sepsiszentgyörgy, and their two children, a girl, Veronika, who will be two in October, 2013 and a boy, Benedek, three years old.

Adél Nagy (2012-2013), the 18th Balázs Scholar in recent years, finished her theological studies in 2005, and served two years as an assistant minster and teacher of religious education. She is now the minister in the in the village of Recsenyéd (population 130, of whom 98% are Unitarian). She also works with Unitarian children in their camps, programs and English classes. Adél says, “I am particularly interested in the organizational life and dynamics of UU congregations, community building, conflict resolution and pastoral care. In the States I am looking for ways and methods to revive congregational life outside the church building and beyond Sunday services.”

Zoltán (Zoli) Kopándi-Benczédi (2011-2012) is the seventeenth Transylvanian Unitarian minister in recent years to study at Starr King School for the Ministry. Zoli finished his theological studies in 1991. He serves as the minister in Lupény-Vulkán, Déva and Vajdahunyad. He is joined by his wife Ildikó, a fashion and art stylist, and their son, Gusztáv. Zoli says that in addition to his studies at Starr King School, “My general interest is in the connection between church life and community development, particularly work done in multicultural environments. I am interested in everything from individual church’s missions, to how new congregations are started, to congregational growth plans. And of course, to experience life in different congregational settings as a way of learning.

Levente Lázár (2010-2011) finished his theological studies in 1995. Together with his wife Rev. Erika Demeter they serve five congregations.  They have been very involved in strengthening smaller, partnered congregations, and with renovating and building new churches.  In 2004 they dedicated a new church building in Erdoszentgyorgy, and in 2005 celebrated the renovation of the 210 year old church in Csokfalva. They are organizing the dedication of a new church building in Szovata.  Levente and Erica have a son, Levente and a daughter Réka.  He is interested in the connection between science and religion and in people’s belief systems, their relationships with God or the Transcendent, and with fulfilling spiritual needs.

Visit Levente's page on Facebook.

Róbert Bálint (2009-2010) is the minister in the village of Mészkő, the Alabaster Village where Francis Balázs served. He also serves the small Unitarian congregation of Csegez. In addition to his theological studies, he has completed a degree in sociology at Kolozsvár Babes Bolyai University. He has been involved in the Unitarian youth movement, and worked with local social and charity organizations. With others, he has started the Balázs Ferenc Historical Preservation Project, designed to preserve and promote Francis Balázs's spiritual and material heritage.  He edits the monthly Transylvania Unitarian newsletter. His wife, Réka is bookkeeper for the Meszko congregation and is going to library school. They have two children.

Endre Nagy (2008-2009) served as minister at the Gyergyószentmiklós fellowship in the Szélyudvarhely District of Transylvania. At present he is working at a radio station in Marosvasarhely and performs with a folk band. His wife Éva received her PhD in Theater Arts and is a theater director, now teaching theater arts, some of the classes in English.

Béla Botond (Bélu) Jakabházi (2007-2008) is the minister in the villages of Nyaradgarfalva and Nyomát, 80 miles from Kolozsvár. For two years he was deputy minister in Marosvásárhely, then for one year a teacher of religious education. He is especially interested in the psychology of religion and in counseling. He is trained as a facilitator in Psychodrama.  He is also interested in religious leadership, Buddhism and meditation practice. His grandfather has been in the ministry for 70 years and is the oldest practicing Unitarian minister in Transylvania. 

Erika Orbán (2006-2007) has served as chaplain at the hospital in Sepsiszentgyörgy. She has been a minister of religious education and a hospital chaplain.  She served full time as youth minister and dormitory counselor at the Unitarian high school in Kolozsvár in 2005-2006.  Her fields of interest include pastoral care and building social networks in religious communities.

Zsolt Solymosi (2005-2006) is a religious educator, youth minister and dormitory counselor at the János Zsigmond Unitarian College, the 450-year old Unitarian high school in Kolozsvár. He also serves a small parish 70 miles from Kolozsvár. After returning from the States, he ran Transylvania Unitarian Radio for 3 years.  He leads annual bicycle tour pilgrimages for high school students in the summer and also supervises youth camps for Unitarian children.

Csaba Tódor (2004-2005) is the minister of the Unitarian congregation in Homorodszentpál. His wife Éva, is a school teacher and musician, and they have three girls.  Csaba says that with his wife and three girls, like the Virgin Mary, he is “blessed among women.” He has studied at Manchester College, England and is working on a PhD focusing on funeral practices in Transylvania as compared to Western Europe. He is especially interested in systematic theology and psychology.  He served as mentor to a Starr King student who spent a six months field placement in his village.  He recently was hired as Activities Director at a Senior Home in Lokod.

Mária Pap (2003-2004), along with Kinga-Réka (Zsigmond) Székely (1999-2000), was one of the first two women in 40 years to graduate from the Kolozsvár seminary, where all Transylvanian Unitarian ministers receive their theological education. After her return to Transylvania, Maria became the first female district dean. "It is a great moment not just for me, but for the women in the church," she said.  Maria served two congregations for many years, one in the village of Szentivánlaborfalva , and the other in the city of Kézdivásárhely . She and husband László have a daughter.  Maria has started a French-speaking ministry on the web and has been to Africa to visit French start-up congregations.  In 2012 Maria took a position as Secretary to the Bishop and László became Media Director for the Unitarian headquarters.

Lajos Lőrinczi (2002-2003) serves as Dean of the Székelykeresztúr district's 24 churches, and ministers to the villages of Csehétfalva and Tordátfalva, where many elderly people live. Csehétfalva was the home of Francis Balázs' parents. Lajos’ wife, Tünde, with assistance from Lajos, translates theological texts into English. They offer a tour of Unitarian villages during the summer that consists of a week to ten day travelng by horse cart and staying at village houses.

Zsuzsa Bartha (2001-2002) is minister to the various small congregations of the northwest Diaspora, which have no full-time minister and meet in buildings belonging to other Protestant churches. She and her husband, Kari, live in Nagykároly in an area that has relatively few Unitarians. Kari works in private practice with his veterinary training. They have three sons.  Zsuzsa is actively involved with a project to build a new playground for the children of Nagykároly, getting financial support from the US, the city government and raising money from the parents. She says that her time in the US taught her valuable lessons about community organizing.  In 2012, she became the minister of the Unitarian Church in Koscord, Hungary which has its own church building.

Botond (Boti) Koppándi (2000-2001) served for a number of years in the village of Torockószentgyörgy, which is a favorite tourist area for visiting Hungarians and Americans. He now teaches homiletics at the Protestant Theological Seminary in Kolozsvar.  He is pursuing a PhD program.  He and his wife, Eva, have two boys.

Kinga-Réka (Zsigmond) Székely (1999-2000) serves as minister in the village of Homoródszentpéter. Now the mother of four young children, she's also the youngest member and only woman on the Consistory (board of trustees) of the Transylvanian Unitarian Church. She is the president of the National League for Unitarian Ministers. Her husband Csaba works in computers.

László Kiss (1998-1999) died of a heart attack after being seriously verbally abused by a Romanian official at a city meeting because he was Hungarian and Unitarian. He served as minister of the large Unitarian Church in Torda, and taught religious education classes to Unitarian public school students. His wife Matilda does administrative work for the church in the city of Marosvásárhely where she now lives with their two children.

Csaba Mezei (1997-1998) serves as minister in the Second Unitarian Church of Kolozsvár. He has translated American religious education materials into Hungarian. He has built up his church to over 600 members. One innovation that he has put into practice is based on his learnings from Starr King School. He now has lay people serving as "pastoral associates" who visit the people in the Church and report back to Csaba on those needing his personal attention. He and his wife Melinda, who works at the Unitarian headquarters, have three children.

Sándor Kovács (1995-96) teaches church history and history of religion at the Kolozsvár seminary. He received his PhD in early Unitarian history from the prestigious Szeged University in Hungary. He is translating, editing and publishing books. His wife Magdolna manages a Hungarian-language radio station. They have a son, Peter.

Sándor Léta (1994-95) serves as assistant minister to the Unitarian Bishop of Hungary at the Bela Bartok Unitarian Church in Budapest, a 450-member congregation of mostly former Transylvanian Unitarians. He also co-edits a newsletter for Unitarians in Hungary and has translated two theological books into English. He and his wife Erika have three daughters.

These scholars are the new religious leaders of Romania and Hungary. Using skills they enhanced at Starr King, in addition to serving as ministers of local churches, they also serve as translators for guest lecturers and meetings, participate in international conferences, work with youth, promote sustainable economic development in villages and help vitalize the Transylvanian Unitarian Church and Partner Church relationships. These Balázs Scholars bring insight and hope to their ministries and to their homeland. They're also raising and guiding a wonderful new generation of Unitarians.

Balázs Scholars Transylvania Immersion Program

Dakotta AlexDakotta J.K. Alex (2011) is the third SKSM student to have gone on the Transylvanian Immersion.   He directed and produced the video interviews on this page and the full-length documentary "The History and Modernization of the Unitarians in Transylvania". Dakotta, ethnically from India, is of Cochin or Malabar Jewish descent and still practices Reform Judaism today. He began his Master’s of Divinity (M. Div.) at the Claremont Colleges, near Los Angeles and and is completing his M.Div. program at Starr King School for the Ministry and UC Berkeley with a concentration in applied ethics and social theory, and pursuing certificates in Islamic and Jewish Education from the Center for Islamic Studies and Center for Jewish Studies.   Dakotta works as a corporate consultant for start-ups and has started a few start-ups of his own, check out his website here (http://www.dakotta.com).

For information about how you can help support the Balázs Scholars Program at Starr King School, contact Starr King School at 510/845-6232 or Arliss Ungar at arliss@ungar.us.

Will our future ministers have wisdom enough to help their congregations grow and understand better the world they live in? The Balázs Scholarship brings every year to Starr King a Transylvanian Unitarian minister to help him or her acquire tools and knowledge that can make a difference in the life of his or her congregation. These are visions for the future. A future that talks about Unitarian villages surviving the capitalist and technocratic mentality, which has started to invade our country. A future that talks about leaders who would be able to help their communities not just on theological issues, but in addressing the different concerns of individuals and groups in their struggle for faith and ethnicity. A future where both Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist congregations will gain in understanding and acceptance, helping and sharing with each other in a process of growth. This is a vision of the future built today by the work and commitment of those who keep the Balázs program alive.
-- Maria Pap

I see Starr King as the perfect workshop for people who consider faith, education, compassion and serving the community primary in their lives. We shared knowledge there, our experiences and our dreams at the school. I see a satisfied smile on Francis Balázs’ face. He walked around continents to find his brothers and sisters in faith. He found this school, an oasis where the past is honored, the present is nurturing and joyful, and the future of liberal faith is secured.
-- Kinga-Reka Szekely

Everything I achieved here in Kolozsvar is due to Starr King School and its professors, students and board members. Thank you very much for giving us Transylvanians such a great chance.
-- Sandor Kovacs

The Balázs scholars are ministers in leading churches, and are in key positions in Transylvania and Hungary. They have insights on how to apply the theory they have learned, and to share their Starr King experiences with the larger world. Continued contact with people in the United States and experience in economic development will bring people together. These Balázs scholars will foster more open-minded people, less mistrust. We will not only survive, we will grow.
--Zsuzsa Bartha


 


Copyright © 1998- 2014 Starr King School for the Ministry. All rights reserved.