Rural Wisdom in Transylvania

January 2007

James Field is a fourth-year Starr King M.Div. student who moved to Homoródszentpál, a Unitarian village in Transylvania, Romania, to spend six months as the school’s first intern in the Parish Immersion Field Experience in Transylvania Pilot Project, sponsored by the SKSM Balazs Scholars Program. Under the supervision of the Rev. Csaba Todor, a former SKSM Balazs Scholar, Field translated hymns and texts, and assisted with congregants. Alongside his neighbors, he enjoyed the

nightly custom of visiting from home stoops until the cows returned from pasture. Field, a former computer analyst and teacher, lives in rural Willits, Calif. In this letter, he shares the environmental perspective he gained from his Transylvanian internship. For the full text and photos, click.

There is power in the knowledge of a place.  The French have created a new word for this — “terroir” — which combines the word for land with the word for knowledge and ability.  While I may have guessed at the reality of this, I don’t think I truly understood it until I came to the Homorod Valley of Transylvania.

One could walk the length of both the big and little Homorod valleys in a couple long days.  The distance between villages is very small. But in each village, you will find slightly different ways of life and slightly different ways of working the land and raising animals.  This is not from some sense of novelty or innovation.  Nor is it the result of radically different geography.  One village may have access to more wood and trees while another may have easier access to stones.  But, in general, the villages of both valleys are basically similar in geology and climate.

The residents of each village have built up over generations an intimate knowledge of their microclimate and locale.  Each tiny difference is probably unnoticeable to the outsider, whether it’s small variations in how hay is stacked, when or where different crops are planted, or how animals are kept and pastured.  It is even reflected in the contemporary use of cement, tractors and combines.  One can even see slight but systematic variations in the selection of construction materials and tractor attachments.

In planning for travel to Transylvania, I prepared myself for the worst possible conditions.  I did not know what my house would be like.  I did not how I would eat.  I did not know if people would be hungry or dirty or begging in the streets.

In the villages I have seen nothing like this.  People are poorer here than in America.  But rural poverty here is similar to rural poverty at home.  Houses are heated, food is cooked and water is warmed by burning wood.  Most houses have electricity and most houses I have visited have a washing machine for laundry.  While many things are stored in cellars for winter, every house I have visited has a refrigerator.

In my hometown there was recently a small conference on economic localization with participants from seven states and several countries.  The point of this conference was to look at how local economies could survive the eventual collapse of an economy based on cheap oil and shrinking reserves through sustainable agricultural and supplies available within a 100-mile radius.  I try to tell the farmers of the Homorod Valley that what they have practiced for hundreds of years, people I know are paying to learn.  And it all comes down to an intimate knowledge of a place and its particularities.

I think some Unitarian Universalists probably suppose that we in North America have a lot to teach other religions, even our brothers and sisters in Transylvania, about earth-based spirituality.  But the truth is that people like me (and most modern UUs) who are generations removed from living off the land, may have a millennium of learning to catch up on.  For we are small and the earth is big. And we can only live in one place at a time. And similarly, we can only observe the rhythm of life and its cycles in one place at one time. In the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Homorod Valley are holy volumes of this knowledge.

To make a contribution and keep the Parish Immersion Field Experience in Transylvania Pilot Project going beyond its planned two years, contact.

Photo: James Field

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Message from the Acting President

A task force of leaders from member schools of the Graduate Theological School has been convened to look at “Alternative Futures” for our consortium. It’s an attempt to do some radically new thinking about theological education and what it might look like a decade from now. It’s going to be different. No one, other than science fiction writers – or the writer of Dick Tracy – seemed able to imagine something like the iPhone a few years. But it’s here. So are smart classrooms,

whole cities wired for wi-fi, podcasts and online courses about almost anything you can think of. Starr King is working hard to keep up with these changes, and so are other schools in the GTU. But what haven’t we imagined? Working together to create a truly interfaith theological university? Taking programs into storefronts, as well as suburban churches? Creating more programs like our Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change, which brings a religious perspective into fields formerly thought of as strictly secular? Finding a new role working across the borders of Pacific Rim countries? Freeing ourselves of the burden of our expensive buildings and fixed locations, like the University of Phoenix?

It’s going to be exciting thinking “out of the box” like this, just as it’s exciting developing a strategic plan for the more immediate future, such as we’re now doing at the school. Who ever thought theological education was dull? Not me.

Photo: Dave Sammons
PSR Names Dorsey Blake Distinguished Alumni

Every year the Alumni/ae Council of the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) honors four of the school’s graduates for the significance of their ministries over the years. This year the Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake, Starr King Acting Dean and Visiting Professor of Spirituality and Prophetic Justice, who received his M.Div. from PSR, was honored not only for his ministry as successor to the Rev. Howard Thurman at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, his contributions to

theological education, and his work in the community, but for his contributions to the GTU when he was the Director of the Center for Urban Black Studies.

Last year the Rev. Dr. Dave Sammons, SKSM Acting President, was the first Unitarian Universalist to be honored as a PSR Distinguished Alumni/ae. In 1978 Dave was part of the first group of students to receive a D.Min. from PSR. Starr King is proud of these faculty members who are being recognized for their work.

Photo: Dorsey Blake
Supporting Starr King


Strategic planning is underway at Starr King School.

Guiding our creative imaginings for the next 3-5 years are our core commitments: educating people for remarkable religious leadership in Unitarian Universalism and the larger world; integrating academic expertise with lived experience and living spirituality; creating just communities by learning how to counter oppressions that hinder or harm the full expression of

humanness; and partnering in the interfaith and ecumenical interchange made possible by our membership in the Graduate Theological Union.

Our strategies to strengthen the school’s pedagogy are attentive to the significant shifts taking place at seminaries across the country as new educational technologies – from online courses to Web conferencing to podcasting – transform how theological education is offered and engaged.

A working plan for the future will emerge over the course of this calendar year. Students, faculty, trustees, staff, graduates and friends of the school will be invited to reflect on the plan and to offer insights and support for its success. Watch this publication for updates. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact me.

Rev. Kelly Flood
Vice President for Advancement

Photo: Kelly Flood
SKSM Welcomes Sean Dennison

The Rev. Sean Dennison, ’00 Starr King graduate and minister of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Salt Lake City, Utah, arrived in January to begin his work as the school’s spring semester Visiting Minister.

Dennison, who is a SKSM trustee, took a sabbatical from his church. He has served on the UUA’s Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee and as secretary of the Mountain Desert District Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association, for which he also serves as chaplain at the Russell Lockwood Leadership School.

You can read about Dennison at “Ministrare,” his Weblog.

Photo: Sean Dennison



Watch the Journal for upcoming announcements about our new online Seminary for the Laity program starting

M.Div. and M.A. in Social Change application deadlines:
Dec. 1, Feb. 1 & March 1

M.A. application deadlines:
Sept. 30 & Feb. 15

Our current ECO (Educating to Counter Oppressions) theme is “Sustainable Rest, Sustainable Action.” We invite you to participate by asking yourself these questions:

How does caring for yourself help you to care for the world?

How does caring for yourself call you to care for the world differently?

How does restoring the sacred rhythm of rest and action help us to work for social justice?

What intersecting privileges and oppressions impact our ability and willingness to rest and act in sustainable ways?