Planning a Pilgrimage

For more than two decades the UUPCC Pilgrimage Service has helped to cement the bonds between North American UUs and their partners overseas.

The focus and core offering of our services are 'Congregational Pilgrimages'. In the past five years, over 1000 US and Canadian UUs representing more than 150 congregations have traveled with us to visit their partners around the globe.

If you are considering a congregational pilgrimage, a good place to start is by downloading a UUPCC booklet filled with tips, information, and wisdom about pilgrimages. Note more current information may be found online.

Congregational Pilgrimages

Our in-country experts work with groups as small as five to customize an itinerary that matches their interests, timeframe, pace, and overall travel goals. Most European pilgrimages combine 3 or 4 basic elements:

  1. Unitarian religious and historical sites such as Kolozsvár, Torda, Gyulaféhérvár, Székelyderzs, and Déva.
  2. A stay with your partner congregation in their village or town (more about this later). For groups from unpartnered churches, we normally recommend a stay in a Unitarian village in order to experience - albeit briefly - the lives of many of our co-religionists.
  3. Romanian & Transylvanian locations with broader tourist appeal such as Peles & Bran Castles in the Southern Carpathians, the Saxon fortress churches at Biertan and Viscri, the Saxon walled cities of Brasov (Brasso), Sighisoara (Segesvar), and Sibiu (Nagyszeben), the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina, and/or the Wooden Churches of Maramures.
  4. A Central European capital city: Budapest, Vienna, and Prague are the most common.

The precise mix of these elements is determined by the group during the planning process. The specific locations visited are then shaped by other considerations such as European cities of arrival and departure. Most groups fly into and out of either Bucharest or Budapest. Many chose "open-jaw" flights. That is, they fly into one city and out of another. These tickets are usually only a few dollars more expensive and have the advantage of not retracing steps back to the arrival airport.

Flight arangements into Transylvania. There are an increasing nmber of direct flights into Cluj (Kolozsvar) - CLJ and Targu-Mures (Marosvasarhely) - TGM. Major airlines such as Luftansa, Austrian Air, Malev and other discount airlines such as Wizzair serve these airports at least several times a week from their hubs. If your time is limited, you may want to consider these airports in your flight plans. It will save you as much as 2 travel days.

Location of your partner congregation. If you are intent on visiting some of the more remote areas, there may be a significant amount of bus travel involved. Romania is the size of Pennsylvania and New York together, and Transylvania comprises some 40% of the Romanian land mass (Transylvania is slightly larger than Hungary proper). This, coupled with the fact that the road infrastructure is not great, means that even short distances by North American standards might mean hours of driving. Cluj/Kolozsvar is halfway between Budapest and Bucharest - about 8 driving hours by van or train from each. Brasov/Brasso to Cluj/Kolozsvar is 5-6 hours of driving time without stops.  Many buses are equipped with a restroom, wherever possible your travel coordinator will break up the bus ride with interesting sight-seeing and comfort stops Just know that the location of your particular partner village may mean a longer ride.

If you are not partnered but still want to include a village stay in your itinerary, we will arrange for home-stay accomodations at a Unitarian village along your route of travel.

Duration of your stay with your partner congregation. 3-4 days is an average stay. If this is an introductory visit (your first time visiting your partners or the first time in a long time) then this is probably sufficient. However, if you have established strong friendships with members of your partner congregation or are planning a joint service project, then you may wish to stay longer.  With longer stays, we typically program day trips to local sites of interest.

Overall duration of your trip. The average pilgrimage is 10-12 days, but we have programmed groups for as many as 18 days and as few as 5 days.

Congregational trips are easy to organize with our assistance! Group sizes range from 5 to 40 people and often include choir groups, partner church committees, covenant groups and/or friends of all ages. We work with each of group to customize an itinerary that meets their time frame and interests. We will help with all ground arrangements including hotels and home stays, meals, transportation, translators and guides. Here are some sample itineraries to help with your planning.

Please email us at travel@uupcc.org if you would like to organize a trip in your congregation.

If your church is not partnered and you do not have a group to travel with, you may still experience life with Unitarians and UUs worldwide. We offer a number of group tours for UUs of all ages and interest. Learn about pilgrimages you can join or contact us at office@uupcc.org if you have specific questions.

 

Choir Tours

Watch this amazing documentary video of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation (McHenry, IL) Choir’s 2016 pilgrimage to Transylvania: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99Vz-WWPyww

A European Concert Tour can be the highlight of any chorister's experience. Concert tours have been a part of the UUPCC Pilgrimage Service since 2004. Over the past dozen years we have organized many tours for North American choirs and folk music bands from across North America. We provide open choir tours that anyone to join, and we also arrange trips for choirs combined from several congregations. Arrangements for choir tours extend beyond transportation, meals & accommodations to include venue selection, instrument rental, advertisement & rehearsal space.

Some considerations to help with your planning:

  1. Look over the congregational pilgrimage page. This is considered a group tour and many of the same rules apply.
  2. What sort of venues would suit your repetoire? Many choirs perform in churches, but we can also arrange for town/city cultural halls as well as orphanages, retirement homes, and outdoor public spaces. The latter is particularly appropriate for secular music.
  3. Do you need amplification or electricity? Some older churches do not have working organs and may have limited electrical outlets.
  4. Do you need a keyboard or other instrument that is not easily transported overseas?
  5. Will there be non-performers along on the trip? Will you need alternative programming for them during rehearsal times?
  6. Review sample itineraries to get an idea of what is possible.
    Transylvania Sample Itinerary • Budapest-Transylvania Sample • Bucharest-Budapest-Transylvania Sample Itinerary

Youth Trips

Over the past the UUPCC has conducted several Youth Pilgrimages to Transylvania for young people ages 15-19. This life-changing trip enables teens from different US & Canadian congregations to meet Unitarians from another culture, explore the roots of their faith, perform a service project, and have a great time! Increasingly many larger North American congregations are organizing their own youth trips. We view this as an encouraging development. Youth exchanges are evidence of maturing partnerships moving beyond congregations just getting to know each other.

Recommended Reading: The Benefits of a Youth Trip to Transylvania: a few words about Youth Pilgrimage and Mission in Transylvania is an insightful brochure written by Rev. Jennifer Emrich for the UPPCC. It provides informed tips on trip planning, provides guidelines that can help you to have a successful trip, and on follow-up activities. 

If you are considering organizing a youth trip here are a few more things to get you started.

  1. Read through the Congregational Pilgrimage ideas. Youth groups will face the same logistical issues.
  2. A youth trip typically contains 4 elements - Religious education, Service, Partnership development, and Fun. The latter is hopefully spread throughout the other three.
  3. The RE element usually involves visiting Unitarian historic and holy places such as Torda, Deva, Gyulaferhervar, Koloszvar, etc. and telling the stories of famous Unitarian figures in history like Francis David, John Sigismond and others.
  4. The Service element should be developed in cooperation with your partners - assuming that you want to execute your project in collaboration with your partners. Examples of successful projects include stream & cemetery cleaning, church beautification (flower garden, bulb planting, etc), oral histories of parishoners,and painting/repair of church buildings. If you do not have a partner church or for some reason your project needs to take place outside of your village, the UUPCC can assist in this effort. There are numerous opportunities at orphanages, retirement homes, English language summer camps for young people and other venues for your youth to engage in service.
  5. The Partnership Development piece is a bit more ambiguous. Our most successful youth trips have involved a neutral off-site camp location where both youth from your partner village and the NA youth can engage in a series of cultural, religious exchange exercises.  These are designed to educate each group about each other and to develop bonds of friendship between individuals. If the demographics of your partner congregation are such that there are a number of teenage youth this may be one idea to pursue.
  6. If time permits try to fold into all of this some fun touristy elements such as a visit to Dracula's castle, days in Budapest, etc.
  7. By utilizing the Unitarian dorms in Kolozsvar along with guest houses and hostels we can provide a very inexpensive land package for your youth. The sooner you can put together a tentative itinerary and budgetary quotation the better, as this gives your group more time to engage in fund raising activities.

You may also want to review some of the sample UU youth trip itineraries below:

Resources for trip planners