By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – Traditions come in many forms, but few are more enjoyed than the kind celebrated at Calvin United Church of Christ Saturday evening.
As they have for the past 15 years or more, parishioners, their friends and members of other congregations gathered together at the church’s Calvin Hall annex for beef and venison goulash. The dinner attracted 150 people who sat in the brightly lit hall around tables, each with a center vase containing a single long-stemmed red rose. The event included a raffle for over a dozen gift items donated by local business – Whole Foods and Mama Mina among them.
The dinner was hosted by Rt. Rev. Bishop Bela Poznan, the church’s pastor, along with assistant pastor Rev. Tibor Kiraly. It essentially serves as a fundraiser to offset operating costs at the 901 Kings Highway East property.
“We’ve always held this dinner the last Saturday in January,” said David Heady, assistant chief elder. “Goulash is a traditional Hungarian stew, a favorite dish. The venison symbolizes a successful fall hunt. Beef is offered as an option for people that do not want to eat deer meat.”
Heady looks forward to the annual event. “We have a great time, with Hungarian music, dancing and friendly people,” he said. “We have other events during the year, though people tend to be attracted to those with food as we offer a home-cooked taste you can’t find everywhere.”
Heady’s roots run deep with Calvin United. “I was babtized in this church, and my mom and dad had their wedding here, so I have a long history.”
Dan Gombos, of Woodbury, had longtime connections with the church as well. “I used to be a parishioner here about 30 years ago, but still enjoy coming down for special occasions like this and seeing some familiar faces,” he said. “It’s good to keep in touch with one’s culture – associations of ethnic groups are diminishing, especially with mixed marriage among younger generations.”
Gombos remarked that Calvin Hall was built in the 1930s, and was very vibrant at the time. “It still comes alive on occasions like this,” he said.
With regard to the venison, Gombos wasn’t aware it was a Hungarian staple until 1996, when he and his parents traveled to Hungary together and saw that it was served all over. “My mother was a very good cook but we never ate venison,” he said. “Bishop Poznan has kept that aspect alive here.”
But it was actually George Tar, a former Hungarian Freedom Fighter and parishioner since 1956, who initiated the idea of the goulash dinner at Calvin United. “We started with venison, then introduced beef to give people a choice. I was a hunter and the first two or three years I supplied at least two deer each year. I told the reverend I was sorry I can’t help anymore.”