Sacred Music: Sing On

BCM Spotlight Banner

BY LYDIAN AVERITT |

Painting of George Fredick Handel

Thomas Hudson (English, 1701-1749). “Georg Friedrich Händel,” 1741. Oil painting. | Public domain image

It’s the most performed piece of classical music in the world: George Frederick Handel’s famous oratorio Messiah. Almost a Cliff’s Notes of the Bible, the piece tells the story, in orchestral and vocal form, of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Composed in 1741 and almost immediately a hit, the piece has never gone out of style: in 2010, according to the web site Classical Net, there were enough productions of Messiah worldwide to hold two a day, nearly every day of the year.  That’s more than twice as many as the next-closest competitor, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Although Handel didn’t envision Messiah as a Christmas work–he actually wrote it for Easter–most of these performances will be compressed into this very season: the weeks between the November 1 and December 25.

I sang the piece recently in the Mozart Club’s community chorus in Winston-Salem, NC at the urging of my mother, a 30-year veteran of the chorus. “I’m telling you,” she said, matter-of-factly. “It’s glorious.”

The chorus from the Mozart Club’s 2010 presentation of the Messiah in Winston-Salem | Photo by Phil Averitt

As mothers often are, mine was right: the experience was transformative. The beauty of the music. The power of the orchestra.  The sheer emotion of being in the center of a swirling vortex of sound, retelling, as conductor James Allbritten described it, “the greatest story ever told.”    

Naturally, I recruited my own then-19-year-old daughter to join us the next year, and the piece hooked her as well. So much so that, when I asked for her thoughts, she replied with the exaggerated patience that only a teenage girl can muster: “Mom. You have no idea how much I love to do this.”

And she wasn’t alone; the members of the chorus were as diverse as a group could be, with black people, white people, men and women, students, parents, grandparents. All could agree on the joy of being a part of the stirring performance–the club’s 80th, no less.

At this time of year, as musicians everywhere start their seasonal rehearsals, the question arises: What is it about the Messiah, or about spiritual music in general, that has such power to move us and draw us back, a cross-section of humanity, again and again? Is it its familiarity? Is it the tradition?

The First Moravian, Greensboro flute trio, playing Christmas carols at the church’s Candle Tea. The author, Lydian, is in the middle; her daughter Caroline is on the right; the flute player on left is Cleo Dimmick | Photo by Phil Averitt

According to the Rev. Will Eads, a clinician with CareNet Counseling, a community-based care organization affiliated with Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, it’s a matter of a term called “hymnody.”

Literally meaning “the collective hymns of a specific religion, place or period,” hymnody more broadly refers to the shared musical experiences of a community of people, singing commonly known, ecclesiastically-based music.  Amazing Grace. Be Thou My Vision. Silent Night. Even the Messiah’s famous Hallelujah chorus.

“Sacred music is transcendent as far as time. It resonates with us, and it’s relevant to us today,” Eads says. “Many people can relate, and have related, to this music in the same way, and have done so for a long time. That’s what makes the difference.”

Sacred music is not the only music that can draw people together as a community. Rock, jazz, pop, and country songs can all do it. The difference, according to Eads, is that rock or jazz or country songs are usually based on emotion, and they speak to one individual, or to a group of people that can identify with the emotion that the songwriter is conveying.

“The composer has said, ‘How do I personally feel today?’ and whatever one group of people may be going through enables them to relate to the song equally emotionally,” Eads says.

For a piece to have hymnody, it has to affect us in, literally, more ways than one.

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

“There’s a collective consciousness that sets hymns and pieces of sacred music apart. They are based on group knowledge; they are emotionally transcendent. They have an ecclesiastical embodiment. And they are able to reach most of us psychologically, wherever we are. They are bio-psycho-socio-spiritual. They speak to us on all four levels.

“Sacred music is almost sacramental. It’s is a tangible, physical way to connect to the divine.”

Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf got it. The composer of more than 2,000 hymns, the Moravian church leader revived and extended the hymnody tradition in his assembly of the first provincial Moravian hymnal, published in German in 1735.1 His philosophy in organizing that hymnal is still stated in the first pages of the current one: “The hymnal is a kind of response to the Bible, an echo and an extension thereof. In the Bible, one perceives how the Lord communicates with people; in the hymnal, how people communicate with the Lord.”

And, George Frederick Handel got it. According to legend, he wrote the music for the slightly more-than 3-hour Messiah in just 24 days, working steadily under divine inspiration. “I did think I did see the whole heaven before me, and the great God himself,” Handel is said to have marveled, at the end of his writing marathon. “Whether I was in my body, or out of my body, I know not. God knows.”2

As instruments tune, choirs assemble and the season to sing out gets under way, people everywhere can know again the power of a shared, sacred musical experience, whether or not they are Moravian–“The singin’-est people I’ve ever met,” declared a friend after attending a lovefeast for the first time.

“Hymnody is the rock in the river,” Eads says. “As we feel lost and adrift, we can reach out and grab it and feel connected to something larger than we are. “

For that, we can all sing, “Hallelujah!”


 

  1. Farrell, Michael. Blake and the Moravians. Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.
  2. Schonberg, Harold. The Lives of the Great Composers. W.W. Norton and Company, 1997.

 


Photo via Lydian Averitt

Lydian Bernhardt Averitt is a freelance writer and editor, and is the coordinator of the family financial planning certificate program at North Carolina A&T State University. She is an amateur musician and a lifelong Moravian who attends First Moravian Church in Greensboro, NC. Contact her at Lydian@triad.rr.com.


Requests for Republishing:

Want to republish this post? Most of our writers are volunteers who retain the copyright of their text. Reach out to the author, or we can put them in touch with you. See email address for the Moravian BCM below.

Images used in our blog posts are a mix of the BCM’s images, Creative Commons images, public domain images, or other images the Moravian BCM has permission to use. Some images you may need additional permission to include in your republishing. Where credits have been noted, we ask that you credit image creators the same way we have. Questions? Email us!


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Advertisements

Christ the Chief Elder

BCM Spotlight Banner

BY THE REV. JOE MOORE |

Photo of communion

Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

This week Moravians around the world celebrate one of the things that makes us unique–our understanding of Jesus Christ as the Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. At a Synod in London in 1741, the Moravian leaders struggled to elect a new Chief Elder. The office had been vacated when Leonard Dober decided that, after having served as Chief Elder for six years, the job had become too much for one person.

Image of Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766)

Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766) | Public Domain Image

In the years between 1735 and 1741, the Moravian Church had grown rapidly from an isolated community in Germany to worldwide mission movement. After coming to the conclusion that no one person possessed the essential characteristics and gifts necessary, the Synod asked the question, “Would not the Lord our Savior be so gracious as to accept this office for himself?”

On September 14, 1741, Jesus Christ was officially named Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. Being in the days before email, text messages, and cellphones, it was decided that time was needed to spread the news around the Moravian world. November 13 was chosen as the day for all Moravians to celebrate the selection of Christ as Chief Elder.

Even now, over 275 years later, many congregations will celebrate Christ as Chief Elder with Holy Communion and/or a lovefeast on the Sunday closest to November 13. For me, having been born and raised in the Moravian church, I have always understood that Jesus is the head of our denomination. However, I’ve never really given it much thought, beyond knowing it as one of those things that makes the Moravian church different from other denominations. But is it something that is still relevant to the Moravian church in 2017? And what does it really mean to claim Christ as Chief Elder?

The Ground of the Unity (the doctrinal statement of the Moravian Church) says, “Jesus Christ is the one Lord and Head of His body, the Church. Because of this, the Church owes no allegiance to any authority whatsoever which opposes His dominion. The Unitas Fratrum treasures in its history the vital experience of the Headship of Christ of 16 September and 13 November 1741.”

Stained glass seal at Olivet Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC | Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

It is clear from this that the Moravian church continues to recognize Jesus as the head of the church and, beyond celebrating it as something from our history with little contemporary relevance, considers it to be an important doctrine. In other words, it is not just something that our Moravian ancestors believed and we remember, but it is also the belief of the Moravian Church today. The language used may be a bit different, as the Ground of the Unity uses the phrase “Head of the Church” as opposed to Chief Elder, but the idea is the same.

It’s important that we understand that Jesus has been and is the head of the Moravian Church. But it is even more important that we understand what it means to recognize Christ as our Chief Elder. First it means that we look to Jesus for guidance, counsel, inspiration, and direction in ALL that we do. We rely on his leadership to help our church to be a reflection of his light in a dark world, we rely on his guidance to allow our lives to be a source of his love in a world filled with hate.

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur (Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him)

Jesus is the best kind of leader. He is one who knows what it is like, he is one who has seen first hand how hard it is to do what we are called to do. He is one who has seen how dark this world is and how much it needs his light. Jesus is one who knows how much hate there is in this world and how much it needs his love. As we read in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Another way to say this would be, “For we do not have a Chief Elder who is unable to sympathize with our struggles, but we have one who in every respect has been challenged as we are.”

Jesus has been here, he has done what we are called to do. He knows how to lead us and guide us to be the people he has created us to be and to be the church that he calls us to be. He knows the challenges that we face and he can help us to overcome them and share his light and his love.

Photo of church Seal

Moravian Seal, or Agnus Dei, stained glass window in the Rights Chapel at Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, NC | The Rev. John Jackman, CC BY-SA 3.0

That is what it really means to claim Christ as our Chief Elder. It means that we are following the lead of someone who knows the way. On this day, as we celebrate our Chief Elder, as we remember how he loves us and gave his life for us, let us reclaim him as our Chief Elder, as Chief Elder of our church and of our lives. Let us follow him out of the dark and into the light. Let him lead us into love that overcomes hate.


Bio photo of Joe Moore

Photo via the Rev. Joe Moore

 

The Rev. Joe Moore is the Associate Pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.  He has served in team ministry with his wife, the Rev. Kelly Moore, at Palmyra Moravian (NJ), Mayodan Moravian (NC), First Moravian Church of Georgia, and Fries Memorial Moravian (NC). Joe also served as the Chair of the Board of World Mission and as Assistant to the President of the Provincial Elders’ Conference. He is active in camping ministry at Laurel Ridge. (Portion of bio via NewPhilly.org)


Requests for Republishing:

Want to republish this post? Most of our writers are volunteers who retain the copyright of their text. Reach out to the author, or we can put them in touch with you. See email address for the Moravian BCM below.

Images used in our blog posts are a mix of the BCM’s images, Creative Commons images, public domain images, or other images the Moravian BCM has permission to use. Some images you may need additional permission to include in your republishing. Where credits have been noted, we ask that you credit image creators the same way we have. Questions? Email us!


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Trust and Power

BCM Spotlight Banner

BY THE REV. CORY L. KEMP |

Photo of woman praying

We talk about living our faith on a regular basis. What does that look like to you? Asking myself what living my faith looks like brought me to the following, familiar passage:

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” -Matthew 7:7-8

Faith is an active verb. Taking faithful action, by asking, searching, knocking on the door, co-creates a result that is linked with God’s answer of giving, finding, and the door opening for us.

But in between those paired actions and responses something else, something important, is going on that encourages that co-creative relationship with God that builds a faithful, fruitful life of discipleship.

What is this special something? It is the recognition that to move forward we first must trust God’s power in us.

If you know how to drive stick shift cars, you know this lesson.

Photo of car with stick shift

While recently preparing to teach a class on communication as spiritual practice, I remembered a rerun of an Army Wives episode. The family tradition between mother and daughter in this program is to pass on the legacy of being able to shift like a trucker in less than a day.

Daughter is skeptical, mom is persistent.

Before getting in the car, mom shares that the clutch is about trust, the accelerator about power. As her hands make the familiar foot movements, she explains that to move forward you have to trust.

She then draws her daughter’s hands into her own, lifting them to join in the fluid motions of trust supporting power.

And, indeed, the daughter was shifting like a trucker before they sat down to dinner that evening.

Faith is so very much about that willingness to take action, trusting that God’s power will guide us to seeing the next moment of truth, be it the giving, the finding or the door opening.

But, faith is more.

Faith is an ongoing series of asking, seeking, knocking, sometimes constant, always consistently showing God’s action and willing support for us to live abundantly. It is about acknowledging, with deep, abiding gratitude, what God has already entrusted to us by virtue of God’s power in us. In you, and in me.

My thought is that most of us are willing to take that first step; and we are delighted when it is clear that God has heard and answered us in a way we understand. Faith becomes daunting if we get stuck in the fear of what comes next.

False modesty doesn’t create the kind of results God has been credited with through generations of women and men who have used their faith to create lasting change, community and hope in the world. God loves to work through people.

Top view of feet of people standing in a circle. Runners standing in a huddle with their feet together.

But do we love God working through us?

William Sloane Coffin once wrote that faithfulness is more demanding than success. It is. Rather than being defined as a reachable goal, faith is more akin to a lifestyle choice, a way of being and becoming.

And I believe that is the absolute best part of actively living faith as a verb.

Choosing faith means you and I are always standing in trust and power. Reminding ourselves of that makes it a whole lot easier to harmonize our choices and our actions with God’s choices and actions on our behalf. Knowing that, believing that, acting from that, means we are less likely to allow doubt or fear to keep us stuck in first gear.

There is nothing wrong with being in first gear; sometimes that is simply where we are, and God is with us there too.

But it is really satisfying to get the harmony and rhythm of trusting, of letting that trust in yourself and God support your next step forward. And the one after that. And the one after that.

You get the idea.


 

Cory Kimp

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp is founder and faith mentor with Broad Plains Faith Coaching. Cory, employing her signature Handcrafted Faith program, supports ordained and lay women leaders in visualizing, understanding and strengthening their beliefs, so that they may know, love and serve God and their communities with generosity, wisdom and joy.


Requests for Republishing:

Want to republish this post? Reach out to the author, or we can put them in touch with you. See email address for the Moravian BCM below.


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Erdmuthe: The Beloved and Blest “Lady Mother”

BCM Spotlight Banner


FROM THE MEMOIR OF ERDMUTHE ZINZENDORF |

 

Erdmuthe

Erdmuthe Dorthea von Zinzendorf, also know as “Lady Mother” and the respected foster-mother of the Church

Bringing Herrnhut Into a Flourishing Condition

During the years, the heavenly Father had blessed and prospered our “Lady Mother” in every way, especially in this country, so that everybody watched it with amazement. He gave success to the service of her business assistants, especially the Brethren von Peistel and Sigmund von Gersdorf; and brought her beloved Herrnhut into a flourishing condition, useful to the Lord and to the country.

He also permitted her, and her son-in-law, and her husband to plan for the internal financial affairs of the Unity, so that when the Ordinarius of the Unitas Fratrum (Count Zinzendorf, and his son (Bishop John von Watteville) had effected the sacrifices undertaken for the people, the financial affairs of the Unity were brought into proper order and were conducted with blessing. These plans were so wonderfully supported and brought to pass that not only was the necessary fund fairly well established during the past years, but the current expenses, on a yearly average, were reduced by a ton of gold ($100,000.000).

Count Zinzendorf, perhaps the most instantly recognizable leader of the Moravian Church. He was married to Erdmuthe from 1722 until her death in 1756 | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

She spent more than 750,000 Reichstahaler for building and farming respectively, which was carefully used; and like the Unity debts, she not only paid the interest but reduced the five percent or six percent debts by over 600,000 Reichsthaler within a period of ten years.

Herrnhut, Germany - looking at the church | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

Herrnhut, Germany – looking at the church | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

For the large sums which she lent to the Unity, she never charged more than 1/8%, and that more as a matter of recognition than that she expected to collect it. In order to further this matter, she set aside so little for the support of herself and her children that it was hardly worth mentioning in view of her large possessions and many enterprises. Until her blessed home-going, that is for nearly thirty years, she was the benefactress of Herrnhut.

Page 12, paragraphs one through three 

Last Year of Life: 1755-1756

In short, her grace spent this last year with her family, as contentedly and as blessedly as any of her life. Moreover, according to her custom, she slept little, rising early. And though she was busy all day with others, for all had free access to her, and her room was always full of high and humble until late at night, yet by her activity in the early morning hours, she found sufficient time for consideration of the holy humanity of the Head of the Church. Then she offered her prayers for all the congregations; then she had the so-called Gemein Wochen and the Nachrichten read aloud in the room; and so she remained in uninterrupted touch with the entire Unity.

She had intended, after the Synod, to visit her 81 year old mother-in-law, who was ill, but was prevented by her own weakness. The Creator of her soul, and the Director of her breath, who had arranged that it should go well with her on earth, was now to make good His promise to make her a soft bed at the end.

She attended the first session of Synod as usual, and intended to spend several days there, which she did in alternating good spirits and weariness, looking to others more ill than she felt. No special symptom manifested itself in her illness, except the extraordinary weakness.

Anna Nitschmann

Anna Nitschmann, a leader of the Moravian Church in her own right. She would later marry Count Zinzendorf in 1757. | Image: Anna Nitchsmann painting. The Unity Archives Herrnhut: GS.67

Two days before her end, Anna Nitschmann, who had been her assistant for twenty years, paid her a quite ordinary visit, neither being conscious that it would be the last. The Countess kissed Anna’s hand tenderly many times during the visit, and continued to throw kisses to her as long as she was in sight. Then she continued in her usual routine of life until one hour before her release. Suddenly, in the presence of a large group of people, who had come as usual to visit her, she gently bowed her head and passed away.

Fortunately, it was Communion day, when the countless tears shed by the congregation over their loss could be mixed with tears of love and joy in their Redeemer; and truly this lessened a thousand-fold the pain, and enabled the congregation to take a share in the blessedness of their beloved and blest “Lady Mother.”

Page 13, paragraphs one through three

Herrnhut, Germany – God’s Acre | Photo by Mike Riess/IBOC

 


November 4: Leading the Way: Women in the Moravian Church Through the Centuries

What can Moravian women in our history teach us about being the church today?

Facebook Banner - Leading the Way, Women in the Moravian Church

Wednesday, by 11:59 PM on November 1, is the LAST day to register for this event. Register now at PlanetReg.com/LeadingTheWay

Online Registration button

Print Registration Form button


Erdmuthe picture

The above blog content is comprised of excerpts from the Memoir of the respected foster-mother of the Church Erdmuth Dorothea, who passed blessedly into the arms and bosom of Jesus at Herrnhut, June 19th, 1756 

Questions? Comments? Contact the BCM at BCM@MCSP.org


Read and/or download the full memoir here, courtesy the Moravian Archives, Southern Province: download [LINK]

Visit the Moravian Archives, Southern Province online at MoravianArchives.org


BCM LogoThe Board of Cooperative Ministries engages and supports congregations and Regional Conferences in their ministries as together we grow in faith, love and hope, following Jesus in serving the world.


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Why Does the Church Struggle With Millennials? Young Adult Moravians Respond

BCM Spotlight Banner


RESPONSES FROM YOUNG ADULT MORAVIANS |

We recently asked young adult Moravians to respond to this article by Sam Eaton. In the piece, Sam lays out the reasons why more than half of Millennials have dropped out of church. We also asked young adults to share with us their perception of church in general.

The New York Times defines Millennials as being between 20 and 35 years old, or born between 1980 and 1995, give or take a couple years. Below are six responses from Moravian Millennials and their thoughts on the church’s struggle to attract young people.

Young people


1

Many bloggers and church thinkers have written articles on why we Millennials aren’t attending church. I won’t presume to be any wiser than them, and my perspective is admittedly that of a Millennial who does attend church. However, I do know what draws me to the churches I’ve attended. Rather than a rock band and a coffee bar, the two biggest things that attracted me to my church homes have been community and challenging theology.

My wife and I attend churches whose members greet us with a warm, welcoming reception. Instead of us shuffling into an empty pew unchecked, our church homes had members who introduced themselves and invited us to sit beside them during the service (differing themselves from the common “my pew” phenomenon that often exists). Other church members not only excitedly welcomed us, but invited us to stay for fellowship after the service and introduced us among the congregation.

Radical, challenging theology is the other draw. Never have I felt more filled with faith than after a sermon that made me question myself. While there is certainly need for sermons that affirm our core beliefs and tenets, there’s no reason those same sermons can’t relate those to how we can be more radically Christ-like. While I’m hesitant to speak for all Millennials, I will venture to say that many of us quickly lose interest in sermons on safe topics. A pastor who lovingly challenges me to be more charitable, forgiving, and selfless will win my attendance quicker than anything else. Love me. Challenge and teach me to live love. That is what I desire in a church.

-Kyle Todd, member of Bethania Movarian Church, currently attending United Methodist Church Anacortes, Anacortes, WA

 


2

As a Millennial and self-professed Christian, I feel like I’m often tasked with answering for the sins of Christianity, both historical and ongoing. I think my generation struggles with reconciling actions and proclamations of people associated with the church with our values. I would really appreciate candor from the church regarding these discrepancies and guidance on how to actively address these differences while upholding truth and peace.

On another note, a part of the article that really resonated with me was the section on cliquey-ness and the call to “stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected.” I’ve seen church communities fall short on this a lot, and I have failed on this front as well, but an atmosphere of authentic (not transparently forced) inclusion and acceptance (a.k.a. love) would be transformative in a way that appeals to Millennials, in my opinion.

-Alex Ford, (long-distance) member of Kernersville Moravian Church, Mokpo, South Korea

 

Young people


3

Valid points in the article, and I have seen many similar articles lately. I have been sad to see examples where we, as a community of faith, have drawn in, rather than reached out, when we have faced declining attendance and giving. Shouldn’t that provide for the great moments of faith we celebrate from our history? The moments where God calls us to go beyond our own ability to trust something larger may be in the works? Surely we can live like the community we read about in Acts 2-4, and that we hear about from the days of Zinzendorf.

Finally, the article ends with a section titled, “The Truth is, Church, it’s Your Move.” Here is where I disagree. As an older Millennial, but still in the club, I think now is the time for our move-ment. If we feel the lack of resources is driving a sense of deep seated fear drawing the church inward, then isn’t it up to us to take the action (“be the change you want to see in the world”) we are desperately waiting to see? If we want to be seen and heard, and valued, then we need to be willing to jump into the fray with words and actions that add value, and not just critiques to the system.

In many congregations, a group of 20 young adults could join, participate, and collectively wield a loud voice to help shape the growth and ministry of that community.

Yes, the things on the list are concerns to be faced… but the church needs us to be a part of the solution, and not just point out the problem.

-Justin Rabbach, Ebenezer Moravian Church, Waukesha, WI

 


4

The author’s number one reason as to why Millennials are not attending church speaks the loudest; no one is listening to Millennials. Most Millennials are adults (18+) now and they are tired of still being treated as if they were still kids. The church must be willing to implement new ideas from newer generations.

-Anonymous

 


5

I think I agree with most of what is said in the article.

My thoughts are that many perceive churches to lack authenticity, whether that is true or not. The idea of “practice what you preach” is disconnected as churches seem to only look inward with their programs and beliefs. Personally, I hate being lumped into these age group classifications. Sure, they exist and are a way to analyze data but generalizing that data is not healthy sometimes.

Finally, I like Justin Rabbach’s group, Moravian Church Without Walls. Constraining the church to four walls, a steeple, and worship on Sunday morning, is where you miss this large demographic. There are other ways to worship and serve our Lord. Think outside of the paradigm and maybe this “missing” demographic will reemerge; maybe not in the pews, but in other ways.

-Anonymous

 


Church Pews

6

I nodded my head in agreement so many times that I had a crick in my neck by the end of this article. I grew up in the church, my husband grew up in the church, but neither of us has been a regular church member for over a decade. Why? My excuse was always that life got in the way: college, moving away from home, jobs that required work on the weekends. But now we’re in our early 30s, we’re settled in a town we love, we bought a house, we’re off on Sundays, and we both admit that we feel like something’s missing and that something might just be a church family. Yet every time we get a “Welcome to the neighborhood!  Come visit our church!” postcard in the mail I find myself tossing the card in the trash. I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is–what’s really keeping us from finding a church home now?

I felt like every point made in this piece was spot on, but what resonated with me most were reasons 2, 3, and 5 (which I think are all connected). My last memories of church were the painful realization that, for many in my church family, the mission statements, the church politics, the cliquey-ness were more important than helping the people in this world who need it most. As I get older, religion has become more and more about showing kindness to strangers, giving to the poor, and reflecting Christ’s love through actions in my day-to-day life–the values I learned in Sunday school as a kid, but didn’t see the church practice once I got older.

I don’t need a church family to live out those values, and I’m not confident that I could find a church home committed to practicing what they preach. But, it would be so nice to find a place that did, and a place for my future children to learn those same Sunday school lessons that helped shape me into the person I am today.

-Anonymous (forever-a-Moravian-at-heart)

 


Questions? Comments? Contact the BCM at BCM@MCSP.org

BCM LogoThe Board of Cooperative Ministries engages and supports congregations and Regional Conferences in their ministries as together we grow in faith, love and hope, following Jesus in serving the world.

Kneeling and Patriotism: A Christian Perspective

BCM Spotlight Banner

BY DEWEY MULLIS |

Picture of a football

Much of the country has been locked in yet another divisive battle. This time, the issue is NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

On one side, there are individuals who are seeking to address issues of racial injustice. On the other side are individuals who find the protest to be disrespectful and therefore invalid.

As both a Christian and an American, this troubles me deeply. What troubles me specifically is that nobody is paying attention and holding on to what isn’t being said.

Jesus would be concerned with injustice because it impacts humans at their core. To be primarily concerned with the symbols is nothing but idolatry.

In all of the conversations I have heard and had, nobody has denied the issue of racial injustice.

The individuals who kneel are obviously calling attention to it, but those on the other side are only expressing concern about the show of respect for symbols of our country. I have to conclude that patriotism is corrupting our ability to address and solve the issue of racial injustice.

If we ask ourselves the age-old question of “what would Jesus do?”, we can contextualize it as such: would Jesus be concerned about injustice or symbols of a country? Hint: the answer is not “all of the above”.

Jesus would be concerned with injustice because it impacts humans at their core. To be primarily concerned with the symbols is nothing but idolatry.

Yes, we have reached a point in this divisive discussion in which we worship the flag and the anthem at the expense of human issues.

It is unacceptable, as Christians and Americans, that patriotism has become the wall that prevents humans from uniting. Unity is indeed an essential.

Patriotism, like worship, should also be acceptable in many forms. This includes using the freedoms allowed in the Constitution.

Here is another way to think about it: Let’s think about the way Christians worship God. Is there a right and wrong way to worship God? People often get stuck on various non-essentials of worship such as the bulletin not being perfect, the musical selection of the choir, their seat being taken, someone’s “church-(in)appropriate wardrobe”, or the baby crying.

Do these things really define worship, or do they blind us from what worship should be?

Worship in the form of a quiet church and rigid order of service is valid. Christian rock music in a make-shift church or at someone’s home is valid. Two strangers smiling at each other and saying, “have a good day” or helping each other is worship. Praying every day or only when you remember is worship. Being the best person you can be for yourself and others is worship.

Why, on the issue of national symbols, is patriotism one way or the highway? Why does it appear to be an elite club only for those who follow all of the rules for respecting and serving American symbols?

Patriotism, like worship, should also be acceptable in many forms. This includes using the freedoms allowed in the Constitution. It also includes basic acts of human decency. Anything that makes this country better is patriotic – one not being better than the other.

While the U.S. is not a Christian nation (having no official religion), to be an American and a Christian can have significant overlap.

Both identities value peace, love, and justice for all. Both identities enable freedom in their own respects. Both identities are intended to show and create unity among people. Both groups are supposed to be inviting to others, and have many missional qualities. Both are supposed to value human dignity and worth.

While these aspects may be interpreted and experienced differently by each person, they are all standards and expectations set by its subscribers.

We, as Christians, cannot let patriotism or symbols blind us. We must instead be bound together for the human issues we commonly experience and acknowledge.

The beauty of it is that we don’t have to give up either identity to achieve this.

Our God calls for it, and our nation stands and strives for it.


Questions? Comments? Contact Dewey Mullis at DeweyMullis@Gmail.com 

Portrait of Dewey Mullis

Dewey Mullis is a life-long Moravian with roots at Friedland Moravian Church. He studied criminal justice at Appalachian State University, and is currently a graduate student of clinical counseling and social work at Moravian Theological Seminary and Marywood University. Dewey has worked with adults and adolescents in correctional and psychiatric facilities, and currently researches re-entry and mental health services for jail populations.

The Transformational Energy of Evangelism

BCM Spotlight Banner

BY DAVID HOLSTON |

Note: David Holston is the Executive Director of Sunnyside Ministry, a ministry partner of the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). 

Trees in the fall

As fall approaches each year I am reminded of a family in Sparta, NC. I worked on their clapboard house in the summer of 2003, during the first week of the first ever Mission Camp at Laurel Ridge. I helped that week by running errands to and from Blevins Building Supply in Sparta, where we purchased materials and supplies. I would visit two to three times a day to get a two-by-four or a sheet of plywood or some screws.

It didn’t take long for the staff to recognize me, and with each one of them I had a discussion about what we were doing and why we were there doing it. They had seen or heard of other groups doing things like this in Alleghany County, NC. But we were different–with Laurel Ridge just a few minutes from the heart of Sparta, we were neighbors. But for most of them we were also strangers. Over that week we developed a relationship, different from customer/vendor. We were becoming friends.

During a visit, one of the employees, after hearing the story, said “that sounds like the type of church we need here, I don’t ever see churches doing anything like that.” I never made the connection until several years later when a friend told me that what I was describing was evangelism. And he was right, and it wasn’t scary, uncomfortable, or even difficult.

We Moravians talk about having mountain top experiences at Laurel Ridge, and I have felt renewed and revitalized on many occasions during camps and retreats there. But when I left our mountain and went into the world of Alleghany and Ashe Counties to do work in Christ name, it was transformational.

Laurel Ridge

A few months later, I had a minister (not Moravian, and no one I suspect any of our readers may know) bring a meal to the homeless shelter where I was the overnight volunteer. As his youth served the homeless men and women, he stood in the back and watched. He asked me “why do you do this?” I was dumbstruck, not by the question, but by who was asking it. I looked at him and responded: “I believe it is what Christ wants me to do.” I had to ask him, but his response was that “they needed a bus driver.” I never saw him again, but I and the youth from that church continued to work together for several years at that shelter. Volunteering for nearly 15 years in a homeless shelter was also transformational.

I share these two experiences because those show our diverse church experiences. We are either a church that leaves the comfort of our sanctuaries to serve Christ. Or we sit inside our walls. Remember in James 2:17, “so faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Some of the healthiest churches in our community are engaged outside of their sanctuary. They serve and support so many of the causes in our community, and there is an energy in them. I think about the energy that there must have been in Herrnhut in the 1720’s as the Church sent out missionaries all over the world. We are a church that still sends out missionaries and has this energy. I believe as we build our relationship with Christ, we must take that faith out into the world. It is how we demonstrate the love of Christ to others. I think it is contagious and is a way to grow Christians.

Lights and energy

At the beginning I wrote about a family I think of often. I don’t know what has happened to them, they were older adults 14 years ago, the daughter and son-in-law in their mid-70’s, and the parents were in their mid-90’s. We finished in the walls of a bedroom in that clapboard house. Although the rest of the house still afforded glimpses of the outdoors, in the winter I imagine this must be a very cold place. The last day I saw them this house was warm and full of the energy left behind by a group of fearless youth and their adult leaders. We showed a town what Christians can and should do. We showed them a church that at least one person said he would like to see exist near him. If we could show more people that church, think how we might grow the Moravian Church.


Questions? Comments? Contact David Holston at David@SunnysideMinistry.org or call (336) 724-7558 ext. 103

David Holston

David Holston is the Executive Director of Sunnyside Ministry. Sunnyside Ministry is a non-profit organization that provides food, clothing, and emergency financial assistance to families in crisis. All funding for our assistance programs comes from donations and grants. In 2014, Sunnyside Ministry provided $1,883,040 worth of services to families in crisis situations. Grocery orders were provided to 17,634 people and clothing to 15,483 individuals. To learn more about Sunnyside Ministry, subscribe to their email newsletter here.