The following article was written by Ruth Cole Burcaw as a response for the most recent edition of The Hinge, a forum for theological discussion in the Moravian Church, which featured the 2012 Moses Lectures, “How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity” by Peter Vogt. Published by the Center for Moravian Studies, this article is reprinted with permission from the Winter 2013-14 issue. Visit the Center’s website to read the full transcript of the lecture and other responses.
Peter Vogt’s thorough examination of the “Moravian-ness” of Moravians was enlightening and thought-provoking. His conclusion that “our concern about the identity of what it means to be Moravian should not be guided by the fear of loss…or by the focus on preserving our historical heritage, but rather by the desire to become what God is calling us to be” is a spot-on prescription for being the church in the midst of today’s uncertainty and rapid change.
- Over 16% of Americans now claim no religious affiliation. Among Americans ages 18-29, one in four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.
- More than six in ten Americans age 70 and older (62%) are Protestant. In fact, roughly half of members of mainline Protestant churches are age 50 and older.
News like this tempts us to close our eyes and hang on even more tightly to our “Moravian-ness,” but it may in fact be time to zoom out and view the situation through a wide-angle lens. Such a view might help us to see what opportunities we might be missing and respond with intention and focus to the future as it unfolds.
In her latest book, Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass reminds us that what we perceive as a decline in traditional religion is part of something much larger—a great awakening—and a beginning rather than an ending. While church as we now experience it may change, this new spiritual awakening can bring us together in a fresh, vital way of faith still true to the message of Jesus. In her “zooming out,” Bass finds hope for the future of faith.
So can we.
After we examine the big picture, it’s time to focus on our own reality. We’ve all been asked the question, “What one thing would you take with you if your house caught on fire?” Most go straight to living treasures—spouses, children, and family pets. Others describe priceless heirlooms such as the family Bible, old photographs, or Grandpa’s banjo.
Now, imagine for a moment a future where. . .
- our beautiful church buildings become burdens we can no longer fill or afford;
- a shortage of beeswax eliminates the lovefeast candle;
- brass instruments are unable to withstand the harsh environment of the future; or
- the rapid increase in gluten allergies means no more lovefeast buns or sugarcake.
Fan yourself, then breathe deeply and think, with the church “on fire” much like our hypothetical house fire, what do we take with us?
The answer is easy. When confronted with overwhelming loss or change, we know exactly what it is that matters most to us.
Christ and Him crucified remain our confession of faith. We respond to this gift of grace with our faith in God, our love for God and our neighbor, and our hope in this life and the next.
Brother Vogt ends by reminding us that “we . . . are called to live as a community that is faithful to the message of God’s love, as given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being Moravian means that we try to follow this call, using the resource of our tradition, but also paying attention to the needs and circumstances of our own situation today.”
The good news is we don’t have to leave all of our beloved traditions behind. Some remind us of our deep connection to one another and to our God. Others sustain us as we pray for the courage and persistence to zoom out, to ponder the big picture and the challenges that the future will continue to bring. We then are able to zoom in on the essentials as we find new ways to do and be church in a changing world.
The great ideas from our ancestors still call us. And out of the best that is our past comes great possibility for a future built on faith, love, and hope.
Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. New York: HarperCollins, 2012.
Collins, Jim, and Hansen, Morten. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.