In celebration of the upcoming August 17 Children’s Festival: Day of Prayer & Covenanting, we share with you an article that appeared in a past issue of The Moravian Magazine:
While sitting at the kitchen table, my friend Alicia and I began to talk about our children, as moms do. She reminded me, “When children are given responsibility they step up to the plate. It gives them a sense of worthiness, and a deep sense of satisfaction and joy…” When you think about it our Moravian heritage sets a strong precedent for “expecting” children to serve. Our own children share a rich inheritance of spiritual strength and stamina handed down to them from their counterparts of the 1700s. Those children were the sisters and brothers who became the foremothers and forefathers of today’s young believers. Precisely because the early Moravians did not underestimate the power or the ways the Holy Spirit might just choose a young eleven-year old girl named Susanna Kuhnel, whose mother had recently died:
“The joyful departure of her mother made so deep an impression upon this girl that she spent three whole days, and especially the forepart of the last night, till one o’clock in the morning in weeping and prayer, at which hour she broke out into indescribable joy, called her father who slept in the adjoining room, and who had, unknown to her, heard all that had passed, and [she] cried out, “Now Father, I am a child of God, and I know also how my mother felt and still feels.”
…While this infant preacher of righteousness, by showing forth the praises of Him who had called her out of darkness to His marvelous light, was winning the hearts of the children dwelling in Herrnhut, one after the other, for our Saviour, the Friend of Children was pleased to lay a special blessing on the testimony of the above mentioned.
…a universal flame of love towards our Saviour seemed to be kindled in the hearts of these children, and all of them spent the whole night in prayer…
…it was impossible to listen to their infant supplications without being deeply moved and affected.”
(from the e-Books of the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, NC, 1895 edition of The Memorial Days of the Renewed Church of the Brethren)
In The History of the Moravian Church, by J. Taylor Hamilton and Kenneth G. Hamilton, we see how the writers understood the possibility that children might actually possess an “inner life”–an intimate friendship with Christ Jesus. They also linked the children’s inner closeness to Jesus with the import of the leaders’ (especially Zinzendorf’s) “keen interest” in their children’s spiritual development. These “grown-ups” did not look down upon any child, but expected him or her to not only be used by the Spirit of the Lord, but also to perhaps even lead adults! The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living exhorts us to remember our children are the “property of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 1:9), not ours to possess, but only to nurture.
“Since the orphanage school stood next door to the Kuhnel home, Susanna had frequent opportunity to give testimony to others her age. A revival followed among the children–observed annually thereafter as a festival on August 17…This whole experience can be attributed in no small degree to the keen interest taken in the spiritual development of children by the leaders in Herrnhut, Zinzendorf, in chief. These men and women did not regard the inner life of the young with that condescension too often shown by adults. They held that in all things the spirit of the Lord could use a little child to lead older persons.”
When I was new to the Moravian church, Brother Ofreciano Julias commended this memorial day of August 17th to me. He told me that in Nicaragua this annual festival day is a big celebration where they hold not only lovefeasts, but also parades. He wished that all the Moravian children could know about and be spiritually formed by this special day of awakening among the children in Herrnhut. While we were trying to decide how to lead the children in our province to respond to the catastrophic destruction of homes and churches by a hurricane, it was the youth of the Nicaraguan province who had already penned a letter to us. From the chairman of Moravian Youth Ministry in Nicaragua Andrew Leyman we read:
“Now the Moravian Youth in the province of Nicaragua has organized a team to give a response with the context and reality of our people to encourage and join in solidarity with them in the midst of pain. Our youth team with the only aim of “New Strengths” united in one heart, one spirit, and one hope to go in the communities in order to bring back hope and faith in the people’s lives.”
Yes, the confident youth requested that we pray for them and join them in this “Love Pilgrim[age]” to the coast of Nicaragua. You see they have been spiritually formed by the story and festival of Susanna and her friends every year of their lives on August 17th. So it’s no surprise when the children of Nicaragua have such a strong sense of God’s Spirit and an innate friendship with Christ Jesus. When we older pilgrims expect children to be led by the Spirit, they are! Oh, by the way, what was one of the first things our Nicaraguan sisters and brothers requested? Emergency Hymnals. As my colleague David Guthrie said, ” I guess we Moravians have sung through a few storms.”
The Rev. Lisa Mullin, Director of Christian Education, Kernersville Moravian Church