Growing Change in an Urban Garden

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BY LYDIAN BERNHARDT AVERITT |

When a professor at a Greensboro college set out in 2013 to help a struggling northeast Greensboro community improve its food choices, he planned to build an urban farm – the city’s first – as part of the project.

In doing so, he built a bridge.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

The neighborhood had lost its only full-service grocery store in the 1990s, in addition to other areas of decline, and was drifting into being a food desert. Neighbors formed a group, Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, and approached the professor, who works in the Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. He agreed to share his expertise.

“Communities are naturally suspicious of university professors, because they know that we’re going to come in, do our project, collect our data and get our results, then write our papers and leave,” he said. “They are right; projects do end. They have to take it over. So, when I do this development work, I have to make them recognize that they are responsible for their own development.”

But the professor managed to not only help feed a hungry community, but coach its residents to adopt lifestyle changes and take responsibility for their own development. And, while the project itself is in no way religious, it does call to mind Biblical injunctions for feeding the poor and caring for others, and is a powerful reminder about each person’s call to use their skills to help another.

“Do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices, God is pleased,” says Hebrews 13:16.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ,” reminds Galatians 6:2.

His ambitious project included surveying neighborhood residents about their eating habits, training them in healthy shopping practices, working with community groups on the urban farm, identifying liaisons in the community to encourage members’ participation, and interacting with the members themselves.

The project seeks to address not just the problem of fresh food availability, but to understand the eating habits that drive people’s food choices and affect their overall health. These habits are based on values so ingrained that they are often not even recognized by the people who hold them.

“Values influence behavior, but it’s all implicit based on their experience,” he said. “We had to make it explicit so they could see clearly how their decisions were based, point out the disadvantages of acting that way, and attach fresh values to the new behavior.  Then, it’s easier to train people to make a different food choice.”

Photo by Lou Liebau on Unsplash

Through his efforts, the project has sunk deep roots into the neighborhood. A co-op grocery is selling the farm’s produce. The White Street area has fresh produce at an affordable price, through the community farm, and the community members have acquired the knowledge to make healthier dietary choices. They have also learned the skills to make healthy meals.

“Give, and it will be given to you,” says Luke 6:38. In supporting a needy community, the givers received a psychological reward themselves.

“It’s easy to put structures up,” the professor says, “It’s harder to marshal the human element. Reinforcement has to be continuous. When members of the community ask if I’m going to stay involved in it, I tell them yes. As long as I am here, I’ll be involved in it.”


Photo via Lydian Averitt

Lydian Bernhardt Averitt is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur musician and a lifelong Moravian who attends First Moravian Church in Greensboro, NC. Contact her at Lydian@triad.rr.com.


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Higher Power: the Grand Organizing Designer

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BY LYDIAN AVERITT |

Photo by Grant Ritchie via Unsplash.com

Photo by Grant Ritchie via Unsplash.com

 
“Nothing too religious,” the mom cautioned our Facebook group. “We’re not looking for anything too heavy. More inspirational, or spiritual.”

The mom, whom I knew only slightly, needed a clergy member. Since she didn’t know any, she had asked our group if we had a name to share, but with this caveat.  

A reasonable request, maybe – except that the request was being made on the behalf of her son, and the occasion was his wedding.

At the risk of seeming judgmental, I indulged in a little disbelief. To Protestant Christians, marriage is a sacred promise; in the Bible, Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding, turning water into wine at Cana. To have a merely inspirational ceremony seemed, to me, to miss the gravity of the commitment. At this most powerful moment, the young man’s family was choosing to send him off into the next phase of life strengthened by …what?

The family in question isn’t alone. According to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group of experts that provides social science-driven information to the public, slightly more than a quarter of Americans do not necessarily practice a religion, but think of themselves as spiritual. They say that, while religious people follow the dogma of a certain faith, spiritual people are more free to follow their own faith path, believing in inter-connectedness and a vaguely defined higher power, greater than they but without rules or form.1

Pivotal life events aside, just on a daily basis, is feeling that there is a power greater than you – but stopping short of calling that power “God” – ok? In going through life’s trials and adversities, is mere spirituality, with its abstract connection to a “higher power,” enough?

Yes, says Mike Connors, without hesitation. Connors is the director and clinical supervisor for Greensboro, N.C.’s chapter of The Insight Program, an enthusiastic sobriety program loosely based on the venerable Alcoholics Anonymous, and he spoke to a parents’ group I attended recently. ‘Enthusiastic sobriety,’ I found out, means abstaining from drugs and alcohol – with partying. The 13-25 year olds in the program joke around, smoke and act as rebellious, loud and obnoxious as teenagers can, only with a purpose: to replace the false security and confidence many find in addictive substances with the real thing. Since its founding in 1987, the program has helped tens of thousands of teens and young adults beat drug and alcohol addiction. A key component of the recovery process is the belief in a “higher power.”  

Photo of Mike Connors

Mike Connors, Director and Clinical Supervisor, The Insight Program | Photo by Lydian Averitt

“When these kids come into the program, they’re all over the place,” Connors says. “Some have been in active addiction for years. Some are very willing to admit that their life has become unmanageable, others are resistant to the idea. The thing they all have in common is powerlessness in the face of their addiction. So, the solution must be seeking a power that is greater than the individual alone.”

To explain the program’s “higher power” concept, Insight founder Bob Meehan points in his own writing to C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. The book’s first chapter – the first step of Lewis’s larger plan to demonstrate that Christianity is truth – never mentions a Christian God;  instead, Lewis first establishes that there is power in the universe greater than humans’, and that the power is good.

As a first step in rehabilitating young lives, that belief is all you need, Connors says.

“When a person enters the program, that higher power is the love for the person that is expressed by the group. Many of the youth feel disenfranchised from school, friends, family, and religion, even those who grew up in a faith tradition. The group becomes their social and psychological support.

“We say, ‘Love within, love without, love in between,’ ‘’ Connors says.

There’s the supportive love the group members express for each other. The accepting love of self the program teaches, in order to combat the destructive self-talk to which many of them have succumbed. The outward-turning love for others that allows them to grow.

“The support of the group is love, which is what God is all about, right?” Connors says. “There are lots of parallels to organized religion, but we don’t teach a certain belief system or put a name on it – why would we? The point is the seeking.”

Even if “the greatest of these is love,” seeking the Lord while he may be found gets trickier. Although the group chooses to call the higher power “God,” the individual participants don’t necessarily mean the God they may have grown up with.

“When they first come in, they’re at their worst, and so it often stands for “get over death.’ That’s as much as they’ll allow “g.o.d.’ to be,” Connors says.

“As time goes by, recovery begins and the support of the group kicks in, and it becomes “group of drunks’ or “group of dope fiends.’  Then, more time goes by, and it becomes “good orderly direction:” are you moving forward in life? Are you turning outward to help people instead of dwelling on yourself? Do you have a goal and a purpose? Are you a good, moral, loving person?”

Finally, Connors says, it becomes an acronym for “grand organizing designer.’

“It’s a process,” he says. “As they recover, an almost existential search takes place. They start to say, ‘ok, I know there’s a power greater than me, expressed by the group’s love for me, but I know there’s something still more.‘ It opens them up to the idea of God. It gets the ball rolling.”

Just as “group of drunks” becomes “grand organizing designer,”  so does the participants’ disenfranchisement yield to belief in a power greater than they, and a very Moravian response starts to take place: faith, that their higher power won’t let them down; hope, that they can begin anew; and love for their fellow members and friends.

The saying on Connors's sweatshirt, "Big Enough," answers the question posed by the program, "Is your God big enough?' | Photo by Lydian B. Averitt

The saying on Connors’s sweatshirt, “Big Enough,” answers the question posed by the program, “Is your God big enough?’ | Photo by Lydian Averitt

“I refuse to give God a name, sex or creed,” Bob Meehan writes. “I do insist that they put a period after God, not a question mark.” 2

Is spirituality enough? Maybe so, as a foundation upon which a higher power can build. Whether named or implied, God’s presence is palpable. As their walk together unfolds, maybe God’s plan for some lives can be more fully told.


 

 

  • What Does it Mean to be Spiritual? Consciousbridge.com. April 9, 2013.
  • Meehan, Bob. Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Meek Publishing, 2000.

 

 


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.


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The Path to Purpose

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BY ZACH ROUTH |

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.”1

Sixteen months ago, I boarded a plane to an unfamiliar place for a weekend of what I anticipated would be fun and fellowship with Moravian friends from across America. My destination was Wisconsin and the Board of World Mission’s 2016 FIT Event at Mt. Morris. In the weeks prior, I had just begun a new graduate program at NC State University pursuing a PhD in Sociology.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime, with a full scholarship, an office, and the chance to do meaningful research at a great school. FIT² was only a blip on my radar. Little did I know, the weekend would provide a nudge that would eventually send my neatly-planned life into a whirlwind of chaos.

Image of 2016 FIT First attendees around a campfire

2016 FIT First attendees congregate around a campfire. | Photo by Mike Riess, IBOC

It started with a conversation around a campfire. Some friends asked me about my plans and my goals. My answers were vague and brief. I was going to do research in education because that was a cause I believed in and where I could make a difference. Some asked if I was going to go into the ministry like my dad and I scoffed at those possibilities.

Conversations continued through the weekend. Presentations, focus groups, and fellowship distracted me from responsibilities back in North Carolina, and poked holes in what I thought I knew about myself.

Photo of FIT First event

Attendees participate in an activity led by Bishop Sam Gray at the 2016 FIT First event. | Photo by Mike Riess, IBOC

By Sunday afternoon, discomfort grew within my gut. As my peers made awesome plans to go out and serve the world, I wondered silently, “What in the world am I doing?” Up until this point my answer was easy: five or so years of graduate school and then I will go on to help others using my research. This answer was no longer sufficient.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people so that you may wish for justice, freedom, and peace.”1

Before I came to college, I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to help others. I first considered being a history teacher, and eventually settled on sociology professor. My research looked into school segregation, spatial stratification, and teacher job satisfaction, among other topics. It was my way of bringing about peace and justice to the world.

As the semester progressed, my discomfort grew. The pressures of school and life as a young adult mounted into a hill of anxiety. The goals I had worked so hard to achieve now seemed like a pipe dream, not because I was struggling, but because my motivation was gone.

By Thanksgiving, I reached a wall. I talked with friends, reflected, and prayed. “What in the world am I doing?” turned into, “Who in the world am I serving?”

I had spent the entire semester learning about the joys and tribulations that define the lives of school teachers. One day it finally hit me. Everything I wanted to achieve could be done as a teacher. There, my work would not be stored in a library or buried in an academic journal. My work would be preparing youth for their future.

Before Christmas, I resigned from my position and transferred into the College of Education to become a high school social studies teacher. Gone was the scholarship, gone was the prestige, but gone was the aimlessness.

Image of man looking down road

Photo by Danka and Peter via Unsplash.com

“May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”1

“Why do you want to be a teacher?” is the new question I ask myself, and a question I am asked almost weekly. My short answer succinctly describes my belief in public education. The full answer is rooted in my faith as a Christian and a Moravian.

In 2018, I will enter the workforce not only as a teacher, but as a servant of God. My mission field is in the classroom where I hope to share the type of compassion and love that our Lord has shown to me.

Some are called to serve from the pulpit, or in foreign locations, but neither of those options are in my wheelhouse. I imagine I am not the only one who has this sentiment.

Our creator has equipped each of his children to serve one another. Discovering where these gifts are to be used can be a tedious process. It may take some nudging, and you will probably feel uncomfortable, but in the end, you will be led exactly where you need to be.

I am thankful for the discomfort I experienced a year ago. I look forward to living out my purpose for years to come. God has blessed me to be foolish enough to think that I can make a difference in the world, and I am grateful.


1A Franciscan Blessing
Claiborne, Shane, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Zondervan, 2012.

²Information about FIT 2015


Photo of Zach Routh

Photo courtesy of Zach Routh

Zach Routh is a member of Grace Moravian Church in Mt. Airy, North Carolina and also attends Raleigh Moravian Church. He is a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina pursuing a Masters of Arts in Teaching: Secondary Social Studies. Zach will graduate in May of 2018 and plans to begin teaching in the fall.

Contact Zach at ZDRouth@NCSU.edu


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Erdmuthe: The Beloved and Blest “Lady Mother”

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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?

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

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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 

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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


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Table and Light: A Reflection on Charlottesville

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BY THE REV. CHAZ SNIDER |

As I watched the events unfold last week in Charlottesville, VA, I experienced a mix of emotions. There was anger, there was fear, there was sadness, and there was heartache. There was anger that people would promote hate and racism. There was fear that this violence would spread. There was sadness for the injuries and loss of life. And there was heartache that we are still fighting the battle against bigotry, hatred, and racism.

As Sunday morning came closer I began to wonder how we could address what happened as a community of faith. I did not believe it was something that could be ignored. Two Sundays ago at our church, Ardmore Moravian, we had communion in remembrance of the August 13th revival of the Moravian Church.

As these two things sat in my mind, the image of the communion table came into focus. When the Moravians experienced conflict and disagreement 290 years ago, they came together around the communion table.

At the communion table there is unity, there is togetherness, and there is peace. At the table, the well-being of all is the utmost priority.

We as Moravians hold dear the concept of unity in Christ. And that is why the table is so important: because there is only one communion table. There is not a black table and a white table. There is not a Republican table and a Democratic table. There is not a rich table and a poor table. There is one table, where Christ’s body was broken and blood poured out for all humanity.

But unity is not some fluffy concept that sounds really good on a bumper sticker or some unattainable utopian ideal. To truly say we come together in unity despite our differences, is to also say that certain things are not welcome.

When we gather at Christ’s table, hate is not welcome. When we break bread and pour wine in remembrance of what God has done, racism is not welcome. Violence and bigotry have no seat at this table. True unity means urgently resisting the ideas of hate, bigotry, and racism.

Lovefeast candles

Last Sunday night my wife and I attended a vigil for unity in response to the Charlottesville events. At a park in downtown Winston-Salem, a variety of people gathered. It was organized by local Republican and Democratic groups to inspire unity. At the end of the vigil, we all held up candles to honor those who were harmed and to stand in solidarity together.

My wife and I stood there with our Moravian lovefeast candles. A familiar symbol to anyone who has been to a Moravian Christmas lovefeast. It is a candle I have held probably hundreds of times in my life. Although this setting was very different from where I usually have held this candle up before, the meaning behind why we hold that candle up is the same.

The flame of that candle proclaims that God is not distant, far away, or absent. It proclaims that God has come to dwell in the midst of our world despite it continued brokenness, violence, and hatred. My hope for us as Moravians, is that we can live into our traditions of unity and that those traditions will empower us to resist any forces that wish to promote hate and division. Holding that beeswax candle with its red trimming is a radical statement of love no matter where you are.

 


Photo of Chaz Snider

Rev. Chaz Snider is the pastor at Ardmore Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC

#MoravianLenten Campaign

Join the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) in engaging existing and new audiences this Lenten season! We are sharing our identity through the people and faces of our churches, fellowships, and ministries. We hope this campaign will reflect the light of Christ in a challenging world and generate interest in both our Moravian church and the Christian Church at large.

The #MoravianLenten campaign, launched Ash Wednesday and running through Easter, collects reflections, stories, memories about the season of Lent as informed by individuals’ Moravian Christian faith and heritage. While not limiting ourselves to a diversity of participants, we are placing a priority on sharing young adults and college age Moravians’ reflections.

How to Participate

 There are two ways to participate. The campaign runs through Easter.

1) In-house content 
  • These are reflections (professional photo with graphics added in Photoshop) produced by the BCM
  • The format follows that of these images above and below, with the full reflection posted as a caption, example here on Instagram
  • Our goal is to post two a week, Monday and Friday, during the season of Lent
  • We intend to use some of these as social media ads (with formal permission from participants)
  • Participants will be sent a photo of their likeness for their personal use as a thank you!
2) User-generated content 
  • These are reflections, moments, stories, and memories posted on social media by anyone using the hashtag #MoravianLenten
  • Of these, we will share our favorites a few times a week on our social media accounts (dependent on campaign response)

Reflections only need to be two paragraphs or so at most!

Wondering what hashtags are and how do to use them? Read this article here.

Contact Andrew David Cox, Communications Project Manager for the BCM, at Andrew@MoravianBCM.org to participate in our in-house content.

Photo permission release for in-house content:

To agree, replace “YOUR NAME HERE” with your full name below, and reply to this email. Alternatively, sign a printed form which can be obtained at the Moravian BCM offices when you do your Lenten reflection. Please indicate if you desire for only your first name to be used, but sign the form with your full name. Thank you!

“I, YOUR NAME HERE, understand that as a part of the #MoravianLenten marketing/social media campaign, the Moravian Church staff will photograph my likeness or use a preexisting photo of my likeness. I acknowledge existing photo(s) are my own work or that I have proper permission to use them and will provide appropriate photo credits if needed. By agreeing to participate in this project, I acknowledge that the Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) and the Moravian Church has permission to freely use my image/likeness/name/congregational affiliation on their websites, social media sites, in their publications, and their advertising related to the campaign. I acknowledge that the BCM and the Moravian Church also have permission to use my Lenten reflection for the campaign and may edit it as necessary for clarity and length.”

Beth Hayes #MoravianLenten

Brad Bennett #MoravianLenten

Jamie Dease #MoravianLenten

Zach Dease #MoravianLenten

The Great In-Between

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

The Great In-Between

“We are not who we were, and yet we are not who we will become.”
– Carrie Newcomer, singer/songwriter

Welcome to the great in-between. The recent national election reveals exactly how far we are from being the Church that truly represents the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We all survived past elections. Some of us grumbled and some of us celebrated, but we fairly quickly got on with our lives. This feels very different. The gaping divide among Americans shows no signs of ending. We are further apart than ever before, gathering and commiserating mostly with those who agree with us, getting our news from sources that agree with us, and doubling down on our convictions that we are right. Which means others must be wrong. And where are the Moravians in all of this? We’ve been pretty quiet, haven’t we?

Bishop Wayne Burkette recently expressed his view that many Moravian Churches are ‘purple’ – i.e. filled with a mix of political points of view. Unlike churches where all views are identical, he said, we are challenged by the real stories and real faith of people who view the world very differently from ourselves. Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ (Thanks to Brother John Jackman for using this in a post-election sermon.)

While this could be a positive for Moravians, it is a very fine line to walk. On the one hand, being purple might make our churches safe spaces, free of the turmoil and high emotion that often comes along with political discussion. On the other hand, it leaves many of us feeling empty and paralyzed, unsure how we engage in real community with those who love Christ with us. In our efforts to keep peace and maintain relationships, we avoid discussing difficult issues with one another.

What IS the Moravian way forward here?

Let’s face it, we modern Moravians are not those early, radical members of the ancient Unity who defied the state church of its day to form the first voluntary, peace church. We were early to embrace the idea of spiritual equality, where women, children, and people of color were considered equal in the eyes of God. We were early to head to the furthest ends of the earth, reaching out to the marginalized and those no one else wanted to even recognize as human.

We are not who we were.

hardthingsarehard

We are not who we will become either. We like the idea of returning to our roots, or at least letting those roots inform our faith today, but we struggle to live into that reality. The world can be a frightening place these days and we are uncertain how to proceed. It is easier to sit in our beautiful, not-quite-full sanctuaries and sing our familiar hymns, raising money to pay off the new organ or redecorate the parlor. We talk about our desire to grow and yet when those different from us appear in our sanctuaries, we shift uncomfortably in our pews. We talk about being missional, and then hold another chicken pie dinner and call it a day.

What is next for the church? How will God call us to a new thing, one that will challenge and maybe even frighten us, but also lead us to a new, Spirit-filled reality of faith, love, and hope?

This election, while divisive and unprecedented, actually provides us with an opportunity to come together in our “purple-ness,” move out of the great in-between and toward a future filled with grace and hope.

There are no easy answers. A newly-installed sign in my office reads: Hard things are hard. Ain’t that the truth!

Bishop Sam Gray provided us with some guidance in a recent post: “No matter what happens … in this election, Jesus Christ is still our Chief Elder. We must never allow partisan politics or personal preferences to get in the way of the mission that Jesus has entrusted… to us!”

To continue this mission entrusted to us, we must love each other. Only we can love each other. Only we can figure out new and different ways of being the church together. We won’t be able to do it if we can’t even talk to each other. We must listen in a way so as to recognize one another, and we must recognize everyone. We need each other now more than ever. (Here’s an example of how one church is doing this.)

And then, “We must be brave enough to speak and to listen, to share our hopes and our fears, and to remember that when we care for the least, whoever we consider to be least, we do it for Christ. The church has work to do, for ourselves, for those on whatever margins, and for the world around us.” (Brother Riddick Weber at Moravian Theological Seminary during a recent chapel service.)

And we do have all that we need to carry on Christ’s work in the world today. Ephesians 3: 20-21 (from The Message) lays it out for us. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

Oh yes.

It is easy to complain about what leaders and governments are doing or not doing. But just like it was for our Moravian ancestors, our work as Christians is clear: Love our neighbors as ourselves. Love our enemies. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.

Let’s get to work as the church Jesus loves, moving closer to the people Jesus loves.


rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC.