Let’s face it: we are anxious. Nervous, tense, uptight, some perhaps even scared, frightened, terrified. Life is not the same. We seem busier, more disconnected from each other, less safe, less secure financially, and more uncertain. The world is polarized – pro this, anti that, with very little room for compromise. Violence, intolerance, and xenophobia seem to be on the rise as well.
Even worse, a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute describes “mainline Protestants” as less optimistic, less hopeful. “Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are markedly more pessimistic than other groups,” the report notes, “with majorities believing that America’s best days are behind us (60% and 55%, respectively).”
It all sounds so grim. Where is Jesus in all this? How did we, the Easter people, become gripped by fear, rather than inspired by hope? We appear to have hunkered down in our beautiful buildings and left the real world behind. Now the world has found us and is beating at our door. Will we answer the call? Can the church today help us build each other up in faith, love, and hope? This should be a frequent topic of conversation among Moravians.
On November 7, 2015, Moravians got together at Clemmons Moravian Church to talk about making bold choices for Christ. We heard from some pretty sharp folks, including Brother Thomas Fudge, preeminent Hus scholar and Professor of Medieval History at the University of New England in Australia. Dr. Fudge was a visiting professor during the fall of 2015 at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he taught a class about heretics and delivered the Moses Lectures. He helped us understand what it means to be a Hussite 600 years after the death of Jan Hus. Brother Craig Atwood spoke about the ways our Moravian ancestors made bold choices for Christ through the generations, from Gregory the Patriarch in 1457 to Comenius to Zinzendorf until our settlement in what is now Winston-Salem, NC. Brother Sam Gray reminded us that, in many ways, our Moravian brothers and sisters around the world are making bold choices for Christ every day, making tremendous sacrifices to live out their faith in places like Cuba, Peru, Honduras, Albania, and Nicaragua, to name a few. (Visit The Board of Cooperative Ministries YouTube channel to view these inspiring, thought-provoking presentations.)
Our history speaks for itself. The courageous witness of Jan Hus, who gave his life so that the truth would prevail, has inspired Moravians for hundreds of years. Gregory the Patriarch and the early “Unitas Fratrum” (or “Unity of the Brethren”) broke from the established state church in 1457, when it was illegal and even life-threatening to start such a radical movement. Our spiritual ancestors went back to the basics of following the way of Christ from the New Testament, believing that many in the church had lost the true spirit of Christianity. According to the Ancient Unity, the New Testament tells us clearly what is essential: faith, love, and hope.
Bishop John Amos Comenius helped keep alive the faith of his church in its darkest hour, and provided inspiration that led to its subsequent revival as the Moravian Church during the Zinzendorf era. The renewed Moravian Church of the 18th century followed Zinzendorf’s bold assertion that “there can be no Christianity without community.” For the refugees in Herrnhut, this profound experience of Christian community developed into a passion for living each day for Christ, regardless of occupation or station, and led our brothers and sisters to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those most marginalized throughout the world.
And so the wisdom of the Scriptures and the faithful example of the Ancient Unity and the Renewed Church provide a way to understand our Christian experience today. God creates; God redeems; God blesses. And we respond in faith, in love, and in hope.
The Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood, Professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary and the Director of Center for Moravian Studies, spoke to the European Synod in Bad Boll, Germany, on May 24, 2016. European Moravians are feeling much the same as their North American counterparts – challenges abound at every turn. You may read Brother Craig’s complete address (and it is worth the read), but this passage stood out in particular:
I believe that in our world today, what we need is hope. And in our churches: we need hope. We need to hold on the hope that is within us. Yes, we experience conflicts in our congregations. Yes, we are facing financial difficulties. Yes, we may be facing the decline or even death of our traditional church life. But these things should not rob us of our hope and courage. Our church has died before. Our church has faced worse challenges than these. We have thrived when we have been the most radical and courageous, when we have embraced the teachings of Jesus most passionately, when we have looked into the future with courage and hope because we know that we belong to Christ and that Christ has called us to love his world with the same passion that he loves the world.
We do have much about which to be hopeful. Certainly, our rich history provides example after example of Moravians acting with boldness and courage in the face of much adversity. We know that our past can inform our future, but how do we bridge that gap between knowing and doing? How do we as the church best respond in these uncertain times to ensure that God’s grace is known far and wide through our witness and action?
(Update 7/5/2016 – Part Two of this post is now available.)
Questions? Contact Ruth Cole Burcaw at rburcaw(AT)mcsp.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 401
Ruth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM).