Seeking the Moravian Way (part one)

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BY REV. CHAZ SNIDER |

Embracing Mystery and the Fight Against Certainty


Editor’s note: this is part one in a series of blog posts by the Rev. Chaz SniderSubsequent parts to this series, “Seeking the Moravian Way,” will be published over the next few weeks on the Spotlight Blog and on Chaz’s blog. These additional parts will publish on Mondays, outside of the normal rotation. The normal rotation publishes Saturday and typically does not feature the same writer two weeks in a row.

If you want the rest of this series (and other future posts from Chaz’s blog) emailed to you directly, you can sign up for that here.


If you identify as a Moravian, I am sure you are familiar with the inquisitive look that you often get when you tell people that. It is more than likely going to be followed by the question, “What is a Moravian?” If they happen to be familiar with the denomination, then usually the response you get is “Oh you are the cookie people!” I cannot deny the fact that Moravians hold claim to some delicious treats.

The question “what is a Moravian?” tends to have deeper resonance when you ask it in the context of the spiritual landscape of today’s world. Church participation continues to drop and more people call themselves “spiritual but not religious” than ever before. This shift in American religion can cause us in the church to ask some healthy questions. Perhaps the best question we can ask ourselves is the same one that is most often asked of us: “What is a Moravian?”

There is not one theological issue that separates us Moravians from other Christians. What I come back with is a unique approach to faith and spirituality.

When I turn back to our history in an attempt to answer that question, I don’t come back with a doctrinal answer. There is not one theological issue that separates us Moravians from other Christians. What I come back with is a unique approach to faith and spirituality. When I look at our uniqueness it is not the “what” of faith that is different for us, but rather the “how” of our faith. Or to put it another way, how we live our faith is just as important to us as the content of our faith.

One of the key aspects of this Moravian way is an embrace of mystery and being ok with uncertainty. The writings of many early Moravians speak of the mystery of faith. They are not bound to the certainty of dogmatic and religious formulations but are ok with the mystery of God. These early Moravians speak of the Trinity as a family, Father God, Brother Christ, and Mother Spirit. Instead of debating the metaphysics of the incarnation they spoke of entering the wounds of Christ as a way of God inhabiting all of the human experience.

An image of the stained glass Moravian seal in Fairview Moravian Church's sanctuary | Photo by Andrew David Cox / BCM

The stained-glass Moravian seal in Fairview Moravian Church’s sanctuary | Photo by Andrew David Cox / BCM

We Moravians, like many Christians, have not always embraced these mystical elements of our heritage and for many years we have downplayed that aspect of our tradition. For much of the 20th century, faith was equated with believing something with a high degree of certainty. In defining faith this way, it became an intellectual exercise as opposed to something that required our being in meaningful community with others. Instead of focusing on how we lived in the world, faith became only believing a certain checklist of things.

When many early Moravians described their experience of faith, they did not seem particularly concerned about checking off a list of beliefs. Instead, they seemed much more concerned with how the mysterious Christ shaped the way they lived in the world.

[Zinzendorf] was interested in promoting a particular way of living out faith. A way that embraced mystery, made a meaningful impact on the world, and was centered on the person of Christ.

So why is this important? Christians in our country today are facing a crisis of identity. We are living in a more post-Christian society each day. Churches are shrinking at a rapid pace and people seem less interested in religion. And those things scare a lot of people, especially people in churches.

Here is the really interesting thing: even though people may be abandoning religion, they’re not abandoning spirituality. Pew Research tells us that 44% of the spiritual-but-not-religious pray every day and 92% believe God exists. Perhaps there is still a spiritual need to be filled, but many religious communities aren’t meeting that need.

An image of a bust of Count Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Germany | Photo by Mike Riess / IBOC

A bust of Count Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Germany | Photo by Mike Riess / IBOC

The Moravian way of faith might speak to this spiritual hunger. If we look back into our own history we will find that Zinzendorf, one of the most influential Moravian leaders, didn’t have any interest in starting a new denomination or religion. He was interested in promoting a particular way of living out faith. A way that embraced mystery, made a meaningful impact on the world and was centered on the person of Christ. So maybe we should give thought to how this Moravian way might find expression in a nonreligious way.

Zinzendorf and the early Moravians were less concerned with the certainty of faith and much more interested in the mystery of faith. We live in a world today where we divide ourselves by our certainties and absolutes. It can be certainty on politics, certainty on religion, or certainty on how good or bad the new Star Wars movie was. Whatever it may be, we divide and categorize each other because we have failed to cultivate mystery, uncertainty, and unknowing in our lives.

Maybe if we turn back to our Moravian way of faith, we can focus less on preserving our institutions and our certainties, and instead embrace the mysteries of our faith in Christ.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Image of the Rev. Chaz Snider

Photo by Andrew David Cox / BCM

The Rev. Chaz Snider is the pastor at Ardmore Moravian Church (AMC) in Winston-Salem, NC. Chaz was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. He is a lifelong Moravian. Chaz’s focus is helping people who crave a relationship with God but aren’t sure where to start. He has a passion for spreading the love of Jesus to everyone and is looking forward to seeing how AMC can impact our city. Chaz’s wife Michaleh is a Physical Education teacher and director of children, youth, and family ministry. They have three kids: Chris, Abby, and Sara.

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Stress in Faith

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BY LILLY BRENDLE |

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Photo by Tim Gouw, via Pexels.com

Life is full of trials and tribulations. No matter where you are in life, speed bumps that can sometimes feel like walls show up to slow you down. These moments can bring one down to a point where it feels like there is no one or nothing to help you.

Some of my friends are struggling in their identity and life as a teenager. Relationships, school work, what to wear to school, how to fit in. You name it, and a teen is stressing out over it. So many situations stress us out and you have a choice whether to let it slow you down or make your wheels turn a little harder.

I know that thinking about the future stresses me out. College in the fall, my career choices, and even a big test I have tomorrow worries me. Not knowing my purpose or where my decisions will lead me causes me to question myself and my faith. I know that I am not supposed to worry and stress over things that are out of my control, but I do it anyway.  

God says “Cast your cares on the Lord  and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken,” Psalm 55:22. I go to the Lord with my struggles and worries, but sometimes I feel like I am not asking the Lord. Instead, I feel like I am asking myself to fix my own problems.

Photo of forking forest path

Photo by Jens Lelie, via Unsplash.com

As a child, I was taught to trust in the Lord with all my heart and I will be given strength. This message has been said time and time again, and I think we as humans hyper focus on those words and end up stressing ourselves out to make sure that we are following this guidance out of a sense of obligation. We as Christians should instead let go of our tight grip on the things in life and give ourselves the freedom to trust in the Lord. Not only will this help to mellow our stress, but we might find that we become better stewards and examples for others.

Helping others and sharing experiences has always been a passion of mine and helps me to feel more grounded. Not only can you see your words changing others’ behavior, but you get the chance to mean something to someone.

Recently, these situations have been presented to me by some of my close friends. Some people think that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, because they say “there is nothing wrong with me, I don’t need help” or “I can handle my own problems.” But there is nothing wrong in seeking guidance, because to seek guidance in others of faith is to seek guidance in the Lord. “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you”(Isaiah 35:4).

Photo of person praising God next to a cross

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As youth in the church, we should make more of an effort to reach out to our friends and neighbors in need. Even if you aren’t a youth, everyone who helps the least of these will indeed be helping the gracious Lord himself. Through all the stress and anxiety of the world, the Lord is your backbone. Sometimes you forget he is there, but he is the only way you move through the day, despite the stress.

The future will come as it does and whatever God put on your path, he has an intention for it and you. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34. Chose to be stopped by the speed bump or go over it with confidence.

 


About the Author

 

Photo of Lilly Brendle

Photo via Lilly Brendle

Lilly Brendle is a senior at North Forsyth High School. She attends Fairview Moravian Church. Lilly loves to sing and play hand bells in church, as well as participate in youth led events for the younger children.


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Trust and Power

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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.


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Remembering Our Baptismal Vows to Nurture the Faith of Our Children

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BY BETH HAYES |

As we broke into the verse of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” that says “He’s got the itty little baby in his hands…” the image of our three newest additions to Come and Worship came to mind. There is no better time to reflect on the baptismal vows we make as a community and how we help these young families raise their children in their first Christian family.

Come and Worship families

We presented each family with a copy of Loving Hearts United: A Moravian Guide to Family Living and added copies of our favorite Bible stories. The Covenant for Christian Living says this about baptism:

“As parents, remembering that our children are the property of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and take all possible care to preserve them from every evil influence. For this reason we will seek to approve ourselves as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, setting an example for our children. We will give faithful attention to the spiritual development of our children, both in the home and in the church.”

Our response doesn’t end at this point. We pledge to join with families as communities of God to be there and offer help to parents in faith formation. It takes more than families to guide in this process, it takes more than individual churches to guide in this process, and it takes more than Provincial programming to guide in this process. We have to work together in constant and abiding love to nurture children, youth, and even adults in their faith journey. This experience will be that much richer if we do this together as individuals, congregations, and as a Province.

Not every church is fortunate to have a staff person dedicated to leading faith formation. This is one of many areas in which the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) can assist. In our mission statement, it is listed as our job to help congregations as they and their congregants walk the continuous faith journey. We provide events and workshops on a provincial level so that all churches have access to the resources that will help us in doing this work as a team. Our denomination is much richer for having this programming to help in faith formation and the growth of the Unity. Be sure to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and pass the word on about these opportunities. Join the Roots and Wings Facebook page to stay informed and see some of the best resources and activities for supporting faith formation. Visit our lending library online (Resource.Moravian.org) or in person and check out many helpful resources as you go on this continuous journey.

There are many ways to help in the faith journey, including, but not limited to:

  • Being a table parent at a midweek meal
  • Teaching a Sunday school class
  • Being a youth leader
  • Helping caregivers in your community
  • Joining the Children and Family Task Force of the Moravian BCM

When you prayerfully consider helping in one of those ways or another, remember the baptismal vows and give opportunities to serve some consideration. This is the way to grow our Moravian congregations healthily, where people of all ages can grow together as children of God’s community.


If you have questions or need additional information, email BHayes@MCSP.org or call the Resource Center at (336) 722-8126.

Beth Hayes portrait

Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). 


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Taking Laurel Ridge Home

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BY CARTER GENTLE |

Laurel Ridge

Laurel Ridge

It occurs to me that the place where I most experience God is at Laurel Ridge. It’s the place that taught me how love works, and what it means to be a Moravian and a Christian. Surrounded by God’s holy mountain and my Laurel Ridge (LR) family, it seems that my faith is elevated and life’s responsibilities seem far away. At LR, “regular” life stays at the camp entrance. Here, I can feel God’s presence with every sense. Faith seems to be less foggy, but is intensely clear. But as camp ends, the euphoria of the experience fades away and the “mountain high” dims as you pick up life at the camp exit. We talk about what we’re going to do when we come down the mountain–but it’s hard. So how do I keep the flame of the Spirit burning in me when I get down the mountain?

For me, RYC inspires me to keep that feeling alive. In helping plan future camps and Provincial activities like the Children’s Lovefeast, I am able to reconnect with old and new Moravian friends. As this year’s RYC president, I can help insure that others have the wonderful experiences that I have had.

Trinity Moravian

My home congregation, Trinity, sustains me by the Wednesday night LOGOS program. Bible study, reading scripture at worship and singing in the choirs reminds me of Christ’s presence in my life. And of course, you can’t forget the potlucks–physical food is just as important as spiritual food!

My family is very important. They support me, love me, and encourage my gifts 24/7. They’ve taught me how to lean on God in good and bad times. And no kidding, the second you walk in the door, you know you’re in a Moravian home!

Moravian candles

These three areas remind me of my faith, even down the mountain. It’s all fine and dandy to keep that great feeling in your heart. But I’ve learned that my response to God’s love has to show in the way I serve God and God’s people. Service is important to my faith because it is the outward sign of my belief. I am a Boy Scout and serve with my Troop. I help feed the homeless at the Overflow Shelter, and I’m fortunate enough to help serve Meals on Wheels with my Mawmaw, just to name a few.

These things remind me of the mountain and I remain connected to Jesus when I’m not up there. It also reminds me that whatever we do, no matter how difficult, it is to be done in love. And when things are really hard, I retreat to my “inner mountain” and remind myself to let the light that I experience at Laurel Ridge shine in and through me.


Carter Gentle bio pic

Carter Gentle is a junior at North Davidson High School. He attends Trinity Moravian Church in Winston Salem, NC. He currently is serving as the Regional Youth Council (RYC) President. 

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The Invisible Congregant: the Church’s Relationship with Mental Illness

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BY DEWEY MULLIS |

A friend once shared with me, “when someone came home from having knee surgery, half of the church brought food and sent cards. When my husband came home from the hospital after a suicide attempt, our fridge stayed its usual empty.”

Mental health and illness have always been a one of society’s greatest curiosities and infatuations. With popular films and show such as Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, and Criminal Minds, or infamous killers the likes of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, one can barely escape the enchantment of psychological drama.

Spoiler alert; mental illness is not as exciting as it looks on the big screen.

Empty pews

The church’s history with mental illness is rocky at best. In her book, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Health, Dr. Heather Vacek, associate professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, explores the successes and failures of addressing mental illness from colonial times through modern means of today.

At the core of the church’s mishandling of mental illness is the belief in a relationship with sin. Great sin must be the event preceding complex psychological or demonic infestation. Biblical passages offer this same terminology and etiology. In Matthew 9, Jesus rids a man of physical paralysis by proclaiming the forgiveness of his sins, and similarly whilst casting out demons.

But while popular verses like Philippians 4:13 bring many of us strength and peace, do they also protect us from having to interact with the complex and often taboo nature of mental illness?

Exhibit A: While completing an internship in an adult and adolescent psychiatric hospital, I took on a patient who will go by the pseudonym Dillon. Dillion is a male in his mid-20s and struggles with intellectual disabilities, schizoaffective disorder, substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration – a mental and social Molotov cocktail. Born to parents who also struggle with addiction and instability, Dillon had few constants in his life.

His one crutch – attending church every Sunday.

When it was time to seek intensive care, only a faith-based program would suffice. Dillon traveled to an unfamiliar area to seek the support and structure needed to survive.

A local pastor who ran a half-way home took Dillon in. Thinking this would be where is problems would end, Dillon soon faced the harsh realities of stigma in the church.

After a mild increase in psychotic symptoms, Dillon appeared on the psychiatric unit, and after some adjustments to his medication, it was soon time to leave. I called the pastor to tell him he could pick Dillon up, but was informed that he was no longer welcomed.

“Why?”, I asked. With too much ease, the pastor told me Dillon had been relying on prescribed medication for his illnesses, which went against the church-based program’s philosophy.

Dillon’s one last chance, the one place where he always felt at home, had turned their back on him.

After pleading with the pastor to reconsider – even diving deep into Matthew 25’s call to shelter the homeless – Dillon and I were left to face the reality that the church just made him homeless yet again.

Dillon’s case may be extreme in diagnosis and experience, but allow me to return to the opening paragraph. Why does the church struggle with even the most common materializations of mental illness: depression, bipolar disorder, self-harm and suicide?

Much of what the church does – or doesn’t do – is in response to its leadership.

A 2016 study conducted by LifeWay Research and published in ChristianityToday revealed the horror and reality that only seven percent of church pastors discuss mental health with their congregations “once a month” or “several times a month.”1 Meanwhile, 92 percent of pastors reported talking about mental health in sermons or church functions “once a year, rarely, or never.”

It is imperative that pastors speak openly about mental health – their own trials or in general. Fear of speaking on tough or taboo topics in church is profoundly counter to the church’s objective of being a safe and welcoming place for peace-seekers and those in need of care.

Famous mega-church pastor and author, Rick Warren, was compelled to speak to his massive congregation and followers around the world in the aftermath of his son’s suicide.

Warren said to his congregation, “There is no shame in diabetes, there is no shame in high blood pressure, but why is it that if our brains stop working, there is supposed to be shame in that?”2

So how do churches tackle the topic of mental illness?

It starts with the acknowledgement that depression, suicide, addiction, and the like are common realities. While they differ from other ailments in their physical location, the experience is as painful and inconvenient as a stroke, heart attack, fall, or hip replacement.

Once we see psychological ailment in the same light as physical ailment, only then can we grow. This happens through large and small group conversations, and allowing those who struggle to struggle openly.

It is as simple as opening the church doors to regular Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA) meetings. This shows the congregation and the community that those with psychological angst can find respite within these walls.

It is as simple as having guest speakers who can inform and lead if it is out of the pastor’s wheelhouse.

It is as simple as not being afraid to visit or call. The common response is, “well, I don’t know what to say.”

From someone who has dealt with personal mental health trials for over a decade, I will let you in on the secret: just have a normal conversation as if they were experiencing any other ailment. “Get well soon” and “thinking of you” mean the same to the depressed congregant as it does to the one who broke a leg. We – and I say “we” because I’m in the box of Christians with mental illness – just want to feel supported.

Photo by Matthias Zomer

And finally, talk to the young people. Our younger generations are the most accepting, understanding, and inclusive among living generations3. They are exposed, either by experience or knowing someone, to the realities of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

The church’s youth hold the answers and the drive many churches seek, and it is time to tap into that as well.

The conclusion is simple in that, though mental health is complex, the response is contrarily simple. It boils down to basic actions of care, compassion, and understanding. It doesn’t – or shouldn’t – require a bold awakening.

We, the church, have the power and the resources to change stigma surrounding mental health and medication. We just have to use them.

As Ellen DeGeneres always reminds us, “Be kind to one another.”


1 Stetzer, Ed. “The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness.” The Exchange. May 23, 2016.
2 Kaleem, Jaweed. “Rick and Kay Warren Launch Saddleback Church Mental Health Ministry After Son’s Suicide.” The Huffington Post. March 28, 2014.
3 Scott, Ryan. “Get Ready for Generation Z.” Forbes Magazine. November 28, 2016


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.

Disaster Response Update from PEC President David Guthrie

Moravian seal

 

Disaster Response Update (Harvey & Irma)

For most recent news and info on how you can help, visit the Moravian.org website [LINK]

Friends,

We invite your continued prayers for the people in the Caribbean impacted by Hurricane Irma, those who are first-responders, and those who are preparing for potential effects in the next few days.

The island of Antigua, home of the Eastern West Indies Provincial offices, has been impacted.  We are awaiting an update from Cortroy Jarvis, President of the EWI Provincial Board.  The storm’s projected path includes other areas where Moravian brothers and sisters live: the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba and Florida.   Our church in Cuba is scheduled to begin its first Synod as a Mission Province on Tuesday (12th), with Sam Gray and representatives from the Armando Rusindo Mission Foundation traveling to attend.  Plans for the Synod are currently being evaluated.

Please continue to pray for everyone recovering from Hurricane Harvey and the extensive flooding in Texas.  Our friends in the Unity of the Brethren Church in Texas are responding to needs in the Houston area and among their members and congregations.  Pray especially for the Good Shepherd Moravian Church, in Port Arthur, TX, which is part of the UBC.  Its members are predominantly Moravians who formerly lived in Nicaragua. The pastor is Adolfo Ugarte.  As reported from TX: “The church had about 3 feet of water in it and they have lost their piano, organ, pews, carpeting and probably walls.  Many of the members also had water in their houses and are presently staying in shelters until other arrangements can be made for temporary housing.”

 The Board of World Mission will be sharing further news and developments including response plans as information is received from these places and more is known about what is needed.

“For all who are in danger, trouble, or anguish, we ask the presence and strength of your Spirit.”  (Intercessions in Time of Crisis)

For most recent news and info on how you can help, visit the Moravian.org website [LINK]

+  +  +

The  Rev David Guthrie, President
Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church in America, Southern Province
459 South Church Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101-5314
(336) 725-5811  (888)725-5811


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