Heritage

After the Election

John Wesley Bobblehead

Yes, I have one — I have a Pope Francis Bobblehead, too.

I have a good friend who has announced that she is only watching Netflix movies until November 9th – she will no longer watch regular TV for the time being because she simply can’t stand hearing one more political smear commercial. I think most of us are with her in spirit. We were warned that this would be one of the nastiest, most negative political seasons in living memory – and they weren’t kidding! Many pundits have said that we are now as divided as before the Civil War – a warning that ought to get our attention.

There are all kinds of reasons why a person will vote for one candidate or the other. Christians of good faith and conscience do not agree on politics, sometimes simply because they see the world from such very different vantage points and personal experiences. Christians must take care to not let politicians divide us with anger and fear. Every election season, I recall the advice of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, back in 1774:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

Good advice even if it is 242 years old!

The fact is that after the election, things will not return to “normal.” In many ways, no matter who wins one office or another, nearly half our friends and relatives will be angry and disappointed and hostile. That’s the moment when our work as followers of Christ kicks in to high gear – to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation, to show that our spirits were not “sharpened against those that voted on the other side,” and focus with relentless energy on sharing the love of Christ.

There are many in our world that will stop at nothing to divide the followers of Christ, to set us against one another instead of working together to build the kingdom. Moravians have a great calling to model loving Christian community in a world that doesn’t see anything remotely like it! I pray that we will work towards that creative, healing goal with the same energy that the world puts into division and destruction!

- Pastor John

A Hero Comes Home

This month, we have the unique honor of welcoming home a member who has been absent for 64 years.  George LeTell Rights, the son of Rev. & Mrs. Douglas Rights, was an active member of Trinity when he went off to serve in the Army during the Korean War.  In September 1950, he was assigned to the 15th Field Artillery Battalion of the Second Division. In mid-February 1951, near Hoengsong, South Korea, his unit was involved in a battle later called “Massacre Valley.” He was among those taken prisoner and marched into North Korea to a prisoner of war camp, referred to as the Suan Bean Camp. He died there in May 1951, the cause of death being listed as malnutrition.

George’s death was a blow to the Rights family; his brother, the Rt. Rev Graham Rights, says that Trinity members ministered to their pastor during this time, comforting and supporting parents Douglas and Cecil.  The family had come to believe that George’s remains would never be retrieved.  However, on July 8, his family was notified that remains of George had been positively identified via DNA among those turned over to the United States Government by the Government of North Korea in 1992.

A Moravian service will be held in God’s Acre on Sunday, August 9, at 3:00 p.m. in the Cremains Section. The graveside service will feature a memoir written by sister Eleanor Rights Roller.

Winston-Salem Journal article about the funeral

George Rights grew up in the parsonage of Trinity Moravian Church, where his father served as pastor for 37 years; he remained a member there until his death. He loved classical music, listening daily to WQXR in New York. He was the first of the four Rights children to be taught by their father to play a band instrument, learning to play the cornet and participating in the Trinity Church Band and the Easter Band. He was the first of the four to take piano lessons from Helen Savage (later Mrs. Aaron Cornwall, Jr.), beginning as her “practice pupil” during her study at Salem College. He had particular fondness for the music of Frederic Chopin. He enjoyed caring for pet ducks and, during his teen years, was the family wood chopper, producing kindling for the wood stove and fireplaces. He spent several summers working with those who cared for God’s Acre in Salem. George’s favorite pastime was taking long walks really long walks. It wasn’t unusual for him to leave Winston-Salem and walk to High Point, Mocksville, Pilot Mountain, Elkin, or North Wilkesboro.

We celebrate with the Rights family in the recovery of George’s remains and the closure of holding this meaningful service.

– Pastor John

Birth of the Unity

March 1, 1457 is the day recognized as the official date of the organization of the Unitas Fratrum, the Unity of Brethren – so this month actually marks the 558th anniversary of the Moravian Church.  This was sixty years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral;  and over seventy-five years before the Church of England separated from Rome.  Many historians now refer to the Hussite movement as the “First Reformation,” and recognize that there was in fact a strong and organized reform movement in place before Luther and Henry VIII were even born.  The movement had an enormous impact on the life and worship of central Europe, much of which was wiped out in subsequent wars and swept under the carpet when the area later became Roman Catholic.  This is not a “big” anniversary year of the founding – but it is the 600th anniversary of the evnt that led to the founding – the martyrdom of John Hus.  We’ll be hearing a lot more about him as we get closer to that July 6th anniversary.

Ours was a church born out of struggle and war — that then sought a way to peace.  Following Hus’ martyrdom in 1415, his followers in Moravian and Bohemia rose up against the Roman Catholic armies, and a period known as the Hussite Wars began that ravaged the area. There were initially a number of different Hussite groups with varying and sometimes competing ideas; but as war raged on and these groups competed, eventually a variety of Hussites came together to found the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of Brethren.  

Through five hundred and fifty-eight years, the Church has seen a lot of changes.  The Unitas Fratrum almost died out  (some historians feel it actually did die out) in the 17th century during the time of Comenius and the Thirty Years’ War.  It was reorganized by that legendary band of settlers on Zinzendorf’s lands in 1727, and that movement defines many of the traditions and practices that we so love today. 

But through all those years and changes there have been some important constants: the centrality of Christ, the compassion and love of God, the incredible grace that is extended to us, and an emphasis on looking back to Apostolic Christianity rather than the institutional pronouncements of Rome.  The idea that there are really only a few “essentials” and that other differences should not divide Christians has been an important constant; so too is the idea that it is essential that we live lives that express Christ’s love.  Indeed, the early members of the Unity referred to themselves as “Brethren of the Law,” the law of love.  It has to be said that we have not always lived up to this great tradition, sometimes getting more caught up in the external non-essentials. 

But when we are at our best, we have a peculiar role to play in a divided and hostile world:  to remind the world of the love of Christ, and to live out the rich heritage of faith that proclaims:

In essentials, UNITY

In non-essentials, LIBERTY

In all things, LOVE.

 

-          Pastor John

A Century Past

It was interesting a couple of years ago to look back at what life was like in 1912, when this church was founded.  As I sat down to write this message, I wondered what was going on a hundred years ago now.

  • World War I (known then as “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars” had started in Europe, but America had not yet gotten fully involved.
  • D. W. Griffith held the first screening of “Birth of A Nation.”
  • First transcontinental phone call from New York to San Francisco.
  • Congress voted down a proposal to allow women to vote – it would take another four years!
  • The Ford Motor Company manufactured the millionth Model T, revolutionizing travel in America.

And while all these things were going on, the congregation on the corner of Sunnyside & Sprague was actively ministering to a growing neighborhood, reaching out with community events and programs,  helping those in need and preaching the Gospel.

Today, we don’t have brand new Ford Model Ts driving by the church; it’s more likely to be a Toyota.  Instead of calling from New York to San Francisco on a wire, we can take a little gizmo out of our pocket while walking down Sprague Street and call Germany or Japan, get the weather in Timbuktu, and download documents from China.  Women can not only vote, but they may decide elections since they turn out at higher rates than men!  We’re not watching silent movies filled with racism like “Birth of a Nation,” we will be showing “Selma” and discussing ways to move forward with racial reconciliation in this new century.

Lots has changed – but some things haven’t.  The bell at Trinity will ring to announce Sunday School and worship, we’ll be holding programs to actively minister to the neighborhood, we’ll be supporting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and living out the Gospel of love as Christ makes us able!

-          Pastor John

A Moravian Christmas


Moravians sure know how to do Christmas!  But did you know that the Moravian Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem and Salem were regarded with suspicion by other religious folk of the day?  In fact, Puritans had outlawed the observance of Christmas in the early colonies, viewing it as a “Popish,” or Catholic, holiday filled with sin and excess?  In fact, Puritan laws forbidding Christmas were not repealed until 1681, and during the 18th century most religious folks did little if anything to observe Christmas.  Christmas did not become an official holiday in America until 1870.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was named by Count Zinzendorf of Christmas Eve, 1742, to recall the village of Jesus’ birth.  Moravians saw the incarnation of Jesus as a pivotal event that changed all of human history, and they thought that the love of God expressed in Jesus’ birth should infuse all of life and practice and faith.  They had no problem with rejoicing and celebration to honor the birth of the Savior.  So they went right on having their Christmas services and pretty much ignored what everyone else thought.  When the practice of sharing lit beeswax candles with the children began in Germany on Christmas Eve, 1747, the Moravians in Bethlehem adopted the celebration right away the very next Christmas Eve.  When Salem was founded, the Candle service was a beloved tradition, though back then the candles were only given to the children of the congregation.

Like those faithful Moravians of old, we can celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ without worry or concern about what the rest of the world does.  Don’t get caught up in “Christmas wars” or outdoing the neighbors with your Christmas display.  In fact, it might be a good idea to cut back on some of the worldly trapping of the season and focus more time and energy on being with your family and creating new memories.  Try an Advent calendar with your grandchildren!  Take them to see the Putz in Salem.  Explain to them what Christmas means for your faith.  Set aside time to do something nice for a person who has not been nice to you.  Instead of watching a movie of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, get the book and read it aloud to your children, pretending to be the various characters.  It’s a lot of fun, and an experience your kids won’t forget.

These things which bring meaning to Christmas and build memories don’t cost much at all, but they have spiritual impact that will outlive this year’s hot toy or soon-forgotten video game.  This year, invite a family in your neighborhood to one of the Christmas Eve Lovefeasts – there are many Winston-Salem residents who have heard about the Candle Lovefeast but never experienced it.

May the light of Christ’s love, glowing from stars and candles and faces, illuminate your life this year!

-Pastor John

unity_600

Today is August 13

Today is August 13, a date that has no special meaning for most people, but has unique importance for Moravians.  This is the anniversary of the renewal of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany in 1727.  The church, founded in 1457, had been nearly destroyed by the Thirty Years’ War, and the church was outlawed in Bohemia and Moravia.  A small remnant – what Moravian Bishop John Amos Comenius earlier called a “hidden seed” – migrated to the land of a Lutheran noble, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf, a unique spiritual genius, permitted the “Herrnhuters” remarkable religious liberty for the day, but with the unfortunate (and perhaps predictable) result that religious excess and controversy exploded in the village.

The Count resigned his court position in Dresden to become a noble pastor to the troubled group, visiting and calling the people together for prayerful study of the Scriptures.  During this period, the residents became convicted that their behavior toward one another had been inexcusable – that the Savior called His followers to exhibit love toward one another, to be “one” in His name.  Out of this grew the remarkable document known in German as the “Bruderlisch Vertrag,” the Brotherly Agreement, now known as the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living.  Rather than a doctrinal statement, the Moravians signed a code of Christian behavior.  This was signed on May 12, 1727 by all the residents of Herrnhut.  A few months later, at a special service of Holy Communion held on Wednesday, August 13, they experienced a powerful sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit – and those who had been divided felt truly one in Christ.  This reestablished the ancient call of the Unity – to live out the Great Commandment and the Beatitudes in community in a way that bore witness to the world of the love of God.  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35, NIV.  This is a call that the Unity has sought to live out for over 557 years, since our founding in 1457.

In a recent online discussion about this, I made the (almost correct) statement that the Moravian Church is the only mainline denomination to have never experienced a schism or split.  I was properly corrected by someone who recalled that in the very early days, a group did split off over the issue of whether or not Brethren should swear oaths.  That group reunited with the Utraquists, a group that eventually died out.  But since that time, for over five centuries, we have worked to preserve Christian unity as a primary virtue and testimony to a religious world that is most often divided and bickering.  That testimony is respected out of all proportion to our tiny size by larger denominations, who often seek to learn from us how to achieve what we do.  Moravians have been pioneers in the ecumenical movement, calling denominations together in the name of Christ – and as a result, we have twice had Morvian clergy elected to head the World Council of Churches, and twice to head the National Council of Churches in Christ – despite the fact that we are one of the smallest member denominations.

So today we are faced with a decision: once again, as has happened in each generation, or probably each decade, we face a divisive issue that threatens to tear our unity apart.  We have people who believe that their issue is one that is so important, they must leave the Unity if a vote does not go their way.  Some of them want to form an “independent” Moravian Church, something which is really an oxymoron, since it overlooks the central tenet of being a part of the Unity – that is, to be part of the Unity!

So once again, our unity is challenged – as it has been so many times before.  The Unity is a relationship – much like a marriage – which must be nurtured and maintained.  Just as in a Christian marriage two people commit to relationship with one another – each also in relationship with the Savior – so too we commit to a relationship with one another, each also in relationship with the Savior.  As in a marriage, we must overlook each other’s shortcoming and bear one another’s burdens, so it is in the Unity.  We live together as sisters and brothers in Christ, not always agreeing in detail, but always agreeing in love – and seeking to follow the Savior together.

We have a choice today – as the Herrnhutters had a choice 287 years ago, and as the founders of the Unity had a choice 270 years before that.  As indeed we have had again, again, and again: do we continue to bear witness that we are disciples, known by our love for one another?  Or shall our differences consume us so that we break this astounding witness?  We have a choice today, just as we will have a choice tomorrow: a choice to continue this witness of unity, or to destroy it and prove to the world that even the Moravians cannot live together in love.  Which shall it be?

Festival of August 13th

This month, we celebrate a uniquely Moravian event as we gather for Holy Communion in Celebration of August 13th, the time in 1727 when a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit swept through the congregation at Berthelsdorf, Germany.  The experience was so profound that it was likened to the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, and it marked a new era of God’s work among the Moravians.

A lesser-known part of this experience was the Children’s Revival that followed.  A few days after the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation among the adults, a number of children at the village school felt called to prayer, and began to organize their own prayer groups.  The adults were so inspired by the spirit of the children that it reinforced their own experience and helped to drive the famed Prayer Watch that went on continuously for the next hundred years; and there is no doubt that it was out of the prayer and study that followed that the seeds of the mission movement came.

This month, we have the remarkable opportunity to have the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber visit to lead two Sunday School workshops about the Moravian movement.  Brother Weber is professor of Pastoral Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, and is one of our leading experts on the revolutionary social systems that Moravian communities engineered.  He can speak with great authority about the intriguing ideas that they employed that made those communities work and witness!  I hope that you will take the time to come out for these Sunday School workshops this month.  Brother Weber will also officiate over Communion on August 11th while I am away directing the next segment of the movie “But Now I See,” and will bring a meditation about the August 13th experience and its meaning for us today that is well-informed and inspiring.

All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving

November is a month bracketed by All Saints Day (November 1) and Thanksgiving (November 22) and ends with our move into the season of Advent. Just like the changing weather, November is truly a change of seasons in the Church!

All Saints’ Day began back in the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church began to run out of calendar days for Feasts in honor of lesser saints. While it began as a sort of catch-all festival to acknowledge lots of lesser saints who didn’t have their own feast day, in the Protestant church it became a chance to celebrate and reflect on all the unacknowledged saints who have passed the faith on to us and now are in the more immediate presence of the Savior. Many of these are folks who would never have been recognized as “official” saints, but they are the true working Christians who have lived out the message, passed on the love, shared a cup of water with the thirsty and bread with the hungry. On the first Sunday in November, we’ll come together and remember those saints who have touched our lives.

On November 11, we will celebrate Holy Communion in remembrance of the 1741 announcement that Jesus Christ had been elected as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. While the election happened in September of that year, the celebration was delayed to make sure that all the mission outposts in far-flung parts of the world could receive the word and celebrate on the same day. This very peculiar Moravian tradition is a powerful symbol that we follow Christ and Christ alone.

The modern celebration of Thanksgiving has moved around a bit from time to time, but has generally been the fourth Thursday in November. Once again this year, we will join with other neighborhood churches in a Community Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast on Wednesday night, and take a special offering that will be used to benefit the needy in our area. This is a wonderful service to invite friends, neighbors, and family to – a time of thanks and praise to our creator God!

- Pastor John

The Birth of the Unity

March 1, 1457 is the day recognized as the official date of the organization of the Unitas Fratrum, the Unity of Brethren – so this month actually marks the 555th anniversary of the Moravian Church. This was sixty years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral; and as I have recently had the opportunity to remind the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, it was over seventy-five years before the Church of England separated from Rome. Many historians now refer to the Hussite movement as the “First Reformation,” and recognize that there was in fact a strong and organized reform movementin place before Luther and Henry VIII were even born. The movement had an enormous impact on the life and worship of central Europe, much of which was wiped out in subsequent wars and swept under the carpet when the area later became Roman Catholic

Ours was a church born out of struggle and war that then sought a way to peace. Following the martyrdom of John Hus in 1415, his followers in Moravian and Bohemia rose up against the Roman Catholic armies, and a period known as the Hussite Wars began that ravaged the area. There were initially a number of different Hussite groups with varying and sometimes competing ideas; but as war raged on and these groups competed, eventually a variety of Hussites came together to found the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of Brethren. .

Through five hundred and fifty-five years, the Church has seen a lot of changes. The Unitas Fratrum almost died out (some historians feel it actually did die out) in the 17th century during the time of Comenius and the Thirty Years’ War. It was reorganized by that legendary band of settlers on Zinzendorf’s lands in 1727, and that movement defines many of the traditions and practices that we so love today.

But through all those years and changes there have been some important constants: the centrality of Christ, the compassion and love of God, the incredible grace that is extended to us, and an emphasis on looking back to Apostolic Christianity rather than the institutional pronouncements of Rome. The idea that there are really only a few “essentials” and that other differences should not divide Christians has been an important constant; so too is the idea that it is essential that we live lives that express Christ’s love. Indeed, the early members of the Unity referred to themselves as “Brethren of the Law,” the law of love. It has to be said that we have not always lived up to this great tradition, sometimes getting more caught up in the external non-essentials.

As we look back on the founding of our congregation only a hundred years ago, as we celebrate and recall the faithful Christian lives in living memory that have impacted our faith, we also need to recall that we are part of a much longer history, a rich heritage of faith that proclaims:

In essentials, UNITY
In non-essentials, LIBERTY
In all things, LOVE.

- Pastor John

Centennial Year

This month marks the start of Trinity’s 100th year of ministry, and we have many exciting events to look forward to as we approach the official anniversary date of July 14. We’ve already begun to enjoy seeing the old photographs, hearing names of forebears, and sharing stories of bygone days. But as we look back on our history and enjoy stories of our heritage, it is very important that we be looking forward as well.

The visionary Moravians who started Trinity saw great opportunity for ministry in the Sunnyside and surrounding neighborhoods. Then, this area was a relatively new suburban area, serviced by the relatively new trolley car system. Many people could afford the new Ford Model T, and these transportation options opened the way for neighborhoods further out from the center of town. Jobs at local mills were expanding. But it was not long before World War I would hit, and not too many years later the Great Depression. Yet in the midst of the Depression, the members of Trinity rallied to build the four-story Christian Education building that serves us so well today.

That building is now full of activity every Wednesday night with our LOGOS program, and recently has been bubbling with nearly 80 grade school children from the neighborhood each Saturday morning who come for structured tutoring and academic assistance. In a time of financial challenge when many traditional churches are stepping back and shrinking, Trinity continues to find new avenues for ministry.

God has placed us here for a purpose; we have a unique message to share and a unique ministry to accomplish today, in 2012 – and forward in future years – among the people of Sunnyside, Waughtown and surrounding communities. Today our society is fabulously mobile, we have members who commute in regularly from every corner of the county, and we are able to stay in touch with young members away at college and friends who live in distant communities through technology. But ultimately, it is the personal contact and relationships that are the building blocks of ministry at Trinity.

Today, tomorrow, next year, God has a mission for us. This year as we look back upon our past, we must at the same time be rooted in the moment, sensitive to the things which are going on around us, the people who we encounter who are in need of the words of grace. We need to be looking forward to the future, planning wisely and seeking God’s guidance for our future ministry here on the corner of Sunnyside and Sprague.

- Pastor John

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