On a chilly, rainy Saturday, you wouldn’t expect to find a group of people gathered to learn about Moravian history. But on this dreary day inside Clemmons Moravian Church in Clemmons, N.C., it was warm and bright with hospitality and inspiration as 65 people gathered for the Comenius Learning Series, “Martyrs, Exiles and Missionaries: Making Bold Choices for Christ,” sponsored by the Southern Province Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM).
The event provided a learning conversation about the difficulties faced by our Moravian forebears and how modern-day Moravians can build each other up in faith, hope and love. In promoting the event, the BCM wrote, “As the Unitas Fratrum faces difficult challenges in the 21st century, it is helpful to recognize that our church has often faced destruction boldly and found new ways to serve as ambassadors of Christ.”
Poking holes in myths
Dr. Thomas Fudge, a leading expert on Jan Hus and visiting professor at Moravian Theological Seminary, started the day off by poking holes in many of the myths we hold about Hus. According to Fudge, Hus wasn’t the first to translate the Bible into Czech, he didn’t start congregational singing and he (unlike the pictures we have in our churches) was most likely short, clean-shaven and pudgy!
Yet, when Dr. Fudge had drawn a more complete and accurate portrait of Hus, we came away even more impressed and appreciative of his contributions to history and our Unity.
Dr. Fudge then challenged us to look at ourselves, our congregations and our denomination in order to answer the question, “Are we followers of Hus?” Hus was a reformer. He believed that reform must be embraced as a permanent part of the church’s identity and practice. He wanted the church to return to the church of Acts: a bold church, a pilgrim church.
Hus felt there was always “more.” Too often we become a church of “settlers”—we who have found something want to stay there and believe that we have all we need. Hus is calling the church then and now to be a “pilgrim” church—a body of Christ that keeps going, realizing that we have not yet arrived and that there is always more.
We were challenged in this lecture to re-embrace our spiritual heritage; to not be insular from the world, to seek out new missions and opportunities, always keeping Christ at our center. The Light—and bearing it—is both the challenge and calling of today.
Making bold choices then…
Seamlessly, the Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood, associate professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry and director of the Center for Moravian Studies at Moravian Theological Seminary, ran us through 600 years of Moravian history to reflect how the church made bold choices throughout its timeline.
From Gregory the Patriarch and the Kunvald exiles, through the Bohemian Brethren and the virtual destruction of the Unity, to Comenius, Zinzendorf and the great missionaries of the early church, we learned how our denomination has always strived to be a pilgrim church. We educated the poor and women, almost from our earliest incarnation. We reached out and ministered to the despised and rejected people of the world. We followed where the Holy Spirit leads us, often at great cost and controversy, faithful to God’s leading. We have been a people of exile, without a stable home until more recent times, and we have always been willing to be sacrificial in going where we are needed. We have welcomed the traveler, the lost, the stranger, the despised, because in our history, we have been all of those.
Br. Atwood urged us to embrace that this is the church we have inherited: a church that has a close relationship with our Chief Elder, Jesus; that reaches out in love to all; that makes no distinctions between each other; and that sings!
…and bold choices now
After a magnificent lunch provided by the Clemmons Youth, we settled in for the final presentation by Bishop Sam Gray: how are we making bold choices for Christ today? After hearing of missions past, Br. Gray told us of the missionaries of today—bold, courageous, sacrificial men and women in Honduras, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Albania and other places.
These are places where life is hard, often dangerous, and the task is difficult. According to Br. Gray, God raises up bold people for such times as these! He also talked of missions closer to home: Manna Ministries of the Southern Province; “Come and Worship,” a coffeehouse church ministering to those who have not found a home in traditional congregations; and Anthony’s Plot, an intentional Christian Community, reaching out to neighborhoods and leading the way in the community response to homelessness. These and other emerging ministries are assisted by the Cornerstone Fund—a fund created at the 2014 Southern Province Synod to “put our money where our Motto is.”
Br. Gray challenged us to take a bold step of faith, leave those things behind which are hindering us, and set out on the journey, following our Savior. He said, “Seek then, listen to, teach, love, hold onto, defend!”
A panel discussion with the three presenters followed Br. Gray’s talk. We were all left with the knowledge of our rich history of personal sacrifice and dedication to ministry where called. Dr. Fudge’s final words, speaking of Moravians past, present and future, continue to resonate with me: “Don’t get into a position where you have fewer brothers and sisters than God has sons and daughters.” In light of recent world events, these words hold even more significance for the Church.
Following our closing worship, Bishop Gray’s prayer and exhortation that we continue to BE the Church and put our hearts where our motto is, sent us from the warmth of fellowship back into a world in need of the Light and Love of Christ!
Thanks to the BCM for a fruitful Comenius Learning Event! ■
Joyce Carter is a member of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. Photos by Andrew David Cox of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. Photo below: Bishop Sam Gray discusses Moravian missions today with attendees at the Comenius Learning Series at Clemmons Moravian Church.