While traveling for work remains a fun part of my job, being away from home and family on my birthday is something I typically try to avoid. I’m also a fan of quiet birthday celebrations.
This year, my birthday fell the Saturday of the Southern Province’s 2017 Inter-Synodal Conference in Winston-Salem. I hoped I would make it through the weekend without anyone making a fuss. However, thanks to my fellow Moravians, my birthday would not go unnoticed.
The Thursday night before the conference, some Moravian co-workers and friends treated me to a piece of celebratory pecan pie at a local barbecue restaurant. A nice, quiet observance that I thought would be it. Not so.
At Saturday’s conference, all those gathered were seated in a large circle in New Philly’s Fellowship Hall to begin one of the central activities of the event. I was standing outside the circle, taking photos, when Ruth Cole Burcaw, who was leading the discussion, announced it was a special day for one of those in attendance. She was talking about me.
She invited me into the circle and suggested the group sing a round of “Happy Birthday.” I turned beet red. She asked Nola Knouse to pitch the crowd. But instead of the traditional birthday tune I’d heard so many times before, she led them in Hymn #447, “With Your Presence, Lord”:
“With your presence, Lord, our Head and Savior/bless him now we humbly pray;/our dear heavenly Father’s love and favor/be his comfort every day./
May God’s Spirit now in each proceeding/favor him with his most gracious leading;/thus shall he be truly blessed/both in labor and in rest.”
Now, that’s not the first time I’d heard (or even sung) that tune, which is also known as the Moravian Birthday Hymn. Most times it was as a congratulations or a recognition for an achievement. And here were 200-plus Moravians, some I knew and many I didn’t, singing it to me.
Those 45 seconds of singing are ones I won’t forget, and throughout the rest of the day, both friends and strangers offered birthday greetings. And while I had wonderful, quiet celebrations with North Carolina family that evening and my wife and daughter when I arrived home on Sunday, having to be away on my birthday wasn’t so bad, thanks to a Moravian hymn and the Moravians who sang it.
Read all about the 2017 Southern Province Inter-Synodal Gathering beginning on page 11. I hope you enjoy this issue of the magazine and welcome your comments.