For many Moravian congregations across the U.S. and Canada, the 600th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan Hus was cause for special commemorations and services. Here are just a few of those events marking this important occasion in the life of the church…
Metro New York John Hus Festival 2015
The Metro New York John Hus Festival was Rev. Leon Matthias’ idea. Being a professional archivist, he had a passion for preserving history (and just about everything else, including some of his shoes) and he was even more passionate when history merges with our faith and traditions.
Rev. Matthias felt that with John Hus being such a prominent historical figure in our church, there were enough reasons for all the churches to have an annual, common gathering to celebrate the anniversary of his Martyrdom. The idea was unanimously embraced by the serving and retired pastors.
It was commonly agreed that on the second Sunday of July of each year, a special worship service would be held during regular worship time at a venue that was agreed upon. Some churches closed their doors for that day while others held an abbreviated service to facilitate those who would not be attending the special event.
The first John Hus festival was held at United Moravian Church in Harlem in 2006. The attendance was so overwhelming that the auditorium of the Springfield High School in Queens was rented to facilitate the larger crowd we had in 2007. The attendance levels have fluctuated over the years but the enthusiasm has remained.
United Moravian Church in Harlem was again our host for the 600th anniversary gathering on July 12, 2015. Most pastors were in attendance and all New York metro Moravian churches were represented in a three-hour service where the Rev. Elizabeth Miller, president of the PEC Northern Province was the preacher. Host pastor Rev. Nigel Powell led an upbeat worship experience that showcased the many talents from the different churches as we celebrated the memory of John Hus and were encouraged to apply his unswerving commitment to the gospel in our daily lives.
At the end of the service it is reasonable to extrapolate a consensus that though a bit long, even by Caribbean standards, it was a blessed experience. We thank God for the fellowship and for the life and witness of John Hus.
Michael Johnson, pastor,John Hus Moravian Church, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Lititz Moravian, Lititz, Pa.
On Sunday, July 5, after praying the liturgy for All Saints and before celebrating Holy Communion, congregants at Lititz Moravian Church heard Jan Hus tell his own story, as Pastor Dean Jurgen took on his character and portrayed Hus.
As Hus said in that message, “I hope that as I share how God worked in my life, you might be encouraged to be obedient to God’s will in your life, even if it might be very costly. Although the world in which I lived was very different than your world, it was still filled with the darkness and brokenness of sin, as is yours.
“In some small way, my taking a stand for Christ made a difference in my world… and I hope that I can encourage you to take a stand and make a difference today. Nothing matters more than the cause of Christ and His Kingdom. Nothing; not even life itself.”
Then on Monday, July 6, the congregation held a prayer and song service, put together by congregation member Marian Shatto, to commemorate Hus and some of those influenced by him over the centuries. Gathering in the outdoor pavilion adjacent to Lititz’s historic God’s Acre, participants remembered the saints and martyrs in six segments, with the worship leader praying for a person or group of people and including a brief biographical statement. The prayer concluded with the leader saying “For the witness of _____” and the congregation responded: “Gracious Lord, we give you thanks.” We then sang a hymn response accompanied by the Trombone Choir.
The group first remembered Jan Hus, then remembered early church leaders who continued the witness of Hus against corruption in the church and formed the Unitas Fratrum: Peter Chelcˇický, Gregory of Prague, Michael Bradacius. In succeeding segments, participants remembered John Amos Commenius, Count Zinzendorf and Benigna Zinzendorf von Watteville, John George Klein and Anna Bender Klein who donated land to form the town of Lititz and early pastors of the Lititz Moravian Congregation, Mattheaus Hehl, Bernard Adam Grube, Johannes Herbst.
After singing the hymn response which included the lyrics “showers of blessing, showers of blessing from the Lord proceed,” the Trombone Choir led a procession to God’s Acre. Participants were then invited to speak the names of those saints and martyrs who have personally influenced them on their Christian journeys, then uplifted them all in prayerful thanks and concluded with the singing of For All the Saints.
God brought a unique gathering together where about one-third were not members of the Lititz congregation. There were some members of some area Moravian churches, as well as some Amish, some of Czech background and the new director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. We were fortunate to have had a featured article in the Lancaster newspaper to publicize the event.
Dean R. Jurgen, Pastor, Lititz Moravian Congregation, Lititz, Pa.
Nazareth Moravian Churches
The Nazareth and Schoeneck Moravian congregations celebrated the 600th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jon Hus on the historic grounds of the Whitefield House, where it all began for the Moravians in Nazareth, Pa.
The Rev. Jeffrey Gehris of Nazareth Moravian, the Rev. Terry Folk of Schoeneck Moravian and the Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood of Moravian Seminary, professor and president of the Moravian Historical Society, participated during an outdoor communion service on July 12. The combined Brass Choirs of Nazareth and Schoeneck Moravian provided music, along with Nazareth Moravian Organist, Mr. Gabe Toth.
Participants prayed the Liturgy of All Saints and a Service of Holy Communion crafted by Rev. Gehris; all three Moravian pastors in attendance served Communion. A time of fellowship on the lawn of the Whitefield House took place after the service and the Whitefield House was open for tours. Dr. Atwood delivered the message and spoke about Jon Hus.”
The Rev. Jeff Gehris, pastor, Nazareth Moravian Church, Nazareth, Pa.
London Moravian Hus Celebration
As the London Moravian Church (located between Cambridge and Lake Mills, Wisconsin) continues to mark its 125th anniversary year, members decided July would be a month in which the congregation would remember the saints who had gone before them.
Tying this Sunday with the remembrance of John Hus, the July 12 worship service was held at Kroghville Lutheran Moravian Cemetery, the place where the congregation also watches the sunrise on Easter morning. The cemetery is located one mile north of the London church.
The service on July 12 began with a liturgy remembering the life and sacrifice of John Hus, along with the foundation that was planted by his courageous faith. Worshipers then entered into a liturgy of resurrection, celebrating the lives of those who faithfully continued to build and serve the London Moravian Church and the surrounding community. Moravian traditions were shared including: the history of God’s Acre, being buried in “choirs,” and preparing the cemetery for Easter morning.
Midway through the service, those gathered divided into small groups, walking the cemetery to lay a single flower at the graves of family and church members. At each grave visited, names were read, along with the year of birth and the year of death, followed by the prayer, “In gratitude for your life and your love, we remember you today and give thanks to God. May eternal peace be yours.”
As the groups walked the aisles of graves, stories were told about those who baked special desserts for church dinners, provided music for worship, signed a deed for church property and were long-time Sunday school teachers and choir members. Family connections were made, stories were shared about special friends and neighbors, graves were discovered of persons known long ago, tears were shed as love was expressed for family members and longtime friends, an area of baby graves was found and family connections were made from generation to generation. Longtime members shared with more recent members about the lives of those who served London Church over the years. The spelling of family names were noted… two spellings, one family.
It was a meaningful time to remember the saints who loved and were loved and to learn about Moravian history and traditions.
Jane Follmer Zekoff, pastor, London Moravian Church, Cambridge, Wis.
From the September 2015 Moravian Magazine