Paying a pastoral visit to Labrador Moravians

In January of this year, a group of six sisters and brothers gathering in Hopedale and Happy Valley, Newfoundland-Labrador, met by Zoom with three leaders, The Rev. Jason Andersen and Bishops Chris Giesler and Paul Graf. The text for this ten-week Lay Ministry training was Our Moravian Treasures: Topics for Theological Education in the Unitas Fratrum. In addition to the topics covered in the book, focused instruction also covered the administration of the sacraments, Bible study skills, active and effective listening, conflict management, and basic church administration.

Plans were then made for a pastoral visit by two of the group leaders to hold commissioning services for the six participants. This “Mission” was carried out and completed August 5-16, 2022, by Bishops Chris Giesler and Paul Graf. Plans included visits to each of the four Moravian coastal congregations of Nain, Hopedale, and Makkovik. They also visited the Happy Valley congregation located inland on the shores of the Churchill River. They were accompanied by Sister Sarah Jensen, Chairperson of the Moravian Church Newfoundland-Labrador Provincial Board. Together, the bishops participated in worship services, provided listening sessions, preached, and offered support and encouragement. All of this provided for significant engagement with our sisters and brothers of this Mission Province.

The following represents recollections and impressions of the two bishops, first from the Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler. 

“The Moravian Church in Labrador is often forgotten by the rest of the North American Moravian Church because it is a small province, but also because they are quiet and unassuming people who tend not to make a lot of noise. Yet, they are a rich part of the history of the Moravian Church in North America and are meeting their communities’ day-to-day spiritual and temporal needs in significant ways.   While zoom sessions have allowed us to increase our connection frequency with folks in Labrador, there is nothing like meeting face to face and heart to heart.  

“Traveling to all four Moravian congregations in Labrador and meeting with congregational leaders was a blessing. Not only were planned meetings more meaningful but being on the ground in these villages allowed for unexpected connections with folks we met in restaurants, sitting next to us on the airplane, or simply walking down the street.    

“I am excited to know that we have six new Lay Ministers now trained, commissioned, and serving the needs of their congregations.  We were also blessed to spend time with Darlene and McKinley Winters, who are currently taking online seminary courses (at Queens College and Moravian Theological Seminary)  and should be available for ordination by the end of 2023.  There is also hope for another young person who seems to be a perfect fit for future church leadership. The social and emotional needs of the people of these villages are complex and, at times, daunting, but I am confident that these servants are ready to rise to the occasion as we partner with them.  The solutions are not simple, and the problems will not be going away tomorrow, but I sense a renewed effort to name their challenging issues and work together to bring God’s love to be a part of the solutions. 

“It was a blessing to sit with Alice Harris, a long-time member of the Moravian Church in Nain, now well into her 80s.  She was born in the village of Hebron, located further north up the coast from Nain. The government closed this village when she was nine, and she and her father and siblings were resettled to Nain.  Her mom had passed away earlier and was buried in Hebron’s Moravian graveyard.  Alice spoke of the difficulties in the resettlement process, along with being sent off to a residential school. Being separated from extended family, church home, and ancestral lands was like a tree being cut off from its root system for Alice, her family, and the other villagers.  Alice visited what remains of this abandoned village about ten years ago, and she said she didn’t know whether to laugh for joy or weep for grief.  The first thing she did when she arrived was to run to her mother’s grave, which she had not seen for over 70 years.  Even with all this, she is a woman with a deep faith in her Lord and appreciates the value of the ministry of the Moravian Church.”  

Bishop Graf writes:

“My first visit in Labrador came at the invitation of the Rev. Sam Propsom in December of 2004. Upon learning that no Moravian Bishop had made an extensive visit in the province in over 25 years, I assured our sisters and brothers that they would no longer be forgotten and that they would receive annual visits by the bishops of the Northern Province. Until Covid, I was able to make those annual visits with the additional presence of the Rt. Reverends Sam Gray and Chris Giesler who participated in youth camps. 

“A primary objective in our visit was to reassure our sisters and brothers of our partnership in the Gospel, that we are committed to walking with them, listening and learning together, and wherever possible, offering our support and guidance. I believe we accomplished that objective.

“Especially memorable was Sunday worship in Hopedale on Aug. 14. This gave opportunity to meet the Rt. Rev. Devon Anglin and his wife, Janice, from the Jamaican Province. Bishop Devon was in his second multiple-month visit to serve the Hopedale community. The morning started with an Innutitut service led by Brother Amos, followed by the English service in which the Sacrament of Infant Baptism was celebrated. While there were three bishops present, theirs was a support role, as lay leaders of the congregation led the service with Acolyte Marjorie Flowers presiding over the baptism. In both services, much was said about the August 13, 1727 experience that, in time, helped to motivate the mission work that brought Moravians to the coast of Labrador by 1752.  

“In the afternoon service, two young women confirmed their baptismal vows, with Lay Minister Martha Winters-Abel presiding. It is more than interesting to note that in Herrnhut, on August 13, 1727, two young women likewise confirmed their faith. The day of worship concluded with the celebration of Holy Communion, with Sister Martha presiding.  

“We left Labrador filled with a deeper appreciation for the ministry of our sisters and brothers of the Labrador province, impressed with their resilience and persistence despite overwhelming challenges, yet re-enthused by the possibilities for whatever God may have in store for Christ’s church in this awesome and beautiful land.