BY THE REV. DAN MILLER |
The Moravian churches in North America are really good at observing beloved Moravian traditions like Christmas Eve candlelight services, lovefeasts, and brass chorale music. We see these traditions frequently because we still find it meaningful to engage in them.
One of the traditions that are not seen as frequently in our churches today is the sharing of one’s lebenslauf. (In German, the word means “life’s walk, journey.” Historically, Moravians would write down in their own words their journey with God spanning their entire life.) But make no mistake! This is not an indication that this tradition cannot be meaningful for us as modern-day Moravians. I write this post to share one congregation’s introduction to the lebenslauf with the hope that other Moravian congregations will experience this tradition anew for themselves.
Like many other churches during Lent, Edgeboro Moravian holds Lenten dinners and services each Wednesday evening during the season, and like other pastors and worship planners, I took the opportunity to do something different in worship during these services. For the services during Lent 2019, I decided to use the lebenslauf as the focus. This decision was inspired by a conversation that came up during one of our Board of Elders meetings. The conversation began with someone mentioning how long one of our longtime members drove each Sunday to be an usher on a regular basis. While we didn’t expect to know everything about everyone, we were surprised that we didn’t know that about this member who we’ve been worshiping with for years, and so our conversation ended with a desire to know more about the lives of the people that share the pews with us. What other important things did we not know about our fellow church members? With that conversation in mind, I crafted a plan for our Lenten services.
Much of what I planned was based on my seminary experience. Each of us were asked to share our lebenslauf with our incoming cohort of students. We were given a writing guide so that we could share our lebenslauf in 20 minutes. Out of those that were not sharing, one person would be the timekeeper while the others were prepared to give a response after the time was completed. I remember being profoundly impacted by the process. I had gone in thinking my life story and my experience with God was normal, bland, and not particularly worth sharing, but my cohort reassured me it was special and holy. Remembering how meaningful that entire experience was, listening as well as retelling my own story, I wanted to recreate that experience for Edgeboro during the Lenten services.
After sharing some background and historical information on the lebenslauf, setting up a few guidelines, providing a lebenslauf writing prompt filled with questions for everyone, and making a few on-the-spot adjustments, we settled into a routine. Each night after dinner, two individuals who had voluntarily signed up in advance would share their 20-minute lebenslauf with all who were gathered. Then we’d take the time to share our responses with them.
What has historically been a tradition only used at the end of one’s life became a strong source of unity and affirmation within our community. Over four Wednesdays in Lent, eight individuals shared their lebenslaufs. We heard from parents, grown children, a high school graduate, elderly individuals, and Joint Board members. We heard from individuals who were still forging their way with Christ and those who have been walking with their Savior for their entire lives. From them, we heard stories of triumph, failure, blessings, leaps of faith, times of loss, complicated family relationships, addictions, and serious health concerns. We were floored that these people with incredible stories were sitting next to us in the pews the entire time. We were floored by the way these stories led others to trust, open up, and tell parts of their own stories in response that we hadn’t heard before. We were floored by all of the accounts we heard of God making real impacts in the lives of real people in real time – and isn’t that what the Church and all its members are supposed to share as witnesses to God in the world?
When asked if we, as members of the Church, are comfortable talking about our faith with others, the common response is to hesitate before answering “Yes?” (at best). Moravians have always had a wonderful gift in the lebenslauf to help with that. I would encourage other congregations to re-embrace this tradition in whatever format they see fit in order to discover the wealth of powerful, meaningful, and life-giving stories that speak of the faith, love, and hope we strive to show each day.
Though they may not know it until reading this, I am grateful for the following individuals who were willing to share their ideas and resources with me. They are: Rev. Rick Beck, Rev. Matt Gillard, Rev. Aaron Linville, Rev. Mandy Mastros, and Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber. Like me, I’m sure they, too, would be willing to follow-up with anyone from a congregation willing to try something similar to what I just described in this post.
If you are interested in reading more history and thoughts about the lebenslauf, click here to view an edition of The Hinge that proved to be helpful in preparation for my Lenten services.
About the Author
Dan Miller ([email protected]) is the pastor of Edgeboro Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He serves on the Interprovincial Board of Communication and the Moravian Theological Seminary Alumni Board. Dan is the co-creator of Moravian Church Without Walls (MCWW), a creative “think tank” for online ministry which produces the MCWW Daily Text Podcast Series. Find it at anchor.fm/mcww or wherever you get your podcasts.