Monthly Archives: September 2011

Women Leadership in the Moravian Church

Sister Judges and Deaconnesses: Offices for Women in the Moravian Church

Presented at the Moravian Archives, Sept. 13, 2011

Introduction  [Slide 2]  Women “also are formed in the image of God, and share in His grace and in the kingdom of the world to come. They are endowed with equal sharpness of mind and capacity for knowledge (often with more than the opposite sex), and they are able to attain the highest positions, since they have often been called by God Himself to rule over nations, to give sound advice to kings and princes, to the study of medicine and other things which benefit the human race, even to the office of prophesying and of inveighing against priests and bishops. Why, therefore, should we admit them to the alphabet, and afterwards drive them away from books?”[1]

[Slide 3] So wrote Moravian bishop John Amos Comenius in his Great Didactic three and a half centuries ago. Comenius was writing to educated men in a society that systematically and sometimes brutally denied women the opportunity to pursue their own sense of vocation and develop fully as beloved children of God. Comenius was writing to a society that tolerated violence against women in their own homes and that largely ignored the suffering of poor women without homes.

Comenius was a prominent public witness to the traditional Moravian belief that all of God’s children should be valued and encouraged to pursue their vocations in the world. This evening we are going to take a brief tour of the role women played in the leadership of the Moravian Church. We will see that the Moravians centuries ago were very progressive in their ideas of women’s leadership, but after the death of Zinzendorf they adopted the sexist norms of their society. When Moravians in Europe began ordaining women after World War II, many people thought this was something new and radical. Little did the average Moravian know that their church had a long history of appointing women to leadership offices.

Ancient Unity             [Slide 4] Many of you are familiar with John Hus who was killed because of his opposition to injustice, but you may not know about the Taborites who were the direct ancestors of the Moravian Church. Four years after Hus’s death, thousands of men and women gathered on a hill in southern Bohemia to celebrate communion. They renamed the hill Mt. Tabor, the name of the mountain on which Jesus was transfigured before his disciples. We have the following description of what happened on Mt. Tabor:  “The people having been divided into groups, the men by themselves and the women and children by themselves, the more learned and eloquent priests, from early morning on, fearlessly preached the Word of God and especially those things that concern the pride, avarice, and arrogance of the clergy. There all called each other brother and sister, and the rich divided the food that they had prepared for themselves with the poor.”[2]

[Slide 5] The Taborites attempted to create a more just and equitable society based on Acts 4, but they ultimately failed to transform Bohemian Society. Eventually the Church of Tabor was destroyed by the rulers of Bohemia, but the idealism of that first communion on the mountain made its way into the old Moravian Church. Women were not ordained to the priesthood by the Taborites, but they played a major role in the Taborite church. They were teachers and even took part of worship leadership. True to Hussite principles, they were allowed to drink from the chalice in communion, unlike women in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Inquisition repeatedly expressed its frustration that Taborite women were educated and could discuss Scripture better than many trained theologians. Some of them claim that this was proof that the devil was working at Tabor.

[Slide 6] Some of the survivors of Tabor formed the nucleus of Unity of the Brethren, which Moravians often refer to as the Ancient Unity.[3] Although the name of the church sounds sexist today, from the beginning the church recognized that sisters were equally members of the body of Christ. The Brethren did not ordain women as priests, but they did have an office in the church for women. Women could be “congregational Judges.” The Judges in the Unity were similar to modern elders, in that they assisted the pastor in his duties of oversight. Form the instruction manuals for the judges we learn that they heard confessions and helped people improve their behavior and attitudes. Judges were trained to settle disputes within the congregation and were expected to be wise enough to prevent disputes from developing. Clearly Judges were people of respect and authority within the congregation.

What is significant for our talk this evening is that in the 15th century the Moravian Church set some women apart in the congregation as pastoral leaders. This is a rare example women being instructed and counseled by women religious authorities outside of convents. Unfortunately we do not know much about the Sister Judges, only that they did the same kinds of pastoral care that the Brother judges did.

Zinzendorf Era  [Slide 7] You are probably familiar with the name Count Zinzendorf and the village of Herrnhut in Germany where the Moravian Church was resurrected after having been destroyed by Catholic authorities. The church created at Herrnhut was not the same as the old Unity of the Brethren in Bohemia, but many of the ideals of the old Brethren found new life in Zinzendorf’s community. The Moravians were one of the most controversial Christian groups in the 18th century. To be a Moravian at that time was to be a member of the most egalitarian and multi-cultural organization in the Western world. [Slide 8]  It was not perfect by any means, but it was only in Moravian communities that you could find European aristocrats calling Africans, Native Americans, and European peasants “brother” and “sister” and even kneeling to wash their feet. Many of the most beloved practices of the Moravians today, such as the lovefeast, had their origin in Zinzendorf’s radical vision of the New Jerusalem where all followers of Christ are brothers and sisters.

[Slide 9] One of the most important leaders in the early Moravian Church was Countess Erdmuth Dorothea von Zinzendorf. She was raised in a very pious household at Ebersdorf in Germany where the mystic Hochman von Hochenau was a preacher. She and the count viewed their marriage as a partnership for the service of Christ, and she played an important role in managing the affairs of the Zinzendorf household and the church. She travelled as far as Russia to advocate for the Moravians and was the author of many hymns. Zinzendorf once claimed that his theological principles came from her. Erdmuth was given the important office of the Charnier or Hinge for the church at the same synod that elected Christ as Chief Elder. Most Moravians simply called her “Mama.”

[Slide 10] One of the most shocking things the Herrnhuters did in the early days was to select women to serve as elders alongside of the men. One of the first elders to be chosen was Anna Nitschmann who was just a teen-ager when she assumed office. Anna later founded the Single Sisters Choir and was part of the inner circle that governed Moravian affairs for thirty years. She travelled extensively, and was a participant in some of the most momentous decisions of the church, most notably the election of Christ as Chief Elder. In addition, she wrote hymns and was a much beloved counselor. Eventually she was ordained as a deacon and later became one of the first female presbyters in the Moravian Church. That’s right, she was ordained as a presbyter, but in Moravian circles she was simply called “Mutter.”

[Slide 11] Some of radical Protestant churches, like the Quakers, allowed women to preach and teach, but it appears that the Moravians were the first church with formal ministerial ordination that ordained women. At least they were the first church since the early days of Christianity. It is possible that the Moravians knew about deaconesses in early Christianity. Certainly they saw that there were women in the New Testament who held office. According to Zinzendorf the Holy Spirit anointed one hundred and twenty people to the apostolic preaching office at Pentecost, including women. He claimed through that “an equality in the teaching office between the sisters and brothers” was made that has not stopped.[4]  [Slide 12]

Zinzendorf recognized that many women are identified in the New Testament as disciples, prophets, co-workers, deacons, and even apostles. He believed that the church should strive to live up to the standard of the New Testament, and under his leadership, the Moravian Church provided many leadership roles for women denied them in other churches. Historian Peter Vogt has shown that most of the pastoral care of women was carried out by women who were ordained. Some of these women even preached publicly.[5]

[Slide 13] Scholars have identified over two hundred women who were ordained deaconesses during the time of Zinzendorf . There were also fourteen Priesterinnen (female priests or presbyters) who were ordained in secret We know that these women assisted in serving communion and leading other liturgical services, but it is not clear if they consecrated the sacraments.[6] We should not make too much of the fact that these deacons and presbyters were deaconesses and eldresses. It appears that these offices were the equivalent of the male offices, but we do not know for sure. In any case, I think that it is time that the Moravian Church officially acknowledges that it first ordained women in the 1730s rather than 1957. The fact that Zinzendorf’s successors tried to bury this history does not make it any less true.

It is significant that the female presbyters were ordained by bishops, just like the men. The Moravians were one of the few Protestant churches that claimed its bishops were in apostolic succession, and they were the only one in which bishops ordained women. Clearly they wanted these women to be within that apostolic tradition. It is also significant that a woman, often Anna Nitschmann, assisted in the ordinations of women. I would not be surprised if researchers one day learn that Anna Nitschmann had secretly been consecrated as a female bishop. Certainly she functioned like a bishop in the Moravian Church and was the one responsible for the women clergy. [Slide 14]

One of reasons that women in the 18th century Moravian Church had leadership roles was the Choir System. You are probably familiar with the 18th century Moravian practice of dividing the church into groups organized according to gender, age, and marital status. One of primary reasons for the choir system was so that women could be guided by other women rather than by men. As in the old Unity of the Brethren, women served as spiritual guides and mentors for other women. It should be noted that the Moravians in the 18th century were not entirely free of patriarchal assumptions about women. Although the community gave women a surprisingly good education, most of the economic activity of women was restricted to jobs such as cooking, sewing, and childcare. Thus it is inappropriate to refer to equality, but it is evident that the power and status of women was greatly enhanced compared with the contemporary culture. Women choir leaders played important roles in the governing structures of Moravian villages. As Beverly Smaby puts it, “Male and female roles were much more symmetrical than in any other colonial society, including the Quakers.”[7]

Women were in charge of women’s education and discipline and devotional life. The choir houses for Single Sisters and for widows provided room and board so that women were not forced into marriage by economic necessity. Katherine Faull recently lectured here at the archives on the ways choir leaders helped women deal with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs as they progressed through the stages of life. She’ll be giving the Moses Lectures at the seminary in two weeks on the choir instructions. The choir system provided a useful network of support for women in Moravian communities. Single Sisters had older women to guide them through puberty and maturity, and when a Sister married, the Married Sisters Choir provided spiritual and emotional support for the new bride. Pregnant sisters met together for devotions, and they continued to have meetings for months after giving birth. When a woman’s husband died, she was immediately welcomed into the widows choir where her Sisters helped her deal with grief and change of life. In short, women were supported in every aspect of their physical, social, and mental health by women who had offices in the church.

[Slide 16]  Women had their own sphere for leadership and growth, but they were not separated from the community as whole. Men prayed for and cared for women, too. This is most evident in the 18th century Litany where the congregation offered the following prayer:

Regulate and keep in Order the festival Seasons of Matrimony (Especially of the newly married Pair N.N.) (Deut. xx. 8. ch. xxiv. 5. I Cor. vii. 5.), Let our pregnant Sisters reap the Blessing of thy having lain under a human Heart, And let those who give Suck, enjoy the Blessing of thy having sucked the Breasts of a Mother;

Sanctify all bodily Fathers to the spiritual Father, And all who bear Children, to the Mother of us all; Bless thy Gift, the Children; Visit them even in their Mother’s Womb!

May Faith in the Marriage of the Lamb be the Girdle of the Reins of the espoused Sisters, Call their Chamberlains thy espoused ones, and this will be a Girdle to their Loins; Be thyself the Reward of those Brethren, who have discharged their matrimonial Ministry with Faithfulness,

And be Thou the blessed Hope of those Sisters, who are lonely and Widows indeed; Pour out thy Holy Spirit on all thy Servants and handmaids!

Hear us, O dear Lord and God!

Examples of Female Leadership  [Slide 17] There were many important women leaders in the 18th century Moravian Church. Tonight I want to mention two of them, both of whom were African. In the 1730s, the Moravian missionary Georg Schmidt traveled to South Africa where he made contact with the Khoi people, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans. These people were viewed as animals by the European settlers and sometimes were hunted like game, but Schmidt went to them with the simple message of God’s love shown in Jesus Christ. Among the people who responded to his teaching was a young woman whom Schmidt renamed Magdalena when he baptized her. Her name recalled Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Magdalena, or Lena as she was called, learned to read the Dutch New Testament that Schmidt gave her.

Schmidt planted a pear tree in the valley where he formed a small community of about three dozen converts. Lena was one of his assistants. Unfortunately the European authorities in Cape Town decided that the Chrisitian Gospel was too dangerous for the native peoples of Africa. Schmidt was forced to leave South Africa. It was half a century before Moravian missionaries allowed back into the territory. When they arrived they went immediately to the valley that Schmidt had worked in. There they found the pear tree blossoming. More important, the elderly Lena was still holding worship services with a small flock of believers. Like her biblical namesake, the Khoi woman was a witness of the resurrection and the mother of a church.

[Slide 18]  Another African woman who heard the message of God’s love from Moravian missionaries lived on St. Thomas. Moravians today celebrate the names of Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann, but how many of us know about Rebecca Freundlich Protten?[8] Rebecca was a freed slave living on St. Thomas who responded to the preaching of the Moravian missionaries. She became an evangelist who assured other slaves that the Moravians could be trusted. She was one of the founders of the Posaunberg congregation, which is now called New Herrnhut. Rebecca married one of the Moravian missionaries, which was a rare instance of inter-racial marriage blessed by a Christian church during the colonial era. The marriage was controversial, and both Freundlichs were imprisoned by colonial authorities. She continued to preach to the slaves from her prison cell. When Zinzendorf came to St. Thomas in 1738 he was able to secure her release. In the 1740s the Freundlichs traveled to Germany, but Matthew died before reaching Herrnhut. Rebecca was ordained a deacon in Germany. She was the second African woman to be ordained by the Moravians, which means that she was the second African woman we know of to be ordained by any Christian church. After the death of her first husband, she married an African brother named Protten and they went to Africa as missionaries.

[Slide 19] Rebecca, Lena, Anna Nitschmann, and Ermuth Dorothea are just a few of the courageous Moravian women who defied social norms and traveled the world inspired by the love of their Savior. They labored long into the night counseling and caring for their sisters. They were pastors who cared for their flocks. They were preachers and writers and musicians; brides of Christ and mothers of the church.

Theology  The historical record is clear. There were many leadership positions for women in the Moravian Church, and women played vital roles in the development of the church in the 18th century. Some of this may go back to the heritage of the Unity of the Brethren and Comenius, but it is really Zinzendorf who deserves credit for creating such an inclusive community. He did not do it alone, obviously. His wives helped shape the practice of the church, but I think it was primarily Zinzendorf’s theology that provided the foundation for women’s leadership in the 18th century.

[Slide 20] When the Moravian Church published a new Book of Worship in the 1990s, there was a lot of concern over the language that would be used to describe God in Moravian prayers and hymns. What most Moravians at the time did not know was that during Zinzendorf’s lifetime our ancestors routinely prayed to the Holy Spirit as “Mother.” [Slide 21] For more than thirty years, this was the accepted practice and was strongly encouraged by Zinzendorf and other leaders of the church, including August Gottlieb Spangenberg and Peter Böhler here in Bethlehem. Zinzendorf said that the motherhood of the Holy Spirit was “an extremely important and essential point … and all our church and practice hangs on this point.”[9]

[Slide 22]  One of the most important litanies to the Holy Spirit during Zinzendorf’s time was titled the Te Matrem, which was based on the ancient Te Deum Laudamus. The litany begins: “Lord God, now be praised, you worthy Holy Spirit! You, the mother of Christendom, the Church honors in unity. All the angels and the host of heaven and whoever serves the honor of the Son; also the cherubim and seraphim, they all sing with a clear voice.” This litany represents an extremely rare example of Christian liturgy using feminine language to describe God, but it was only one of several worship pieces to the mother Spirit in Moravian churches.

[Slide 23] Zinzendorf acknowledged that this type of language for the Holy Spirit was not typical, but he always insisted that it was the simplest, clearest, and best way to communicate the nature of the Holy Spirit. This is language that even a child can comprehend. Zinzendorf argued for the scriptural authority of the Mother Office by linking together the Old and New Testament verses Isaiah 66:13 and John 14:26: “When the dear Savior at the end of his life wanted to comfort his disciples (at that time the language was not as rich as ours is); by that time the Savior, who was a very great bible student, had doubtlessly read the verse in the Bible ‘I will comfort you as a mother comforts.’ Then the dear Savior thought, ‘If I should say to my disciples that I am going away, then I must give them some comfort. I must say to them that they will receive someone who will comfort them over my departure. It will not be strange to them, for they have already read it in the Bible. …There it reads they shall have a Mother: I will leave you my Spirit.’”[10]

[Slide 24]  Zinzendorf believed that the church should be a school of the Holy Spirit, which would unlike any human educational institution. It is “a family school, that is a school on the lap, in the arms of the eternal Mother” who tenderly loves her children. A Christian is like a child who “sits on the Mother’s lap, is received into the school, and is led through all classes; then it is under the special dispensation, under the motherly regimen of the Holy Spirit, who comforts, punishes, and kisses the heart, as a mother comforts, punishes, and kisses her own child.”[11] We do not know if Zinzendorf ever read Comenius’ Mother School, but this quotation is certainly consistent with Comenius’ understanding that education is a benevolent process guided by a nurturing figure.

[Slide 25]  The idea of the Holy Spirit as Mother became an important part of Moravian devotional and communal life. The church established a festival for the Holy Spirit, popularly called the Mutter Fest (the Mother festival), which was first mentioned publicly in 1752. It was observed annually until 1770. It appears that the devotion to the Mother was particularly important to the women of the community. The Church’ s Prayer to her Mother was regularly used on the Single Sister’s festival day. It is very significant that Zinzendorf compared the Holy Spirit to Anna Nitschmann, who was also referred to simply as the Mutter.

[Slide 26]  The 18th century Moravians also had a remarkably positive view of the human body. We do not have time tonight to go into detail on Zinzendorf’s view of the human body, which is a fascinating topic in its own right. Suffice it to say that Zinzendorf took the doctrine of the Incarnation very seriously. Like the early Church Fathers, Zinzendorf spoke of a union of the divine and human in Jesus that was so complete that one can say that God was born in a stable to a virgin. God suffered. God died on the cross.[12] The Creator’s assumption of a human body blessed and redeemed humans from the law of sin and death. The Creator took on human flesh in Mary’s womb because he wanted to restore human nature and bless human life. [Slide 27]

According to Zinzendorf, the blessing of women’s bodies comes through Mary, the mother of Jesus. Nursing mothers should meditate upon the mystery that God was a baby whom Mary nursed. Zinzendorf insisted that the conception of Christ in Mary’s womb and the birth of Jesus removed all shame associated with the female body. As such, women and their bodies ought to be honored by all. “And from that same hour the womanly member, the womanly mother, was no more a shame but the most honorable of all members.”[13] Zinzendorf boldly proclaimed that the bodies of women are holy. This is one of the most extraordinary ideas in the history of Christianity, but it was hidden away for many years. Think of the shame that is heaped on women in our day and how this idea could bring hope and healing to women around the world. Once all notion of shame is removed from women’s bodies, there was no longer a barrier to their being fully included in leadership.

What Happened?  It is clear that the Moravian Church actively promoted the full inclusion of women in the leadership and fellowship of the church. The church at one time valued women of all ages and status in life, where strong women leaders were challenged to build up the kingdom of God. But something happened during the 19th century and this history was almost forgotten. What happened? [Slide 28]

As soon as the public learned what was happening in Moravian communities there was pressure on the Moravians to conform to sexist society. Vicious polemics were published against Zinzendorf and the Moravians. Missionaries were imprisoned, and evangelists were assaulted. Many of the polemics against the Moravians mentioned the danger they posed to public order by allowing women to hold offices. As Paul Peucker has shown, some of the Moravians were also concerned that the church might be dominated by women.[14] After the death of Zinzendorf, the leadership in Herrnhut tried to reassure the public that the Moravians were not a dangerous cult threatening social norms. Men like Spangenberg published material that minimized the radicalness of the Moravian Church, and some of Zinzendorf’s boldest ideas were repressed against the wishes of some members of the church. [Slide 29]

Beverly Smaby has shown that demise of women’s leadership was a conscious decision on the part of prominent male leaders of the church to remove women from the internal decision-making process. [Slide 30] The male elders explain the new policies thus: “we are obliged to adjust ourselves as much as possible to [the world’s] customs in those things that don’t belong to the essence of our Church, and to do nothing different unnecessarily that could give the public cause to conceive all kinds of false conceptions of us and, even with the appearance of truth, to draw detrimental conclusions from [what we do].”[15] They were more concerned about public relations than the New Testament’s vision of the true Christian community that had motivated their ancestors.

Women were excluded from the committees established to manage the church’s affairs after the death of Zinzendorf. Not surprisingly, the all-male committees decided to end women’s ordination.[16] Women were no longer allowed to assist in serving Holy Communion in groups where men were present, and they gradually lost other rights in the church.

[Slide 31] In 1789, when male delegates expressed concern about women were attending synod, the women protested in writing. They called the proceedings “humiliating” (demütigend) and they tried to reclaim their accustomed leadership role stating: “that the Savior had granted us the gift that [people of] our sex want to be led and reprimanded by their own kind, which, especially in spiritual matters, is not usual in the whole rest of the world…. [T]o legitimate the service of the Sisters in the Church it is necessary, that the male servants of Jesus honor [the Sisters] with respect and trust…. [O]ur cause will surely fall into chaos, if the maids of the Savior are, from one time to the next, more and more pushed back.”[17]

One of the most disturbing discoveries made by modern historians, especially Paul Peucker, is that the church’s leaders intentionally destroyed some of the documents associated with the radical experiments of the 1740s and 1750s.[18] This included the burning of most of the letters and personal papers of Anna Nitschmann because they contained things that they were not comfortable with.[19] The reason we know so little about the most important woman in Moravian history is that the church’s male elders burned the records. Men have often erased the history of women in the Christian church, but at least the Moravians were honest enough to record that they had done this.

[Slide 32] It was not just women’s leadership that suffered in the years after Zinzendorf’s death. The devotion to the Holy Spirit as the Mother of the Church was also a source of anxiety for his successors. The first synod held after Zinzendorf’s death raised the issue of the Mutter Fest and decided that this should be restricted to private gatherings because outsiders would not understand it.[20] Some protested this decision since the Mother name was considered “a real and divine truth which the Savior has declared to us through the blessed Disciple [Zinzendorf].” It was also decided that the litanies of the church needed to be revised, and the word Mother was systematically removed. The new litanies appeared in the liturgy books of 1770 and 1773. The word “comforter” replaces “mother” in some places. The Spirit is no longer referred to as the “Mother of God’s People” but is instead “Lord God Creator.” What was once vital to the community was removed, and it was not accidental that the worship of the Moravians changed at the same time that women lost their roles in leadership. It would not be until the second half of the 20th century that the church would ordain women in significant numbers. [Slide 32]

Conclusion  For hundreds of years the Moravians taught that women are equal to men spiritually and should be fully incorporated into the life of the church. For most of the history of the church there were specific offices for women so they could provide pastoral care to women. For a brief, extraordinary period in the 18th century the Moravians ordained women as elders, deacons, and presbyters. During the days of Zinzendorf two of the most important leaders in the Moravian Church were called Mama and Mutter. Women served as missionaries and helped found some of the most important congregations in the Americas and Africa. Moravians even worshiped God as both Father and Mother. But there was a backlash to this positive view of women after the death of Zinzendorf. Women were slowly, but persistently pushed out of office and even the historical record was distorted. Still Moravian women and men today may be inspired by the past to create a more just future. [Slide 33]


[1] Comenius, The Great Didactic of Comenius, tr. by M. W. Keatinge, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1910 reprint by Kessinger Publishing, no date), 68.

[2] Kaminsky, Hussite Revolution, 284-285.

[3] Craig D. Atwood, Theology of the Czech Brethren (Penn State Press, 2010).

[4] Zinzendorf, Gemeinreden 32 (ZH 4), 69.

[5] Peter Vogt, “A Voice for Themselves: Women as Participants in Congregational Discourse in the Eighteenth- Century Moravian Movement,” in Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity, ed. by Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Pamela J. Walker (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1998), 227-247.

[6] Hans Joachim Wollstadt, Geordnetes Dienen in der Christlichen Gemeinde: dargestellt an den Lebensformen der Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine in ihren Anfängen (Göttingen: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1966), 346-348; cf. Otto Uttendörfer, Zinzendorf und die Frauen: Kirchliche Frauenrechte vor 200 Jahren (Herrnhut: Missionsbuchhandlung, 1919).

[7] Smaby, The Transformation of Moravian Bethlehem from Communal Mission to Family Economy (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), 13.

[8] Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2005).

[9] N. L. von Zinzendorf, “Eine Rede, vom Mutter-Amte des heiligen Geistes. Gehalten in London den 19. Oct. 1746,” in Der öffentlichen Gemeinreden im Jahr 1747 (hereafter Gemeinreden), Anhang, p. 2, reproduced in Hauptschriften in sechs Bänden (hereafter abbreviated as ZH), vol. 4, ed. by Erich Beyreuther and Gerhard Meyer (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1962). This discourse is found between the two sections of the Gemeinreden. For more on the mother office of the Spirit, see Gary Kinkel, Our Dear Mother the Spirit: an investigation of Count Zinzendorf’s Theology and Praxis (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990), and Atwood, “The Mother of God’s People.”

[10] Zinzendorf, Gemeinreden 3 (ZH 4), 64 and 65. He also uses the Song of Solomon as support. Eine ist meine Taube, eine ist ihrer Mutter die liebste. Wer ist die Mutter? Ingleichen sehet Salomo in seiner Krone, damit Ihn Seine Mutter gekrönet hat am Tage der Freuden seines Hertzens. Spangenberg records a vigorous disagreement within the Brüdergemeine over Zinzendorf’s exegesis of this passage. Apologetische Schluß-Schrifft (ZE 3), 79 f.

[11] Zinzendorf, Gemeine Reden 27 (ZH 4), 375.

[12] Zinzendorf, Einundzwanzig Diskurse über die Augspurgische Konfession (ZH 6), 65.

[13] Zinzendorf, Gemein Reden, (ZH 4), Anhang, 36; Zinzendorf, Gemein Reden 1 (ZH 4), 29.

[14] P.M. Peucker, “ „Gegen ein Regiment von Schwestern“: Die Stellung der Frau in der Brüdergemeine nach Zinzendorfs Tod,“ Unitas Fratrum, Heft 45/46,

[15] Unvorgreiffliche Anmerkungen und Desideria dem Ehrwuerdigen General-Synodo zur Prueffung und Decision pflichtmaessig dargelegt von dem verordneten Unitaets Syndicats Collegion nebst Beylagen Sub. Cit: A. bis Cit. H., page 41, Moravian Archives Herrnhut, R.2.B.45.2.a, quoted by Smaby, “Negotiating Gender Restrictions.”

[16] Es sey diese erste Conf: ohne die Schw. veranstaltet worden, damit wir über ihre Concurrenz erst mit einander sprechen möchten, u. es würden sodann die Schw. ausgemacht, die künftig zur Conf: kommen solten, Moravian Archives Herrnhut, R.3.B.4.c.1, May 30, 1760, quoted by Smaby, “Negotiating Gender Restrictions.”

[17] Protokoll der General synode 1789, Moravian Archives Herrnhut, R.2.B.48, pages 481-484, as quoted in Peucker, “Gegen ein Regiment von Schwestern,” 69-70.

[18] Peucker, “Im Staub und Asches”

[19] Extr. aus einem Briefe von Br. David Nitschm. an Br. Petrum. London. 13 Sept. 65, Moravian Archives Herrnhut, R.14.A.z.44.a.18, quoted by Smaby, “Negotiating Gender Relationships.”

[20] 28th session of the synod. August 9, 1764. Verlass des Synodi zu Marienborn im Jahr 1764 gehalten, p. 1305- 1310. Archiv der Brüder-Unität, Herrnhut, Germany. Item R.2.B.44.1.c.2, quoted by Smaby, “Negotiating Gender Restrictions.”

Violence in the Houses of Grace, 9/11 and Moravian History

Central Moravian – September 11, 2011

Amos 6:4-7, Luke 16:19-31; Psalm 146

Introduction                When Pastor Carol asked me to preach this morning, I immediately agreed. I find it hard to say “no” to her, especially now that I am a member of the church. Then she reminded me that today would be the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and I was tempted to change my mind. This is a hard day for many of us, and I know that your thoughts are filled with memories of that dark time when planes were grounded, telephone communications were down, and television reports were full of tales of both horror and heroism. Some of you are too young to remember 9/11, but your lives have been changed as well.

Like many of you, I was unaware of the events unfolding in New York on that Tuesday morning. I was teaching a class on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at Salem College when the towers fell.  After class a colleague told me the news.  One of my first thoughts was how meaningless that class had been.  Suddenly what had seemed of vital importance for students to know at 8:30 a.m. seemed meaningless at 10:30 a.m.  My normal world was shattered as if it were an illusion. My experience is just a pale reflection of the experience of the tens of thousands of people who had to adjust to life without a spouse, a parent, or a child. I learned that week that my work as a chaplain and a professor was not meaningless as my students tried to make sense of what had happened and how they could respond as people of faith. We studied the ways Jews, Christians, and Muslims have dealt with violence and conflict in the past. Many Americans lost their innocence and discovered that we do live in a dangerous and sometimes hostile world. The rest of the world knew this already. One thing we learn from history is that Christians in every age and every culture have been confronted with similar tragedy, suffering, and fear without losing their faith.

Revealing Who we Are:                     I spoke at many gatherings and vigils in the days that followed 9/11. I’d like to share with you some of what I said in a Moravian congregation on Sunday after the terrorist attacks. “This week we discovered just how far men of hate will go in expressing their wrath.  We also found how far some will go in acts of courage and valor.  There were those who were willing to die in order to bring destruction on others.  There were also those who willingly gave up their own lives to prevent the deaths of others. In between the hatred and the heroism were millions who watched and prayed and wept. People across this country and throughout the world have been in prayer, both privately and in large gatherings and vigils.  I walked into the chapel at Salem College to see housekeepers, groundskeepers and students bowed in prayer together. And here we are gathered in prayer, hoping for comfort and guidance.  Here we are singing in the midst of tragedy. There are times when there are no words that express what we feel, but music speaks to us and through us to bring the healing that we need. Our many voices, with our many pitches, all somehow unite in sentiments that are harmonious and true and beautiful even in the midst of our greatest nightmares.” That was ten years ago.

Ten Years Later                       As citizens and as people of faith, we continue to struggle with what happened a decade ago. Sometimes people say that everything changed that day, but that is not true. Many things remained the same. Courage, honesty, compassion, and forgiveness remain Christian virtues. A crisis like 9/11 reveals our true selves.  Those we call heroes, those who lost their lives saving lives, were heroes day to day.  Those who voluntarily crashed their plane Pennsylvania could give up their lives to save others because they had learned to sacrifice themselves in small ways for their children and friends each day. Our actions in crises flow from deep convictions lived out in ordinary times.

Crises reveal who we are. They also call us to examine ourselves and to see where our ordinary lives have become disordered and destructive.  We are asked to look within to see how, not if, but how our actions, words, and attitudes contributed to the disaster.  Crises call us to repent, not in the way some televangelists mean repent, but in the biblical sense of “turning around.”  We are called to turn around and see where our individual and national lives, our ordinary lives, need to be re-ordered and redirected. This is the message of the Scripture lessons for this morning. The prophet Amos preached to Israelites who were about to be taken into exile and told them that they were suffering because they had enjoyed their luxury while ignoring the poor in their midst. The rich man in Jesus’ parable recognized far too late that he should not have ignored the poor man at his gate day after day. Our Psalm praises God because remembers the poor and outcast that we prefer to forget. These Scriptures remind us that one of the central messages of the Bible is that God is a God of justice, and that we are called to end oppression in this world. Our Moravian ancestors read these same passages and felt a call to bring the good news of liberation and salvation to some of the poorest people in the world. They were inspired to lay down their lives and share their resources with others. They took the radical risk of love.

Moravians                   I think it is helpful to look at how our ancestors responded to instances of violence. For most of our history, the Moravians were pacifists who avoided taking up arms except in self-defense. The founders of our church tried to live strictly by the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus instructed his followers to love their neighbors as themselves and even love their enemies. One of our early theologians repeated asked how can anyone claim to love a person while maiming or killing him.

We Moravians should keep in mind that many of our ancestors were killed centuries ago because of their faith. At times they had to worship in hiding, but they did not deny their faith by responding to violence with violence. Bishop John Amos Comenius was one of the most prominent advocates for peace during the violent days of the 17th century. He saw his church destroyed. He and many other Moravians were driven into exile by religious violence, but Comenius believed that Christians can and should work together to solve conflicts before they escalate into violence. He also argued that the primary purpose of government is to preserve the peace. When governments fail to preserve the peace they fail as governments.  He believed that churches fail when they do not follow the teachings of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

As many of you know, in the 1720s the Moravian Church was reborn from the ashes on the estate of Count Zinzendorf. What many Moravians do not know is that Moravians in the 18th century were also pacifists. Moravians went into the word armed only with the good news of salvation. Several governments, including the British Parliament, exempted Moravians from swearing oaths and bearing arms. Moravians did not take up arms during the French and Indian War or during the American Revolution even though Moravians died in both those conflicts. Individual Moravians who joined the militia were excluded from the church until they repented and laid down their weapons. There was an article last week from the Associated Press about the Moravians having to pay additional taxes during the American Revolution because they were pacifists. Rather than fight in the war, Moravians set up hospitals and tried to restore life and health in the midst of death and hatred. Moravians in Europe suffered during the Napoleonic Wars, but they also maintained their commitment to non-violence until the 1800s. Over time the church made military service a matter of personal conscience, and many Moravians have bravely worn their nations’ uniform, but the church still prays for peace. We pray that our soldiers will be able to come home and that they will be unharmed in body and undamaged in soul.

Gnadenhutten Two great tragedies struck the Moravian Church in America within a quarter of a century in the 1700s. These were the equivalent of 9/11 for the Moravian Church at that time. As you may know, the Moravians had an extensive mission to the native peoples of America. Dozens of men and women were sent out from Bethlehem to the forests of Pennsylvania and New York, and hundreds of native people were baptized in the name of Jesus and welcomed as brothers and sisters. One of the Moravian mission stations was named Gnadenhutten, which houses of grace. It was in the Wyoming Valley just north of us. Even though Moravians were pacifists, they got caught up in the violence of nations at war. In November 1755, a band of hostile Indians attacked the mission and killed eleven Moravian missionaries, including women and children.

When news reached Bethlehem that so many brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues had been brutally murdered the Moravians gathered in the church to cry, and pray and sing just as millions of Americans did ten years ago. The pastor, August Gottlieb Spangenberg, declared that the missionaries were martyrs like the martyrs of the early church. They died in witness to their faith in Christ. Spangenberg also told the community that the tragedy was a call to repentance. He asked them to reflect on what sins may have contributed to this tragedy. Many were angry about what had happened, but rather than retreat from engagement with the world, the Moravians in Pennsylvania decided that they should increase their mission to native peoples. They decided that God was calling them to reach out in love in the midst of conflict. Only the gospel of peace could counter the councils of war. Rather than seeking revenge or victory our ancestors responded to violence with a renewed commitment to love and the pursuit of peace.

When their neighbors formed a militia to take revenge on Indians in the area, the Moravians brought dozens of Indian brothers and sisters to Bethlehem for their protection. They built a small village called Nain for the Indians. We should note that even though they were pacifists, the Moravians in old Bethlehem were not naïve or foolish. They established a defense for Bethlehem, which included armed sentries, but the intention was to frighten attackers away. Spangenberg instructed the defenders to avoid shooting or killing anyone. He reported: “I called all the Brethren together and begged them for Jesus’ sake by all means to spare the life of every hostile Indian, and if one was, perchance, shot in the legs, we proposed to take him in for treatment and care for him with all faithfulness until he recovered. I fell upon my face and besought the Saviour to graciously prevent all bloodshed at our place, and, to Him be thanks, He heard our prayer.” Despite their fear and anger and grief, the Moravians relied on prayer and compassion, wisdom and courage, rather than revenge and hatred. And they labored for reconciliation.

Sadly, 25 years later another group of Moravians was cruelly massacred. This time it was ninety Moravian Indians living in a village also named Gnadenhutten, but this Gnadenhutten was in Ohio. In March 1781 an American militia under the command of Colonel David Williamson came to the village. The militia was investigating the murder of a frontier family by natives who were fighting for the British. The Moravians in Gnadenhutten were pacifists who had not been involved in that assault, but they were easy targets for revenge. The American militia held a mock trial and decided to execute the people who had welcomed them to their village. To their credit, some of the militia refused to participate in this crime, but rather than prevent it, they simply left. The militia locked everyone in the church, and a Mohican pastor named Abraham spent his last hours preparing his people for martyrdom. Thirty-five of the victims were children, two of whom survived to tell the tale.

The Moravians responded to this atrocity in the way they had for centuries. David Zeisberger, the missionary, did not abandon his flock. He gathered together those members of the church who had not been in Gnadenhutten, and he took them to Canada where they would be safe. The whole Moravian Church was shaken by this tragedy, but they did not respond in violence. They prayed for those who had died and kept their memory alive. Moravians continued to work with native peoples and advocated for them for decades. They did not respond with violence and hatred, but with grief, prayers, and a renewed commitment to missions. They remained faithful.

Conclusion:                  What we can learn from our past is that hatred, violence, and revenge are not the only ways to respond to violence. We know from our history that it is possible for the followers of Christ to respond in faith and love even in the darkest of times, but it takes courage. It is also takes practice. Our Moravian ancestors responded the way they did because they lived each day in the love of Christ. The crises they faced revealed who they really were. 9/11 and similar tragedies challenge us and reveal to us who we really are.

Our Moravian ancestors knew that the only war that God calls us to fight today is the war for justice for all God’s children, in every corner, in every street, in every tent, and every home in this world. We serve the Prince of Peace, not the ancient gods of war. The only time Jesus called us to lay down our lives is when we sacrifice ourselves to give life to others, not to bring death. When times are darkest and the world is most frightening, it is vital that Christians bring light and hope. This is what we can learn from Scripture and from our own ancestors in the faith. The question for us today is how will we respond to violence. What will we teach our children? Will we reach out in love to our neighbors and forgive others as God forgives us?

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