Author Archives: theflamingheretic

Craig D. Atwood is the Charles D. Couch Professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA an is Director of the Center for Moravian Studies. He came to Moravian in 2010.

Death of my mentor

Yesterday we buried the ashes of the Rev. Dr. David Schattschneider. It was a beautiful memorial service that David and his wife Doris planned. David chose the music (mostly Bach) and the Scriptures (Philippians and John). The church was crowded with friends from different aspects of his life. There was a section of Moravian pastors, a section of Moravian College and Seminary folk, a section of people from his congregation, and even several people from the model train club he loved. The head of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church, Betsy Miller, read her memoir of David’s life. We all learned things about David and his family that we did not know. His daughter, Laura, read one of the scripture passages and I read the other as if I were part of the family. It was hard to read through the tears in my eye because David was my second father in so many ways.

I had received word that David was going into hospice care just a week before his funeral. I read the email just ten minutes before I had to teach the same introductory church history course David had taught for so many years. It seemed fitting somehow that I would be carrying on his work as he prepared for his passage into the next life. You see, I am now a professor at Moravian Theological Seminary and one of the successors of David Schattschneider. I work in the same office that he used before he was promoted to the Dean’s office.

My life intersected with David’s in many ways. After I graduated from MTS with my MDiv, David hired me as the Assistant Dean. We worked closely together and sometimes joked that I was responsible for all of the extroverted things (admissions, recruitment, alumni affairs, and student life) while he took care of the introverted things like faculty and curriculum. David supported me through one of the darkest periods of my life as my first marriage collapsed and he ordered me to seek therapy. I lost many friends in those years, but David stayed true to me. I was honored that he was willing to preside at my second marriage. David wrote recommendations for me for graduate school, and he allowed me to teach my first graduate-level course while I was still working on my dissertation. Eventually I was hired to teach Moravian theology and history at Moravian Seminary, but David had already retired at that point.

The morning after I learned David was in hospice, I served communion at a retreat for Moravian pastors and church educators. It was hard to say the words of institution and the remembrance of the death of Jesus as I thought about the death of my teacher. But it was when I looked into the eyes of my former students who are now pastors that I began to weep. David was my mentor, my friend, my father, my Obi-Wan Kenobi. I wondered if my students ever think of me that way and if they would grieve one day as I grieve now. Have I been as good a teacher and mentor to them as David was to me? After communion I checked my email and learned from his wife Doris that he had already died before I celebrated communion. When I had said to the congregation that we were communing with all of the saints who have gone before us and live in eternity with Christ, I did not know that David was already part of that invisible choir. Or perhaps I did. It certainly felt like David was there with us.

I met David when I first enrolled at Moravian Theological Seminary in the autumn of 1984. He was the second youngest member of the faculty, but he had already been at the seminary since 1968. I remember sitting in his office and petitioning to be exempted from the required introductory course in church history. Lane Sapp and I did a double major in college in history and religion, and David agreed that it would be a waste of time for us to sit in his intro class. I did take four other courses that he taught: American Religious Experience, Moravian History I and II, and History of Worship. ARE was a delightful class with a tradition of creative group projects. I still remember Lane dressing up as an Episcopal bishop illegally ordaining the first women priests. My group focused on the religion of the African American slaves, and I still use some of the research from that project. David had one of the driest wits I have ever known, and frequently I was one of a handful of students who got his jokes in class. He encouraged my research and my pursuit of a PhD. He also taught me a lesson in humility when he awarded the annual Moravian history prize to someone else. David was also the professor that allowed me to vent about the other professors from time to time. They could be a frustrating group of people.

David chose me to be part of the Inter-seminary seminar that brought together students from Moravian, St Charles Borromeo Catholic, Philadelphian Lutheran, and Eastern Baptist Seminaries. David was a life-long ecumenist as well as a scholar. The seminar was interesting, but the weekly car ride to Philadelphia was even better as he shared nuggets of wisdom about the church and life. For years David kept me up to date with developments in Moravian interchurch dialog. He also shared lots of personal stories about the great historian Martin Marty such as the fact that kept a typewriter by a filing cabinet and when he had a thought he would type it and put it in a file. When the file got thick enough, it became a book. David used to schedule the last appointment of the day with Marty so he could walk him to his car and get an extra fifteen minutes of his time. David himself was much more generous with his time for students. I also heard stories about the legendary (and fictional) scholar Franz Bibfeld at the University of Chicago whom students invented as an elaborate prank on faculty. Speaking of pranking faculty, none of us at MTS will ever forget the times that “Count Zinzendorf” would make visits and spoof the faculty.

David took me on my first trip to Manhattan and my first academic conference. The annual meeting of the American Society of Church History was in the Hilton in midtown. David had grown up on Staten Island so he knew his way around, but I was a redneck from North Carolina in the city for the first time. I felt like I was in Midnight Cowboy or some other movie. It was the 80s and New York was still dangerous so David taught me basic urban survival: “Don’t look people in the eye. Keep moving on the sidewalk. Remember Manhattan is a grid. Don’t keep all of your money in your wallet.” We took the bus to the Port Authority and walked quickly past the topless joints to get to Broadway. We didn’t have places like that in Bethlehem! We ate lunch at Le Bonne Soup where I still eat about once a year. For dinner we went to an old fashioned Italian restaurant with velvet flocked wallpaper and a maître de who looked like he stepped out of The Godfather. He said to me “Youse want wine.” It wasn’t a question, so I agreed and let him bring me whatever he wanted. The food was excellent, but I never got over the feeling that I might not survive the meal. David was amused or perhaps bemused at my discomfort. When I offered to pay, David told me that I would pay him back by taking one of my students out to dinner when I became a professor. I have taken several and I always tell them the same thing. It cost me more money than that meal, but it is worth it.

The conference was not memorable, but I later joined the ASCH and presented papers myself. David showed me how to do that. But it was also David who gave me permission to skip sessions at conferences and enjoy the city. I now choose conferences based as much on geography and cultural allurements as the topic of the conference.

I stayed in touch with David during graduate school. He was interested in my dissertation, but I think he was disappointed I did not ask him to be an official reader. It was years before he actually read my dissertation, and he was surprised at how different my interpretation of Moravian history was than his. We experienced some of the tension that fathers and sons feel as a son takes what he has learned and does something different with it. But we continued to respect each other’s scholarship. I admired his willingness to travel to obscure parts of the world (like Labrador) to lecture on the Moravians, and in that, too, I have followed his example. I only wished David had published more than he did. I learned from him that unpublished research will be lost.

One of David’s crowing achievements was securing funds to establish the Center for Moravian Studies at Moravian Seminary. I am honored to serve as the current director, and every two years I give the David Schattschneider award to a scholar whose work expands the field of Moravian studies. When David retired as Dean of MTS in 2001, I hoped that I would be chosen as his successor. I think he wanted that, too, but the search committee chose someone who was already on the faculty. Frank has been a worthy dean, and I was very grateful when he hired me to teach Moravian theology and history in 2010. It is strange, though, to sit in David’s old office where I had spent so many hours discussing my research thirty years before. I even have some of his old files.

David took me to my very first meeting of the Moravian Historical Society back in 1985, and if I had had a hundred dollars then I could have become a lifetime member. He later served as president of MHS and guided the society through some of its most tumultuous years. I had the honor of being elected president a few years ago and was able to bring to fruition some of the projects that David had started. I often told him that it wasn’t fair that I got to be president during the fun years while he had struggled through the dark years.

This past year I began writing a one-volume history of the Moravian Church. From the beginning I planned to dedicate it to my friend and mentor. I assumed that I would complete the manuscript while David was still alive and could present a copy of the book to him. I was able to share with him the section on 19th century American Moravian history, and once again he was the professor and I was the student as he critiqued, corrected, and disagreed with my account of the history. I was looking forward to sharing every section of the manuscript with him so he could correct and improve it. I never wanted to get out of the shadow of the great Moravian historian. I wanted him to illuminate what I wrote and be proud that my work is part of his legacy.

But now he is gone. David had a wooden sign on his desk that said “Fact” on one side and “Opinion” on the other. He used it in class to teach students about historical fact and interpretation. He used it in faculty meetings to clarify what his colleagues were arguing about. At his memorial service it sat on the pulpit. For most of the service it said “Fact.” Fact. It is a fact that David Schattschneider is dead. I didn’t want it to be true. I want to believe that he is off on an adventure, riding some train to some obscure historical site, or fishing in Canada. But he isn’t. He is gone.

I missed my chance to say good-bye with a last meal. I missed my chance to tell him that he was my second father and that my career has been an attempt to be like him. Fact. At the memorial service I saw the grief in his wife’s eyes and in his daughter’s tears. Fact. But David’s legacy lives on. His work continues in the work of his many students. This, too, is fact rather than opinion. Many of his students became pastors, church executives, and even bishops. A handful like me became scholars. In my classes, in my lectures, in my writing, and in my work in the world I try to honor the man who taught me so much about history and life.

I will miss him. I will miss his wit and his wisdom. I will no longer be able to learn from him or to share my ideas with him. But in many ways he is with me every day.




I lectured at the University of Jena on Thursday, and on Friday I flew to Billund in Denmark. Dr. Jørgen Bøytler met me at the airport and drove me to the Moravian settlement of Christiansfeld in the middle of Jutland. It was built after the death of Zinzendorf, around the same time as Salem in North Carolina, and the church put a lot of energy into building it. In many ways it is the culmination of Moravian town planning. There are two parallel main streets with the square in the center. One of the streets connected to the King’s Highway, and there is still a hotel there to welcome non-Moravian visitors. The streets originally opened into the fields so that as you walked through town you easily had a view of nature. The buildings are all built of special yellow (or white) Danish bricks, which makes the town very bright and cheerful. The Moravians began with building the large buildings on the square: the church Saal, Sisters House, Brothers House, Widows House, and homes for the pastor and town manager. There is a fountain in the middle of the square.

Several years ago the congregation began an extensive renovation project funded by grants from large foundations. We went into the attic of the Saal to see the ingenious architecture that allowed the Moravians to construct the largest room without pillars in northern Europe. They’ve spent about $50 million on the buildings, streets, and interior of the settlement. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and receives lots of visitors. The Saal is currently being renovated so we had worship in the Saal in the Sister’s House, which is one of the most beautiful Moravian rooms I’ve ever seen. I was so happy to see that they still use sand to clean the unfinished hardwood floors! I was very impressed with the ways they combined modern upgrades in all of the buildings and modern usages while preserving the historical character of each building. So the Sisters House has a missions shop on the first floor and modern archive upstairs. They had a sophisticated fire control system that allowed them to keep all of the wooden doors. Christiansfeld is not a museum like Old Salem; it is a living town of 4000 people. There is a wonderful bakery with a chocolatier of international reputation; various kinds of shops from necessities to tourist items to more upscale items. The overall impression is that this is a place where it would be good live and raise children. The pastor’s house had also been renovated and may be the most beautiful parsonage I’ve seen, and it has antique furniture that has been passed down through the ages.

The Bøytlers were very gracious hosts and provided me with a guest room upstairs. We sat in the garden each night talking as long as it was light, which meant past 11 p.m. On Saturday Jørgen took me on a tour of Jutland. We started in Jelling to see Harard Bluetooth’s rune stone proclaiming that his people would Christians. There is a fabulous new Viking museum there. And then we drove to Ribe to see the cathedral and have afternoon coffee. After that we went to the West Coast driving through beautiful fields and marshlands. I got to wade in the North Sea. On Sunday we went to worship and I was included in a family reunion luncheon at the parsonage. Then I took the train to Copenhagen! I certainly hope that I will get to return to Christiansfeld for a longer stay.

Moravian Seminar in Heidelberg

Wayoming WaterfallThe main reason I came to Heidelberg on sabbatical was to teach a Hauptseminar (advance seminar) on the Moravians in the American Studies program. My co-teacher was a PhD candidate named Jennifer Adams-Maßmann who is writing a dissertation on the European and Native American women in the Moravian mission in North America. We finished the seminar on Saturday and several of us went out for hot chocolate and then four of us followed up with drinks and dinner. It was a wonderful group of students. Half were undergraduates in the American Studies program and half were theology students in the masters program. One woman about my age audited the class. There was only one man. He had to miss the last day because he was judging the fencing competitions. I was so thrilled to learn that they still have the dueling clubs in Heidelberg, and apparently members of the clubs still receive the ritual scar from a sword. I so wanted to do that when I was 15! But, except for that disruption in attendance, the students were remarkably well-prepared and engaged in the course.

You may be wondering why Professor Jan Stievemann, the head of the American Studies Program and a leading authority on religion in colonial America, would want a seminar just on the Moravians. Or why students in a German university would take three weekends to attend classes and also read well over 300 pages of material on the Moravians. It is because the Moravians were one of the most interesting and controversial religious groups in the early modern period. We began with a discussion of the Bohemian Brethren and Jan Amos Comenius’s pansophic social reform proposals. Some of the students were fascinated by the excerpts of Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart that we read. Then we focused on Zinzendorf’s theology, especially his Blood and Wounds theology, his understanding of the Mother Office of the Holy Spirit, the concept of the Mystical Marriage with Christ, and his religion of the heart. The students were amazed at the 18th century Moravian women who were ordained as deacons and presbyters. We talked about the violence against the Moravians and why so many anti-Moravian publications were written in the time of Zinzendorf. And then we focused in on the Native American mission, especially the role of women in the mission. Unfortunately, I ended the seminar with a 30 minute lecture on what happened to the Moravians after the death of Zinzendorf, especially how they developed in the 19th century. We talked honestly about the way that slave-holding corrupted their original inclusive vision and the fact that the Moravian avoidance of politics meant that they did not participate in any of the great social crusades of the Second Great Awakening – except for Temperance. I’m afraid that some of the students were visibly and vocally depressed by what happened to this radical, expansive, and innovative religious group.

In small ways I try to encourage modern Moravians around the world to embrace their ancestry and learn from the theologies of Comenius and Zinzendorf, but I know that institutionalization takes its toll on every charismatic movement. I don’t think my teaching and writing will significantly alter the future of the Moravian Church, but I do hope that non-Moravians will be inspired by this history and will learn that there was a moment in history when Europeans from different countries put aside their differences to worship the Savior, and that when they did so they also recognized that all people in the world share a common humanity.

I am proud of the fact that my ancestors in faith were among the first white people to challenge the modern institutions of oppression and exploitation by welcoming men, women, and children of different races and tongues as brothers and sisters. Comenius, Zinzendorf, and those hundreds of courageous missionaries were far from perfect, and at times may have been a touch insane, but their insanity was fueled by a burning passion to make this world more closely resemble the heavenly kingdom. There was briefly a time in American history when a group of white people were so eager to break bread with Native Americans and enslaved Africans that they risked their lives to bring them good news about the Savior of humankind. And in some of the old God’s Acres the bodies of German aristocrats, Moravian peasants, Mohican, and Mandingo rest side by side awaiting the return of our Lord.

Moravian Synod at Bad Boll

2016-05-24 08.43.07Representatives of the congregations and agencies of the Moravian Church in Europe are meeting this week in their bi-annual synod. Normally they meet in one of the congregations, like Herrnhut or Zeist, but this time they are in the Evangelische Akademie in Bad Boll. The Moravians used to own the Bad Boll spa, and they still have headquarters for their mission work there. Synods are different in Europe than America. The Northern and Southern Provincial Synods are huge affairs with representation based on the size of congregations. I think there are typically 200 people at a synod. And synods only meet for three days every four years. The European synods (not including England) meet every two years and delegates are chosen for six years so that they build relationships. They meet for a week and engage in Bible study and fellowship as well as attending to the church’s business. It sounds like a more Moravian way of doing things.

I was only there for a day. A new friend had offered to show me around the region and visit places of historical interest. He drove me to Bad Boll, and I arrived about 3 p.m. The facility is very nice, and my room had the most comfortable bed I’ve slept on in my travels. I of course arrived in time for dinner or abendbrot (evening bread) and was glad to see some old friends like Peter Vogt and Jörgen Böytler. Böytler introduced me to two younger people (i.e. younger than me) who are interested in serving the Moravian Church as pastors. We discussed the possibility of them taking my theology course at MTS in the fall.

2016-05-24 09.30.12At the evening plenary session I was invited to address synod. Peter was kind enough to prepare a German translation of my remarks in advance – and provided helpful edits to my text since it was a bit long. I tried to draw on our church’s history to provide hope as we struggle with financial matters. This was my first time have simultaneous translation with headphones. German and Dutch are the official languages of the synod, but they also provide translation into English. Sister Goodwin was responsible for giving the German version of my talk. The assembly seemed enthusiastic about what I had to say, and they asked substantive questions. I think my style of speaking is a bit more passionate than is customary in Germany!

At the evening social time I had a long chat with Peter and his work and met a young man who is learning Dutch so he can be a pastor in the Netherlands. I also spent an hour talking to a Latvian pastor named Gundars Ceipe about the history of the Moravians in his country and how Christian David helped to end serfdom in the 1700s. He gave me a book he has even though I can’t read Latvian, but there is an English summary. We made preliminary plans to go to Riga one day and speak. If I do, I’ll also visit St Petersburg, which I’ve always wanted to see. I also spent time with Jørgen Bøytler, a young German woman who gave the standing ovation, and two Albania women who are the matriarchs of the new Albania Moravian Church. They are the vanguard of a  religious revival in one of the most atheist countries in the world. They have no pastors, so Bøytler has been visiting for fourteen years to baptism hundreds of people, most of them former Muslims (at least nominally). I did have to face the embarrassing fact that Sister Dena of Albania had tried to friend me on Facebook and I rejected it!

2016-05-24 09.30.16The next day I had breakfast with the Danes and Albanias, and then Sister Goodwin guided me to the spa where a Bible study was held in a room close to the Moravian worship hall. We discussed Paul’s encouragement to generosity. It was interesting to have a Bible study with people speaking English, Dutch, and German and participants from Denmark, England, Albania, Suriname, the Netherlands, South Africa, the U.S., and of course, Germany. And there were only 20 of us there! We shared our thoughts about sowing seeds, and I managed to croak out a few comments myself on the idea that God provides the seeds so we do not know what the fruit will be. Our task is to sow, trusting that God will bring the fruit that he wants.

2016-05-24 08.29.07After the Bible study, Sister Goodwin showed the original sulfur spring that was the basis of the health spa. It was originally for the nobility, but was later opened to all kinds of people who suffer. Under Blumhardt Bad Boll became a major Christian center with health facilities, classes, and sermons. Kind of a Chatauqua with thermal baths and mineral water! The Moravians ran the spa for several decades but could not avoid the upkeep and renovations needed and so they sold it.

2016-05-24 09.44.01I would have liked to stay longer at the synod, but my travel companion wanted to spend more time with me, and I had a long trip back to Heidelberg. So I left at mid-morning and continued my German adventure. By the time I arrived back at my apartment my cold was in full bloom, but my mind and heart were full, and my dreams were of healing waters. I am grateful to Peter and the other synod planners for the invitation to take part in this important gathering.

Touring Württemberg

Calw.WurttembergI had an interesting three days traveling around the German state of Württemberg, especially the area known as Swabia. Jan Ziolowski, my host, picked me up in Heidelberg Sunday afternoon when it was sunny and hot. I, of course, forgot my rain coat, my asthma inhaler, and my camera – all of which had been laid out and ready to go. This was the first time I had met Jan. He is part of an historical society for the Moravians, but he is not Moravian. He read one of my books and some of my articles and wanted to meet. He is a brilliant man and is deeply read in the history of esoteric Pietist religion, Freemasonry (which is different in Europe than America) and anthroposophy. That is a spiritualist movement developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. The anthroposophists are engaged in medicine, organic agriculture, education (Waldorf schools), and spiritual counseling. In the car Jan explained some of the principles behind his pharamaceutical work.

And then he took me to the first top on our tour of mystical Germany: Weinsberg where Justus Kerner lived. He was a famous philanthropist, doctor, writer, and scientist who also talked to ghosts. I’d never heard of him, but he is interesting. That part of Germany is rich in vineyards and they make good Rhine wines. We drove up into the mountains where farms and villages are small and were isolated until modern roads. We were often creeping behind tractors, and the terrain reminded me of the area near Boone, NC. I saw the May Trees that German villages erect on long poles, and Jan explained about the Swabian mentality of holding onto property. I cannot remember the names of the villages we visited, but the scenery was beautiful. We had excellent apple cider at a little guest house. People in that area “rent” apple trees rather than own them. Each year the trees are auctioned and the winner has the right to the fruit.

We stopped in a beautiful place called Murrhardt where Friedrich Christopher Oetinger was pastor and teacher in the time of Zinzendorf. He was a brilliant man whose ideas later influenced the philosopher Hegel. Oetinger came to Herrnhut in the early days and was close to Zinzendorf, but he disagreed with the count and left the movement. Still he remained friends with more mystically minded Moravians, especially Spangenberg. He could not publish all of his own writings for fear of being condemned as heretic, but he viewed the physical world as the manifestation of Spirit. I’ve read about him, but I’ve never read his writings. It was good to see where he preached and lived.

Murrhardt churchFinally we came to Jan’s home in Swäbish Gemünd, which is a place that the US once had Pershing missiles. The soldiers once dropped a missile in his yard! He pointed out to me the three dormant volcanoes called the Three Emperors and explained about the circle of sacred places that protect that region of the world. The ancient Celts and Germans built shrines where the energies were high and the shrines form a circle. The Romans came and used the shrines. Then the Christians after the Romans had left. We talked about his church the Christian Gemeinschaft, which is dismissed as a sect since it believes in reincarnation. We talked about past lives, purgatory, and ghosts. We talked about the Freemasons, Christianity, ghosts, reincarnation, spiritual dance, Waldorf schools, heresies and the danger of orthodoxy. But always we came back to Zinzendorf. I slept on a sofa bed in his office chiding myself for not having brought my inhaler. But I figured a pharmacist would know what to do if I had an attack.

On Monday we made a very long trip into the Black Forest to a tiny spa town called Bad Tienach  to see a kabbalistic altarpiece that was painted in the 17th century by a princess who was taught by John Valentine Andrea. Andrea was a close associate of Comenius and the writer of the Rosicrucian manifestos and a utopian novel. We went to Calw (pronounced Cough) and toured Andrea’s church. Calw is a beautiful Black Forest town with lots of fachwerk houses that have been standing for centuries. Jan was kind enough to loan me a rain coat since I was ill prepared.

2016-05-24 10.28.18Jan delivered me at the synod at Bad Boll in the pouring rain. Synod will be in another post! I was only invited to be at synod overnight because of the costs, so I left the next morning. Unfortunately, a combination of an on-coming cold and a late night talking and laughing with Moravians left me with laryngitis! Jan picked me up about ten and we went to visit the grave of Christoph Blumhardt, who was a famous evangelist and healer. He was given the spa of Bad Boll to build a holistic Christian healing center there. His son was one of the great Christian socialists of the early 20th century. The son inherited the spa and when he died his family gave it to the Moravians. They sold it some years ago because of the costs, but they still have a presence there, including a God’s Acre where many Moravian missionaries are buried.

We drove through the rain to Ulm just because I mentioned I had never been there. Mainly Jan wanted to talk about the Camphill Movement, which may have some roots in Moravianism. I told him about my contacts with the Brüderhof in NY, and we discussed the possibilities of Moravians and Camphill working together. Camphills are communities for handicapped people where they can live freely in their own villages with volunteers helping them as needed. There are several in Europe and South America, but only one (a retirement village) in the US.  Ulm was interesting. It is one of the older cities in Germany having been a major Roman city. It’s on the Danube and remained a wealthy trading center in the Middle Ages. The burghers built a beautiful Gothic cathedral with the highest spire in Germany – over 500 feet. The city chose to join the Reformation, but they did not destroy the beautiful art in the cathedral. There is a Lego version of the cathedral.  After lunch Jan dropped me at the train station and I made my way back to Heidelberg with a lot to think about.

2016-05-24 13.35.57

Address to European Moravian Synod

Address to Synod – May 24, 2016

Brothers and Sisters, it is an honor and blessing for me to be able to bring you greetings from the Brothers and Sisters in North America. I am here for a month to study and teach at the University of Heidelberg. I am teaching a seminar on the history of the Brüdergemeine, especially our mission to North America. This is my longest visit to Germany, and I am enjoying it greatly. I read about the old days when Americans would come to synods that lasted for weeks, and I think that in many ways that was good. It meant people got to know one another better. I have visited Herrnhut on several occasions, but this is my first time to be here in Bad Boll and to be able to be in one of your synods.

Some of my friends in this room keep me informed of life in the Brüdergemeine in Europe, and I know that you are struggling with similar issues that confront us in North America. We have conflict over theological issues and financial issues. Like you, we are facing difficulties with declining membership and several of our congregations are so small that they are unlikely to be able to have pastors in the future. We are struggling with conflicts over sexuality and marriage. But many Moravians in the U.S. are struggling with a growing sense that we as a church are dying. It seems as if society is changing and our ways of worship and preaching are no longer attractive to people. People still seek God in my country, but many of them no longer seek for God in churches. The scandals in the Catholic Church have undermined everyone’s confidence in pastors, even Protestant pastors. The fact that so many American politicians try to use Christianity to promote their agenda has convinced many people in my country that churches are simply places to voice conservative and hateful ideas. Eastern religions, new religions, and spirituality without religion attract many. But many more have simply lost faith. And then there are those who use religion to justify violence and terror, which convinces many that religion itself is violent and terrifying. Our church is small, but it cannot be protected from the changes that affect the nations in which we live. We are facing difficult times and must make hard decisions if we are going to continue to bear witness to Christ in a world that so desperately needs Christ.

At the theological seminary in Bethlehem, I teach the history of the Brüder-Unität. I know you have heard a lot of history through the years, and I do not want to bore you with stories of the glory days of the past. It is easy to say that we should be more like David Nitschmann or Leonard Dober and risk everything for the gospel. Or that we should give more sacrificially like Erdmuth Dorothea von Zinzendorf or Abraham Düringer. But today I want to draw our attention away from the heroic era of missions and building congregational settlements. I want us to look at the big picture of our church’s history.

The Brüder-Unität began with a small group of men and women in Prague who were convinced that the churches of their day had become corrupt and were no longer leading people to Christ. Gregory and his companions were like many young people today who are tired of materialism and commercialism and want to live meaningful lives. Some of the young people today join protest rallies or go out to serve in poor countries of the world. They seek to heal the earth and prevent war. They occupied Wall Street and protest at Davos. The founders of the Brüder-Unität or the Jednota Bratrska were like that. They sat in the big church in Prague and heard sermons about following Christ, but did not see people following the teachings of Christ. So they left and formed their own community. The law of Christ was to guide all of their actions. They refused to take part in the violence of the world. They started schools to teach women as well as men. They met in simple buildings instead of large churches. And they were persecuted. But the more the powerful attacked them, the larger they grew and the farther they spread. They published Bibles and other writings to lead people to the way of Christ, and their greatest bishop was also one of the greatest advocates for international peace, Jan Amos Comenius.

That early Brüder-Unität was finally destroyed by religious persecution. Thousands bravely chose to be exiles rather than submit to the authorities and give up the gospel. They knew that if you have a home in Christ, you make your dwelling anywhere in the world. Today many of the Brothers and Sisters I know in America are afraid that our church will die. I remind them that our church has died before. It was destroyed by the Habsburg Empire. The Empire destroyed the institutional forms of the church. Buildings were given to the Catholic Church. Bibles were burned. Pastors were arrested. But the faith of the church survived the onslaught of war. Today there are over a million members of the Brüder-Unität around the world, but the Habsburg Empire is gone. Faith endures even when governments and economic powers collapse. And now we have Brothers and Sisters in Cuba.

You all know the story of the rebirth of our church in Herrnhut, so I will not discuss that today. Let me just remind you that during the time of Zinzendorf our church was often threatened with extinction. He was forced into exile from his home, but he did not abandon his brothers and sisters. We were forced to abandon Herrnhaag and other communities because our ideas and practices were too radical for the rulers and the powerful. Missionaries were arrested in St. Thomas, America, Russia, and other places. Georg Schmidt was forced to leave South Africa, but today we have brothers and sisters in that land. People published terrible things about Zinzendorf, but it seemed that the more the world turned against our church, the more people wanted to be part of this community.

In the 18th century, like today, there were many people who felt that the churches of their day had lost the spirit of Christ. Religion had become a hobby and worship was something to do on Sunday morning when the shops were closed. People were pious perhaps, but their piety did not touch the deepest corners of their souls. Young people responded to Zinzendorf because they wanted something beautiful and meaningful and true. They wanted their lives to mean something and they hoped to make the world a better place. They were inspired by the vision of the Kingdom of God on Earth, and they were willing to risk much because they knew that they would be with Christ for eternity.

And then Zinzendorf died. The church was facing bankruptcy and scandal. People were frightened, and the leaders of the church decided it was best to jettison Zinzendorf’s radical vision. They hoped to save the church by turning away from the radical faith that had attracted thousands in many lands. They were so afraid of dying that they turned away from the world and its troubles. Our congregations had once been schools of the Holy Spirit where people learned how to be courageous witnesses to the way, the truth, and the life. They became safe havens where people could be protected from new ideas. This does not mean that nothing good was preserved in our quiet villages. People still prayed and sang and loved the Savior, but something was lost. Young people were told to avoid the new ideas of the philosophers and political movements. They should focus on the Brüdergemeine and leave the world behind. Even in our mission fields, European missionaries became paternalistic leaders trying to protect their flocks from the burdens of governing their own affairs. We still had courageous people, like Brother Jaeschke who went to Tibet, but our church had lost its courage and it placed its hope in conservative theology and tradition.

And it was almost destroyed again. This time it was not religious oppression, but the wars that nearly destroyed Europe in the 20th century. World War I, the ensuing depression and hyper-inflation, and especially World War II almost brought our church to an end in Europe. You know this better than I do. You know people that endured those hardships and who toiled to bring something good out of the ashes of destruction. You know how the forces of evil almost triumphed and for many years held sway over the hearts and minds of millions. Some of you here today endured the hostility of Communist governments toward religion, and you remained faithful.

In some ways, the 20th century was like another period of the Hidden Seed. Our church had to focus on survival. It had to find ways to continue to sing praises to our Savior and bring up our children in the faith, but the hardships of the past century left us crippled in many ways. We survived, but we gave up much that was vital. We survived, but our hope was diminished and our courage faltered. We no longer dreamed of the Kingdom of God on earth, but focused on preserving traditions and buildings. We no longer dreamed of bringing heavenly joy to those who are in despair and misery. Instead we enjoyed the memories of the past. My country did not suffer like your nations during the past century. Our history was a different, but we also turned away from the future. We also placed our hope and trust in endowments and buildings and institutions rather than the Spirit of God in the hearts of humankind. We also focused on small goals and petty conflicts.

Jesus said that those who would save their lives will lose their lives but those who give up their lives will live. We have been so focused on saving our church that we may be in danger of losing any reason for existing as a church. We know from our history that death is not the worst thing that can happen. Our church died and was resurrected as something even bolder and more radical than it was. In 1957 we held a Unity Synod in Pennsylvania and took the courageous move of creating a new constitution and structure that set provinces free to follow their own way so long as they remained true to the things that bind us together. And because of that radical change there are now more Moravian Brothers and Sisters in the world than have ever lived. It is not here in Europe or in North America that our church is growing, but in Africa. It is growing because they found a way to communicate the essential truth of the Gospel in terms that people in that culture could hear and respond to. We must do the same in the North. We must be open to the future, we must be open to the question: what is God calling us to be? How can we serve Christ today?

Now, here in the Northern hemisphere, I often encounter a sense that we have lost our courage and our hope. We retreat from the world and its challenges instead of rushing out to engage the world. Our young people leave our church because they find more meaningful ways to live elsewhere, and we are content to let them go. We know that humans are destroying God’s good creation, but we have little to say. We see refugees from war and poverty, and we feel helpless. We live in a society where many people no longer know God, a society where Christians are increasingly becoming a minority. The biggest mission area is right in front of our door steps, but we are unprepared. We have wonderful traditions, but we often don’t have words to speak the good news of God’s salvation to our neighbors. We, and I do include me in that we, value our history and remember the glory of the past instead of asking the simple question: “What does Christ wants us to do today?” Our ancestors did not risk their lives and their fortunes to preserve something; they risked everything because they had hope that they could change the world and make the future better than the past.

I believe that in our world today, what we need is hope. And in our churches: we need hope. We need to hold on the hope that is within us. Yes, we experience conflicts in our congregations. Yes, we are facing financial difficulties. Yes, we may be facing the decline or even death of our traditional church life. But these things should not rob us of our hope and courage. Our church has died before. Our church has faced worse challenges than these. We have thrived when we have been the most radical and courageous, when we have embraced the teachings of Jesus most passionately, when we have looked into the future with courage and hope because we know that we belong to Christ and that Christ has called us to love his world with the same passion that he loves the world.

My hope for this synod and the synods that will be meeting in North America this year is that we are willing to let things go that we no longer need and that we take up the mission that Christ is giving us today. May we be bold in our love and courageous in our ministry together. If we do that, if we take the risk of faith, I think we will have no problem raising money to support our mission. I think that our conflicts will melt away in the warmth of the love of Christ. I trust that we will be filled with hope strong enough to master the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope, my brothers and sisters, is what lifts our eyes away from our own fears and allows us to look at others with compassion and understanding. Hope is what allows us to labor in works of mercy because we know that our work is not in vain. Hope is what allows us to plant trees today that our grandchildren will one day enjoy. Hope will help us make the sacrifices we need to make today so that our church may serve God in the future. We can have hope because we know our Savior. We know he loves us and has called us to be his people and is calling us to carry on his mission in the world today. So let us be open to God’s future and let us be filled with the joyful hope that there’s always new life with Christ. He has conquered, let us follow him.




Today my co-teacher, Jennifer, is driving me to Herrnhaag near Frankfurt. We will be accompanied by her five-year old, Jacob, and I recent PhD from the American Studies program named Heiki. We had planned to stop by to see the ruins of the Ronneberg Castle where Zinzendorf lived briefly after his exile, but it is closed for the Pentecost holiday. There is, however, a medieval faire with jousting. Since the boys, Craig and Jacob, love jousting knights and faire food, we are stopping there for lunch. We should get to Herrnhaag this afternoon about 3 and the Moravian pastor has agreed to show us around. We had planned on going Saturday, but there was a major Moravian youth festival over the weekend and it would have been hard to wander the grounds freely. There is something exciting, though, about hundreds of Moravian youth gathering in Herrnhaag.

Herrnhaag has a special place in Moravian lore. It was the first major community built after Herrnhut and in many was was the model for other planned communities more so than Herrnhut. In the 1740s it was a glamorous place with beautiful buildings, artwork, and festivals. Moravian music was perfected at Herrnhaag and the neighboring castle of Marienborn. It was here that the Christmas candlelight tradition began, and it was here that the Moravians invited people like John Wesley to visit to see if they wanted to be part of this multi-cultural, joyful community dedicated to the Lamb once slain. Most of the great Moravian leaders spent some time in Herrnhaag.

But it was also here that the so-called Sifting Time took place in 1748. Paul Peucker has written a book that examines all that can be known about the events of that year, but much will never be known since the church destroyed many revelatory documents. We know that Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf was at the center of it, and it involved mainly single people. It appears to have been antinominian and probably sexual in nature. And it frightened Zinzendorf, Spangenberg, and a whole generation of Moravian officials. It continues to affect how people read Moravian history. Were the rumors true about Herrnhaag – and was such fanaticism a natural outcome of Zinzendorf’s theology? Was it a symptom of something inherently unhealthy in Zinzendorfianism? For two hundred years Moravian historians treated Herrnhaag as a morality tale to warn the church against the enthusiasm of Zinzendorf and some dismissed most of what happened in the 1740s as the Sifting Period. But the zeal and energy that built Herrnhaag was also behind most of the creativity and mission of the Zinzendorf era. Over a thousand people lived in Herrnhaag because there was something deeply attractive about Zinzendorfianism. Hundreds of people left Europe to bring the good news about the Lamb of God to people who were being abused by European colonialists. Moravians have let the Sifting Time in Herrnhaag overshadow the beautiful things that Herrnhaag represented.

But in 1749 the local count insisted that the Moravians in Herrnhaag either repudiate Zinzendorf or leave his realm. The Moravians voted to abandon Herrnhaag. The church relocated about 1000 people, some of them to Bethlehem. London became the new headquarters of the church. By 1752 the beautiful buildings built by the Moravians were empty. Herrnhaag, the jewel of Moraviandom was left desolate and slowl fell into ruin. A more radical Pietist group known as the True Inspired were invited to occupy the buildings and keep up the property. They formed a religious commune led by prophets. Eventually some of them built a colony in Iowa called Amana. So there is a connection between Herrnhaag and American refrigerators and microwave ovens!

Today I am making my second pilgrimage to Herrnhut. By first was back in 1998 when the restoration work was just beginning. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress that has been made and being able to imagine the glorious festivals that took place in the days of Christian Renatus. And to wonder what Christianity might have been like if Herrnhaag had not been left desolate. Is it possible to have a form of devotion to Christ that embraces art, mysticism, beauty, ritual, sexuality, joyfulness, and sacrificial service to the poor and downtrodden? Is it possible to worship the Lamb of God without mortifying the flesh and rejecting the beauty of creation?



On the way to Herrnhaag we stopped by the Ronneburg Castle, a medieval ruin that the Zinzendorf’s stayed in immediately after his exile in 1736. It just so happened that there was a medieval faire at the castle today. So we got to enjoy the jousting – very skillful events with lance, sword, and bow, and I had a cup of hot mead.And then went up into the castle tower. Fun day.



Holy Mountain and Philosophers Way



This afternoon I took a five mile hike from my apartment, across the old bridge over the Neckar River to the Philosophers Way. It was a steep climb of several dozens stairs up to the Philosophers Way, but it was worth it. It gives you a great view of the old city of Heidelberg from across the river, and there are a great variety of flowers, trees, and other plants. I chose to start at the lower end and finished by going down the narrow, twisting, steep Schlangeweg (snake path). From the Philosophers Way I took the footpath up the Heiligenberg (Holy Mountain). It’s about 1400 feet above see level, maybe 1200 from river. I’m not a serious hiker by any means, and it was strenuous for me to go so steep and so steady. I had water, nutella on bread, and chocolate, so all was good. The trees were enormous and most of the time I was the only person I saw, which was a relief from the crush of tourists in the old city.



I finally reached the top, and guess what I saw? A bus stop. Yes, I could have taken a bus – or car if I had one. But there was also a biergarten, which I knew would be helpful later. My goal was to reach the old Celtic, Roman, and Christian holy site on the very top of the mountain. On the way I passed an amphitheater built by Dr. Goebels to promote the Nazi neo-pagan ideology – a start reminder that spiritual places can be turned to evil purposes. Higher up the mountain, though was the location of the old Celtic settlement and shrine. Some of the old wall remains from the original 6th century BC hill fort. When the Romans conquered that part of Germany they built a temple to Mercury on the site. Mercury was associated with the German god Wodan. Some of the old Roman work remains. And then around 1000 the Christians began building St. Michael’s monastery. Only the ruin remains, and some of the stones were used to build a tower for 19th century tourists to see Heidelberg. Even in ruins, the monastery is beautiful. It was so peaceful to sit there and remember the people who brought their prayers to God (or at least their god) for over 2,500 years. So I prayed as well.



From there I walked back down to the biergarten to have refreshing Radler. I order goulash since I was famished by the hike, but I meant the soup. Instead I got the special of the day which was a huge pile of stewed beef and egg noodles with a salad. I could barely eat it all. Stuffed and relaxed, I ventured down to the site of the St Stephen’s cloister at the other end of the mountain top. It is smaller than St Michaels, but is very close to the old Celtic wall and has some very ancient graves. There is a tower built to see Heidelberg, but since the trees were cut away, I just sat on the bench looking down on the castle. It didn’t look like a ruin from that vantage point. I could also see my apartment building more than 2 miles away.



The walk down was much faster, but very steep. I could have taken the easier path, but decided shorter and steeper was better. I found the famous Schlangeweg of Snaky Path which twists up the mountain from the river. It has high walls and lots of irregular steps and cobble stones. Even going down it was a bit rough, but it was beautiful. And so many generations of writers and thinkers have trod upon those stones through the years. It lead me straight to the Old Bridge and back into the old city. I have to admit that the most exhausting part of the hike may have been the final two flights of stairs to my room. I was tired in a very good way and renewed in body and soul. A bunch of water, a shower, and a sparkling wine did much to revive me. Since lunch was late and large, I think dinner will be ice cream tonight. I’m not sure that people who teach pilgrimage recommend ice cream at the end of a steep climb to an ancient holy site, but it sure works for me.




Sunday in May

Last Sunday was one of the best days of my trip to Germany. First I attended worship at the Peters Kirche, the oldest church in Heidelberg. It is now the University Church and professors from the theology faculty teach there. One of my students was in attendance. I sat with Jennifer, my co-teacher who had provided an English translation of the sermon and parts of the service. There was an international group of theology students in attendance. The service was a familiar Lutheran service, but most of the hymns were new to me. The texts were beautiful. One by Paul Gerhardt. We all stood in a circle in the choir behind the altar to receive the body and blood. On the wall were memorials for some of the most prominent people who had studied and worshiped in Heidelberg. I felt the communion of the saints.

Then Professor Stievemann took me to his home for lunch with his family. He lives in a village called Dilsberg on one of the mountains overlooking the Neckar River. I am a little envious of his house in the woods. His study was formerly a workshop for a potter and is a perfect place for a scholar to work. His wife and two children were simply charming. His son is reading Harry Potter, and I used the little German I have to talk to him about that. They have a big black dog named Tom who reminds me of Sirius Black. The food was very good. I realized how much I’ve been missing home life when I was allowed to share some of their domestic happiness. Jennifer joined us with Jacob who was younger than Theodor, but before long they and other boys were romping through the gardens and woods. It brought me back to my childhood when the boys of the neighborhood roamed freely in and out of each other’s houses.

Then Professor Stievemann took us on a tour of the village itself, which is a walled medieval town on top of a hill. It was remarkably hot, and Mrs. Stievemann made sure that I had a hat. She does almost the same work for the university that my wife does. The village is lovely and has many layers of history. During the Thirty Years War, General Tilly captured Heidelberg, but he could not capture Dilsberg. The ruins of the old citadel with its battlement are still there, and we climbed to the top of the wall. It provides a commanding view of the river and the valley. Then we followed a tunnel through the side of the mountain into the deep well. It was fascinating to look up to the light shining above and down to the water below. Mark Twain visited this very spot during his travels in Europe, but he was not very kind to the Dilsbergers. I’m now wondering if it was Twain who inspired my boyhood fascination with Heidelberg.

We returned about 5 p.m. tired from the walking, the sun, and the energy of several boys. I was very contented and Skyped the people I love back in Pennsylvania. Sunday was a good day.

Monday was less so, but there is not much to report. I found a laundry, but they will take 3 days to clean my clothes, so I have almost nothing to wear. I decided to explore outside the old city a bit. I knew someone years ago who had lived in Eppelheim, so I took the tram there. Wasted trip, but I guess it was good to see what the suburbs look like. And I read and worked on plans for later in the month. Today rain is predicted, so my planned hike will be postponed. Today I will work on Zinzendorf!

On the train

On the train to Heidelberg – May 2, 2016

I’m on the train traveling through the French countryside past fields covered in yellow blossoms with tiny villages, some ancient some modern, and windmills that would have daunted Don Quixote even at his boldest. I love traveling by train, and this time I splurged on a first class ticket. Someone brought me a sandwich and a beer, and I’m listening to Steely Dan through my ear buds. Earlier I was listening to vintage jazz from the 1920s. All about a woman’s love and heartache and longing, and the sweet melancholy that comes from being away from the one who has half of your heart. It’s perfect music for the train with its slow rhythmic swaying. If you are traveling alone.

I just spent a wonderful week in Paris with my wife visiting museums and cathedrals and eating two delicious meals a day accompanied by good French wines. Now I’m heading to Germany for a month at the University of Heidelberg. Alone. Alone like I’ve never been alone before. I’ve been alone for a week, maybe two, but never for a month. And in a foreign country no less.

I love traveling by train. Airplanes are too cramped and crowded. Buses, too. I love traveling along the ground seeing the world go by.Part of what I like about trains is that you can see the transition from one place to another. With planes you make your way through the surreal culture of the airport, shuffle down the jetway and aisle to your seat, and voila eight hours later you are in a new land. It is magical and beautiful in its own way, but the train lets you slowly adjust. You see yourself leave the metropolis of Paris and all of those sites and memories behind as you say goodbye to a part of your life, and then you watch the green hills and blue skies as your mind turns toward the future. Looking toward your new life, even if it is only a May adventure. The anxiety of travel, of getting to the Gare l’Est, finding the train, and finding your seat slowly melt away like the foam of your beer. Where there was anxiety and regret for past mistakes, there is now peace. For a few hours there is nothing to worry about.

Later, you will worry about where to meet the person who is meeting you at the Bahnhof and whether the apartment has the things you need and how much money you just spent on a once in a lifetime spree with your wife of a quarter of a century and how the children are doing at home and whether the German students will like your lectures and whether you will work on your book and what to eat and what to drink. But for another two hours you can live as Jesus instructed. Give no thought to those things. Let today’s trouble be enough for today. And for the moment, today has no trouble. Only a good book written by a close friend. Good music. And the piney grove that just passed by the window.