18

Dry Grass And Seeds

From Conrad Weiser’s place at Womelsdorf, through Pine Grove and Tower City I crossed the Blue Mountains on the Shamokin Trail. It rained, that cold Sunday afternoon in December. Hurrying to see my wife and new son at an Amish midwife’s place, I feared it would turn dark before I descended the last steep hill—where Brother Ludwig held onto Anna Nitschmann’s coat tails—into Sunbury. It did. But I found the site of Chief Shikellamy’s village, on the north side of town where the great rivers come together, at once.

I stood, and “remembered” even though I had never stood there before.

On the far side of the Susquehanna, half a mile wide at Sunbury, golden lights moved along the water’s edge below the rock face of a mountain. Trains stood in rail yards on my side. Above them, in a quiet residential area, built out to a flood-wall, I found the state historical marker: “Shikellamy, Oneida chief and overseer or vice-regent of the Six Nations, asserting Iroquois dominion over conquered Delaware and other tribes. He lived at Shamokin Indian town, Sunbury, from about 1728 until his death, 1748. Said to be buried near here.”

Shikellamy, baptised member of the Unity of Brothers, resting in the wounds of the Lamb. At this place Peter Böhler and Ludwig von Zinzendorf preached in his home. In this soil Martin and Johanna Mack, just married (Martin, who became a bishop in the Gemeine and died the year after the hurricane, at Friedensthal on St. Croix), planted turnips. Here Joseph Powell the farm director that left Bethlehem “right before harvest” built a blacksmith shop.

From where I stood on the flood-wall I watched the Susquehanna move under reflected lights toward Shamokin Dam. Plumes of vapour from the Cellotex plant billowed into the night sky. Beneath them, on what might have been a restaurant, I saw a sign “Christian Assembly” and stepped in. A woman with frizzy hair and green tights, evidently a good cook, met me among preparations for a Christmas banquet. “Moravians, nope never heard of ’em! Sheila,” she called over her shoulder from where she stood squeezing out the mayonnaise, “Ever heard tell of a Christian community here in the 1700s? Plain people that preached to Indians?”

Looking thoughtful, but no less friendly, another woman emerged from the kitchen. She had heard of Moravian College in Bethlehem but did not know that a church started it.

In Bethlehem itself I found things more encouraging. Not only did I discover a number of people well aware of Moravian Pilgerwerk (mission activity) in the past. I found a group, including a Moravian pastor, actively involved in church planting and mission communities today.

On a sunny winter morning we met under rough-hewn ceiling beams in the Saal of Bethlehem’s 1742 Gemeinhaus. January sunlight streamed through many-paned windows onto the hardwood floor upstairs. We sat on bare benches, Anabaptist men with beards, a sister in a long dress and white head covering, one brother from England, one from Hungary, discussing with modern-day Moravians (not for a pageant but for real) the situation of Hindu refugees in Venezuela. We spoke of travel through the Orinoco delta to the Demerara. We discussed how best to get from Berbice to Suriname, and sang Brother Ludwig’s song, Jesu geh voran (Jesus still lead on) together.

How I wished this meeting could have taken place two hundred years earlier! But it didn’t, and some time later I sat with other Moravians, Anabaptists, and Lutherans in a restored meetinghouse on the campus of a Brethren college. A Moravian bishop spoke on Ludwig von Zinzendorf’s “ecumenical theology.” A panel, including a student from Herrnhut (after the breakup of communism, no longer in East Germany), a Lutheran theologian, a Moravian history professor, and a women who carefully spoke of Christian “siblinghood” discussed what he had to say.

Conversation turned to the Moravian focus on the blood of Christ. The bishop smiled. “We no longer speak about that,” he explained, “Because we have learned that not everyone comes to God through Jesus Christ. Some, like our Muslim brothers and sisters, come to God through God. . . .”

Sitting in the Brethren meetinghouse I could not help but think of Joseph Müller. Born in a Swiss Anabaptist home he emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1735 where he found the Lord among the Brethren (Dunkards) at Germantown. They baptised him by trine immersion. But through contact with the Skippack brothers and meetings of the “Church of God in the Spirit” he joined the Moravians.

Andreas and Wilhelm Frey, like Joseph Müller of Mennonite background, and their sister Veronika who became his wife, also humbled themselves before the Lamb and moved to Bethlehem. When Brother Ludwig returned to Europe in 1743, Joseph travelled with him. As part of the Pilgergemeine he made his way through Saxony and Silesia, back to Mühlheim on the Rhein where he visited Gerhard Tersteegen. He became leader of boys’ choirs, first at Herrnhaag then in England. Andreas and Wilhelm, his brothers-in-law left the Moravians again, but Joseph felt sure he had found the Saviour’s Gemeine. In a letter to his Dunkard and Mennonite family he wrote:

If the Saviour [through the use of the lot] had allowed it, we would baptise by immersion. But neither in Pennsylvania or in Germany has he wanted it this way, no doubt because we Dunkers make too much out of it. . . . God does not like when we emphasise anything but Christ, his death and wounds, and his bloody atonement. All other things—baptism, the Lord’s supper, footwashing, going to meeting, vigils, prayers, fasts, and the alms we give—easily become idols to us. . . .

I do not think the Moravians are the only true church, but they are certainly the best I know of at this point. I do not say this because of their beautiful order and outward appearance. Many take that for the thing itself. Rather, I say this because the Moravian church rests exclusively on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, that is, on Jesus Christ and on his blood. This word of the cross separates their doctrine from all other doctrines in the world.1

Christ, his death and wounds, and his bloody atonement . . . beautiful order and outward appearance . . . the word of the cross.” Browsing the Moravian exhibit on the day of the bishop’s visit, I could not help but compare what Joseph Müller saw with what one sees today. Under the lids of glass cases I saw old Moravian books and pictures of their “beautifully ordered” communities. I looked at Moravian tools and handcrafted articles, and on stands around me hung evidence of their “outward appearance”: broad-brimmed hats like the Amish, long dresses with capes and aprons, head coverings in three pieces that covered all the hair and then some, and black bonnets like those still worn among the Old Order River Brethren.

With these peculiarities they went—trusting the Saviour alone for their protection, and following his instructions explicitly—to St. Thomas, to Greenland, Suriname, and South Africa. With this they enjoyed his favour and brought thousands upon thousands of black slaves, natives of the rain forest, Khoi tribesmen, and Eskimos to him. Yet now it might be indiscreet to mention his saving blood.

Is this what happens to movements that go “all out” for Christ? Two Mennonite ministers, Jaan Stinstra and Jeme Teknatel (the man in whose home Moravian brothers stayed in Amsterdam) discussed that question centuries ago. Jaan Stinstra, minister of the Harlingen congregation and for many years moderator of the Frisian Mennonite Society, said “yes!” He predicted the apostasy and decline of the Moravian church.

In fact, no one in the eighteenth century, predicted it with greater force and accuracy.

Jaan Stinstra and his Mennonite friends had little time for the Herzensglauben (heart religion) of the Moravians. “Who cares whether our hearts turn warm or cold when we pray?” they asked. “No amount of inner feelings, of evangelistic zeal, or great ideas about following Christ will last through time. Such emotionalism, if let go, destroys common sense, but an honest Gehorsamsglauben (religion of obedience) goes on forever.”

In 1753 Jaan Stinstra wrote a book against the Moravians and their influence, Waarschuwinge tegen de Geestdrijverij, that others soon published in England under the title A Pastoral Letter Against Fanaticism addressed to the Mennonites of Friesland. . . which may serve as an Excellent Antidote against the Principles of Fanatics in General and the Herrnhuters or Moravians in Particular. The book also appeared in French (with an introduction giving the story of the rise of Herrnhut) and soon after in German. Leaders of the Dutch Reformed church read Jaan’s book and became greatly alarmed. They sent a letter to all Dutch colonies in the East and West Indies, to New York, South Africa and Suriname, urgently calling on Reformed pastors everywhere to stand against the “heretical and dangerous influence” from Herrnhut.

Both the book and the letter brought great hardship on Moravians around the world. In Ceylon it resulted in their expulsion altogether. But Jeme Deknatel, minister of the Mennonite congregation bij ‘t Lam (by the Lamb) in Amsterdam, did not support it. “Why fear the Moravians or be hard on them?” Jeme and his friends (like Peter Weber, another Mennonite minister from Germany) wondered. “If we know and walk with Christ, how shall Moravian influence harm us?”

Jeme Deknatel saw nothing dangerous about a “heart religion” or an emphasis on personal experience. “What religion might we have,” he wondered, “if it is not bevindelijk (something to experience and feel)?” When the Moravians organised a congregation in Amsterdam in 1738 he became an affiliate and often preached at the Heerendyk community even though he kept his membership in the Mennonite church. He sent his sons, Jan and Jakob, to the Moravians’ school in Marienborn, and entertained brother Josef, Brother Ludwig (who celebrated communion with him) and others in his home.

In a letter to Leonhard Dober, Jeme Deknatel told of the wonderful fellowship with Christ he and his family had discovered through influence from Herrnhut. “We have rid ourselves of much self-love and self-made piety,” he said, and through prayer meetings in his home, correspondence far and wide, and his writings distributed from Russia to Pennsylvania he shared with his Anabaptist brothers and sisters what he had found.

Hutterite believers wrote to Jeme Deknatel from eastern Europe. Through this and direct contact with Herrnhut (Brother Ludwig issued passports for them) many escaped from Roman Catholic lands to begin a new life in Russia. In southern Germany and Switzerland Peter Weber and groups of seekers under Moravian influence “woke up” to Christ. So did Mennonites and Dunkards in Pennsylvania (among whom this influence resulted in the formation of the “River Brethren”) and the Mennonite Brüdergemeine (named after the Unity of Brothers) in Russia.

In Harlingen itself, right in Jaan Stinstra’s congregation, hungry seekers discovered fellowship with Christ through Moravian influence, and when Jaan forbade Jeme Deknatel to come and preach for them, they began to meet for prayer and communion services in their homes.

We dare not stand in the way of the Saviour’s work in believers’ hearts,” Jeme Deknatel, and his friends insisted. “If Christians lose a Herzensglauben they will surely lose their Gehorsam (obedience) as well. . . .”

But Jaan Stinstra was the first to be proven right.

When Brother Ludwig returned to Germany from America in 1743 he found the Moravian church growing by leaps and bounds. More than twenty thousand people—four thousand of them in Silesia alone—had joined, and new Ortsgemeinen, Niesky, Gnadenfrei (Free Grace), and Gnadenberg, had grown up almost overnight. Another one, Neudietendorf was underway in the German province of Thüringen. Brother Ludwig, who had asked for release from leadership two years earlier, felt bewildered at first, then upset.

All this happening without him involved? What about not making proselytes and just helping people find Christ where they are? Brother Ludwig felt his vision betrayed. He also felt certain this rapid growth, particularly with its “sectarian distinctions” brought from Moravia (refusal to swear oaths or bear arms, plain dress, life in community), would bring German rulers in ever greater wrath upon them. So he lost no time in going to government officials, requesting them to cancel permits they had given for more building projects, and at the Hirschberg, near Ebersdorf, he called the leaders of all Moravian congregations together.

In a difficult conference that lasted a week, it became clear that even though Christ might serve as “chief elder” of the church, no one but Ludwig von Zinzendorf, with his noble rank and assets, would have the last word. What could David Nitschmann, Wenzel Neisser, Martin and Leonhard Dober, and other leaders, most of them refugees from Moravia, say? They owed their livelihood (and quite likely their lives) to the Count on whose property they lived. Four months later they signed a document of submission giving him “unlimited control and oversight” of the Moravian Church.

Things happened fast. Under Ludwig’s unrestrained leadership waves of ever greater evangelistic zeal swept through the communities, while the first sentiments of disdain for Herrnhut’s “prudish ways” made themselves felt at Marienborn and Herrnhaag. Thankfulness for Christ’s blood progressed rapidly from emphasis to obsession. “In our congregation it becomes bloodier all the time,” Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf (Ludwig’s son) wrote. “To speak of the cross and the blood becomes continually more pleasant and goes deeper into the heart. Every hour of the day we taste nothing but wounds and wounds and wounds and wounds.”

A stream of songs written after Brother Ludwig’s return, exhausted the ideas of the “blood conscious ones” how to put their fascination with Christ to words—but they kept on writing and singing nevertheless. For those who had not felt the Saviour’s presence “warming the heart” their songs became unintelligible. Even some who lived in fellowship with him began to wonder where this matter of his Wunden (wounds) would take them:

Des Wundten Kreutz-Gotts Bundesblut

Die Wunden-wunden-wunden-fluth,

Ihr Wunden! Ja, ihr wunden!

(The Cross-God’s covenant blood of the wounds, the wounds-wounds-wounds flow from its wounds! Yes its wounds!)

Euer Wunden-wunden-wunden-gut

Macht Wunden-wunden-wunden-muth

Und Wunden, Herzens-wunden.

(Your wounds-wounds-wounds possession, gives you wounds-wounds-wounds courage, and wounds wound your heart.)

Wunden! Wunden! Wunden! Wunden!

Wunden! Wunden! Wunden! Wunden!

Wunden! Wunden! O! Ihr Wunden.2

At Herrnhaag the brothers built a niche, lined with red velvet, into the side of the Saal. Children placed into it pictured the believers’ rest in the side wound of Christ. At a “bloody festival of grace” the whole congregation marched through a red arch to celebrate the same. Thinking of themselves as little Kreuzluft-vögelein (birds of the air around the cross) fluttering about the “magnetic body of the Lamb,” they pictured themselves with their beaks pushed deep into his wounds, drawing on his blood until “stiff and full with ecstasy” they would close their eyes in unconsciousness. Nothing but a fresh spurt of blood, pouring over them from head to foot, would awaken and loosen them to flutter around the cross again. They sung of licking round and round in Christ’s wounds like in a block of salt (Ich hab es um und um belekt, Das Stein-salz! O wie hats geschmeckt!), of crawling deeply into them like little bees, or swimming like fish in the sea of his blood. But this focus on the wounds—even though most Moravians believed it rested on Christ—did not keep their eyes on him. Neither did it save them from disaster.

Financial mismanagement, most of it happening during the “years of blood” and indiscriminate use of the lot, finally brought the whole Gemeine to the brink of bankruptcy. The beautiful communities of the Wetterau, Herrnhaag (built with the labour of thousands of willing hands) and Marienborn had to be abandoned. In the east, a Russian army destroyed the Neusalz community. The Sharon community at Chelsea, in London, and Heerendyk in the Netherlands had to be sold. Pilgerhut in South America was abandoned like the work in the East Indies and many preaching places through England, Ireland, and Germany. Even so, by the time Brother Ludwig died in 1760 and the believers bought Herrnhut from his heirs, the church faced outstanding debts of nearly eight hundred thousand Reichsthaler (besides the five hundred thousand they had already paid).

Jaan Stinstra felt completely justified. His prophecy had come true—even faster than he expected. In his old age even Jeme Deknatel, John and Charles Wesley, Peter Weber and others who had warmly defended the Moravians and opposed him had to admit, somewhat hesitantly, that he had been right. But the story did not end. . . .

Jeme Deknatel’s prophecy also came true.

Not only did the Mennonites clinging tightly to a strict Gehorsamsglauben (Jaan Stinstra’s congregation at Harlingen included) turn further and further away from personal faith in Christ—eventually losing interest in “conversion” and personal piety altogether. Their focus on correct teaching and good works, as opposed to a focus on Christ, led them to spiritual death. First a few, then dozens of Mennonite congregations died out in the Netherlands and Germany. Ever shrinking groups failed to keep their young people, and marks of nonconformity to the world fell away, one after another. Their peace witness disappeared. Even though their interest in foreign missions survived for a while, a generation after Jaan Stinstra’s death the few remaining Mennonites in Western Europe lived little differently than their Lutheran, Catholic, and unbelieving neighbours.

And the Moravians, after the “blood enthusiasm” died down, followed suit.

During the years they spoke of little else but the Saviour’s blood and wounds many had failed to read his words or follow his instructions carefully. They also forgot to teach them to their children. Hymnbooks took the place of Scriptures, and ever more exciting celebrations—in “halls decorated with pine branches and thousands of candles, with fancy lettering and displays, much Christmas baking, drama, and other sorts of childishness” as described by Andreas Frey—took the place of sound teaching. Jacob John Sessler, describing what happened at Bethlehem in America, wrote:

The emphasis on their hymns, while it apparently unified them externally, left them without an intellectual grasp of their belief. They largely replaced religious instruction and the study of the Bible itself. These hymns were supposed to be the expressions of hearts already “set on fire” for the Lord, but the fact was that many who sang them were not “set on fire.” Later generations did not share the sentiment which those hymns presupposed. With the breakdown of the General Economy the individual pursuit of business afforded the Brethren less time for participation in [worship] services. In short, the Brethren were no longer imbued with the piety to which a previous generation had given expression. They now dared to question the traditions and beliefs of their church without being stricken with the sinfulness of such an attitude.

On his return from America, Brother Ludwig had already attempted to modify what he saw as “sectarian influences” from Moravia. He wanted the communities to fit into the main-line churches of Europe (Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed) and even though he left room for those with peculiar convictions to practice them, he no longer felt they should be required of everyone. Pilgrims who had suffered harassment for years because they would not swear oaths suddenly received directions from Marienborn to “make nothing more out of it.” Some obeyed and swore oaths of allegiance. Others, standing for what they had always believed, returned to Europe or Pennsylvania.

In meetings after Brother Ludwig’s death the church elected an “Elders’ Conference” (a board of governors) to oversee all Moravian communities. Trained theologians defined what they believed, experienced businessmen took charge of their money, and historians recorded what they had done. As long as those whose “hearts had been truly warmed” lived, the Ortsgemeinen continued to function (even though their children and grandchildren grew restless within them) but drastic changes followed.

By the late 1700s most communities had allowed hourly intercessions to cease. They no longer washed feet before communion (something old Friedrich von Watteville mentioned in a letter of admonition from his deathbed), and the bands, choirs, and weekly or monthly interviews fell into disarray. The Elders’ Conference tried to improve and enlarge Moravian schools that had acquired fame as among the best in Europe. In 1775 they made the leaders of all congregations directly responsible to Herrnhut, “agents and representatives of the Elders’ Conference,” rather than to the groups they served. For a time they also set up a dual membership system: Those who wished to belong to the Moravian church but not follow all its customs could take part as associate members, and receive communion twice a year. Those fully integrated, an “inner circle” of dedicated members, could meet for communion once a month. But after 1800 the speed of the Unity of Brothers’ deterioration only increased.

In meetings at Herrnhut early in the nineteenth century the use of the lot came up for question. Many members did not feel like using it anymore, particularly not in marriage. At first the Elders’ Conference allowed them to stop putting in a blank slip. Then they made marriage by lot necessary for ministers and missionaries only. After a few more years, they dropped it altogether. Along with it, they dropped all dress standards, both for men and women. The sisters stopped wearing their white Shnäbelhauben (head coverings), and in 1836 the Elders’ Conference decided to exchange the “kiss of peace” with an ordinary handshake.

Up to this time, only members of the Moravian church could live in the Ortsgemeinen. The church still owned the mills, tanneries, stores, and guest houses within them and employed many of its working members. But families managed their own affairs. Young men and women living in their choir houses, found work elsewhere and no longer shared their possessions. They simply paid for their keep, like at boarding houses, and after repeated incidents of drunkenness and immorality (or theft, as in one case in Germany where a brother in charge made off with a large sum of money), the church decided to close the choir houses down.

At Bethlehem in Pennsylvania the church began to allow its members to sell land to non-Moravians in 1844. Other communities “opened up” soon afterward, but no change affected the brothers and sisters more than their gradual acceptance of military service.

For a hundred years since their flight to Herrnhut, and century upon century before then, Moravian believers, as “pilgrims on earth and friends of the whole world,” had refused to take part in war. War and worldly government, like taking up arms for self-defence, looked to them like the exact opposite of Christ’s way. As late as in the 1770’s (during the Revolutionary War) the brothers at Gnadenheim, near York, Pennsylvania, wrote: “To take part in military service is sin. It calls for church discipline.” In a message to the young brothers at Bethlehem, Bishop Johann Ettwein said: “To take up arms is the same as murder, and to hire a substitute for the militia, the same as hiring a murderer instead of being one. . . . Your work is to serve Christ. Therefore you may not allow anything to break your close connection or your allegiance to him. For this reason, do not get involved in political excitement.”

A generation later, Moravians in Europe fought on both sides of the Napoleonic Wars. The same took place in America where the church band from Salem, North Carolina, played for Confederate troops at Gettysburg. And during both World Wars young Moravians marched to opposite tunes—mere Americans, Britons, or Nazis. Herrnhut itself passed from the Heiland’s hands into those of the Führer, then into East German communism. But the story did not end. . . .

A chorus of frogs sang in the rain the night we met with the leaders of the Moravian Church in Guyana, at Georgetown. Sitting around a table under a bare light in the basement of the manse on New Garden Street, we heard water dripping outside its open windows. Water ran from coconut palms. Mosquitos circled about, and the happy noise of children playing across the yard in the John Amos Comenius school drifted to us. A brother read the Watchword. We prayed together and an East Indian Christian (a welcome sight among the rest of the brothers, all Afro-Guyanese, in this racially divided land) spoke to us. We discussed plans together. Then we stood, holding hands, to pray again and sing a Moravian hymn.

After the meeting I met leaders from West Demerara, Graham’s Hall, Beterverwagting, Berbice. . . . As if walking straight out of the story those names evoked they almost startled me with their reality. Anabaptists from England, America, and Canada, here we stood among Moravians again—Afro-Moravians in South America on the eve of the twenty-first century—just as colourfully diverse, yet as directly a result of central Europeans seeking for Christ as we. And in that strange diversity but common unity it occurred to me that we may not have missed our last chance yet.

All those that predicted, like Jaan Stinstra, the ruin of the Moravian church saw some of their prophecies come true. But all of them, to greater or lesser degrees, suffered the same ruin themselves. Apostasy comes in many ways. No matter on what we focus—on strict obedience to the letter, on heady emotionalism, on missions, on revival, on community, on nonconformity, on peace—if it is not Christ, it leads to ruin. But awakening only and always comes through humble repentance.

The first Mennonite meetinghouse in America, at Germantown, like the Moravian Gemeinhaus at Bethlehem, has become a museum. To a certain extent both of us have become “museum churches.” All Christians like to know something about us, and mention us in their footnotes. But what would happen, I began to ask myself that wet tropical night on New Garden Street, if we woke up together? What would happen if in full recognition of our Sünderhaftigkeit (wretched sinnerness) we would fall on our faces before the “Bridegroom of our Souls” then rose to follow him in radical obedience? What would happen if we caught a new vision of the Gemeinde Gottes im Geist, a “Jesus Church” for the 21’st Century, then lived it out in simplicity and peace?

Could many good traditions, the Pilger and the Ortsgemeinen, “choir houses” for single brothers and sisters, “pilgrim wheels” and the “hinge,” not come back to life and serve the Saviour again?

Could what the Moravians had and what the Anabaptists (always bickering and dividing over details) needed, not come together? On the other hand, could the “If you love me keep my commandments” teaching of the Anabaptists not protect those who exult in the wonder of Christ’s mercy today?

It will not take a fresh understanding of Scripture, it suddenly occurred to me, for us to rediscover the great joy of the early Moravian, the Anabaptist, the Waldensian, the early Czech, Albigensian, Bogomil, and first Christian movements. It will not take years in college or celebrations of history—artefact displays, Moravian stars, beeswax candles, or music by Bethlehem’s Bach choir. It will not even take this book. . . .

All it will take for heaven to move and earth to shake again is a “night on the Hutberg.” All it will take is what David had and Saul did not—a vision of ourselves as ganz klein und sünderisch, utterly wretched in our sins before God (both as individuals and congregations). Then, on our faces in repentance before him, we might see what the believers at Herrnhut saw, and our Saviour might finish in us what he began in them.

Just before Easter, in 1999, I visited Bethlehem for the last time before moving to South America. Patches of frozen snow still crunched under my feet on the burial ground in the middle of the city. The rising sun, dazzling in mist above the Lehigh, shone through giant trees not yet in bud. Squirrels scampered from tree to tree, and I heard the roar of morning rush hour traffic. . . .

Johann Michael Zahm, Sinsheim Pfaltz, 1737, Michael of the Mennising Nation, John Peter of the Wampanosh Nation, Thomas Fischer, Neustadt an der Asch, Simeon a Delaware, Johannes (Tschoop) a Mohican—the gravestones, some still under snow, lay flat among dry grass and seeds. Row upon row of stones, they lay like I knew the brothers and sisters buried there had sat in meeting. Every one alike. All on the same level. First I walked where the married brothers lay: Johann Friedrich Cammerhof, David Nitschman Zauchenthal 1696-1772 episcopus, Christian Werner, Copenhagen, William, son of Johannes an East Indian and of Magdalena an African, Georg Heinrich Loskiel, Angermunde, Courland, 1745-1814, Joseph a Mohican. Jens Wittenberg, Christiania [Norway], Joachim Busse, Reval, Livonia, 1758. . . .

Then I found myself among the young brothers’ and little boys’s choirs: Johann Ignatius Nitschmann, Joseph “Indian boy” 1759, Samuel (a Delaware) 1757, Timothy Horsefield, Johann Gattermeyer, William Shippen, Christian David Heckewelder, Friedrich Christian Beutel [son of Heinrich and Elisabeth, pioneers at Pilgerhut], Ludwig Daniel Lukenbach. . . .

On the other side of the central path through the burial ground I read: Agnes Fischer, Mühlhausen im Schweiz, 1788, Anna Helena Haberland, Berthelsdorf, Elisabeth Weber, Modekrick [Muddy Creek], Susanne Elisabeth Funk Kaske [Pilgerhut, Berbice], Anna Caritas of the Shawnee Nation, Eve of the Mohican Nation, wife of Nicodemus, Elizabeth Langgard, s’Gravenhaag, Barbara Schlegel, Franconia, Helene Birnbaum, Kärnten, 1784, Rosina Neubert, Kunwald in Mähren, Marianne Garrison [the converted sea-captain’s wife], Dorothea Schmidt, Württemberg, Maria Elisabeth Pitschman, Oberschlesien . . . . And among the girls choirs, Susanna Carolina Eggert, Lydia Carolina Hübner, Lisette Lewering, Johanna Elisabeth Unger, Mary Pyrlaeus, Juliane Fischer, geboren in Surinam, Rachel and Anna Maria of the Delaware Nation, Clementine Sophie Borheck, Carolina Henkel, St. Croix. . . .

Baby girls that died before they had names lay under simple inscriptions, Beata (Blessed) Schropp, Beata Schultz, and baby boys under the name Beatus.

From London and Donegal and Wittgenstein they came. From Schaffhausen, Hungary, Yorkshire, Antigua, St. Thomas, Heidelberg, Stockholm, the Aarau, Liverpool, Jutland, Holstein, Lübeck, Hinterpommern—their names (many of them old Waldensian and Unity names from Moravia) standing in silent witness this spring morning above the Lehigh to what happened in southern France, in Czech lands, and at Herrnhut in the eighteenth century.

In this burial ground I could not feel sad. The vollendete Gemeine (triumphant congregation) that left its names at this place is no longer here. Their trials passed. They had their turn. They saw the Lamb and changed the world. Now it is our turn.

At the time of the awakening in Herrnhut, Brother Ludwig wrote:

A Church remains immovable, as long as she is faithful and the Saviour prospers her. But the moment her spirit is gone, and the body is without life, it must, according to general and eternal justice, be dissolved, and lose its form also. Those church bodies which are not dissolved when life is wanting, either never had it, but were statues, or if they had, then they are carcasses in the sight of God, till their figure likewise drops. But God who raises the dead and has promised eternal duration to his own schemes, foresees an hour when he will call such a vanished church out of her grave. Then she is fairer than before.3

An hour foreseen by God to rise from the grave? Should we “behold the Lamb” like the young slave singing with all his heart among the St. Thomas underbrush, that hour might come today.


1 From a letter from Joseph Müller to the Brethren in Germantown, November 1749.

2 Gesangbuch, 1945

3 Berliner Reden, 1738