Sunday, April 24, 2011

Transforming moment

Years ago — decades ago, in fact, when I was probably about 12 years old — we were living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Bethlehem is a fiercely proud Moravian town. It was founded on Christmas Eve, 1741, a full 12 years before that other fiercely proud Moravian settlement, Bethabara, which soon would grow to become Winston-Salem. 

Dad, at that time all those decades ago, was a middle-aged student at Moravian Theological Seminary, which is situated on the campus of Moravian College, and not far from the church we attended: College Hill Moravian Church.

Are you getting the picture?

At any rate, one of dad's good friends and classmates, who was a native of Winston-Salem, invited our family to visit his North Carolina home over the Easter break. This had to be in the early 1960s.

I don't remember much about the trip. What I vaguely recall is attending the Easter sunrise service at God's Acre Cemetery and being impressed by the hills on which the remarkably quaint graveyard is located. Little could I foresee that this initial visit to Winston-Salem ironically would herald my own lengthy career in Lexington, less than 25 miles and 13 years away.

Fast-forward through time. It is the early 1980s, I am living in Lexington now and I am married. I haven't shaken off my Moravian roots, but neither have I nourished them. An Easter arrives, and so does my brother and his wife for a visit from Wisconsin. We take them to the sunrise service at God's Acre and it opens a floodgate of ... not memories, exactly, because my memories are fuzzy and incomplete. It's more like emotions: humility, inspiration, contrition.

Sunrise creeps over the trees at God's Acre Cemetery in Winston-Salem.
 More time passes. Several years later, my wife and I attend another sunrise service on a cold and damp April morning. I don't believe there even was a sunrise that year. At least, I don't remember one.

But there was one today. It was glorious. Even though we were late for the start of the service, we made it in time to make the thought-provoking procession up Church Street, from Home Moravian Church to God's Acre. Along the way we — and perhaps 10,000 others — were serenaded by several Moravian brass bands, stationed at various points along the route. One band would play a familiar hymn's refrain, answered in kind by another band at an unseen location, until the hymn traveled around the cemetery from point to point. It served to swell the heart and dampen the eyes.

Morning light etched into the clear sky. Songbirds seemed to be everywhere.

I think this was the 239th sunrise service at God's Acre. My memories are still a little uncertain, but the emotions have ripened and matured with age. There are definite connections with various stages in my life that once were and perhaps with those that are yet to be. One thing is certain: it's clearly a transforming moment.

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