Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Moravian snob

The other day Kim was talking with one of her friends on the telephone.

I was in the next room, playing on the computer, and I got to hear some snippets from her phone conversion:

"Yes, I put some cream  of mushroom soup in the crockpot and the chicken tasted great."

"Our cat is losing some weight and I think we need to take her to the vet."

"Oh, Bruce is a Moravian snob."


That got my attention. At first, I was a little taken aback by her comment, but the more I thought about what she said, the more I had to agree.

I am the son of a Moravian minister. I'm not quite sure how the Wehrle family got there. Our immigrant Wehrles were Catholics from Germany who came to the United States in the great migration of the 1860s. They remained Catholic until my paternal grandfather elected to join the United Church of Christ. Somewhere along the way, I think he became a Moravian, a prevalent Protestant denomination in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania — particularly because the city of Bethlehem (a Moravian settlement founded in 1741) was just across the river.

There can never be too many Moravian stars.
 Dad somehow caught the Moravian bug, even though it took a while. He was a high school English teacher in the Bethlehem suburb of Fountain Hill for several years. Then we spent a year in Portsmouth, NH, when he gave up teaching to join the Red Cross. Then he went back to teaching for a few years in East Hartford, CT.

Somewhere along the way, he heard his calling to become a Moravian minister. We packed up and headed back to Bethlehem so he could attend Moravian Theological Seminary, located on the campus of Moravian College (where, incidentally, Dad got his B.A. degree). This was during my formative junior high years, and I became submerged in Moravian culture — I took my confirmation classes at College Hill Moravian Church.

Bethlehem, no doubt principally because of its Moravian heritage, comes alive at Christmas. In fact, the place bills itself as Christmas City. Moravian stars pop up all over the place. Churches conduct Moravian love feasts on Christmas Eve, with Moravian brass bands and children's choirs singing "Morning Star." And everybody eats Moravian sugar cakes.

Moravians, in fact, were/are very musically inclined (except for me. I can't play an instrument and I sing like Alfalfa). But it is said that Benjamin Franklin often visited Bethlehem because he enjoyed listening to the Moravian ensembles who brought with them the latest hits from Europe. Music is huge in church events.

How was I going to resist all that? Moravian traditions embedded themselves in my DNA. When I moved to Lexington in 1976, I lost contact with the church. This is a phenomenon with many preacher's kids. We usually go in one of two directions: we either become ministers ourselves, or we run. I ran.

Sometime after Kim and I got married in 1980, I thought it would be nice to go to a Christmas Eve service in Winston-Salem (a Moravian settlement founded in 1766). It had been years since I'd been to one. I was surprised by how moved I was by the music and the message, to the point of tears, as childhood memories revived themselves and came running back.

My Moravian DNA bubbled over. I even asked Kim if she would make Moravian sugar cakes at Christmas, using my grandmother's recipe, passed on to my mother.

I hang my own Moravian star these days. I eat Moravian chicken pie. I go to Mrs. Hanes the first weekend in Advent to buy my Moravian sugar cookies. I constantly wear an old, beat up Moravian College baseball cap that I swear illustrates my persona.

I can't help myself. So, yes. I guess I am a Moravian Snob. With a capital "M." And a capital "S."

Merry Christmas.

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