Shining Our Light: Moravian Women and Transformative Giving

Recently Laura and I had the privilege of being a part of the 12th Moravian Women’s Conference at the Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, Maryland.  More than 350 women from all corners of the Moravian world came together for 4 days of “Walking in the Light”.  Sisters from the Northern and Southern Provinces of the United States were joined by sisters from Canada, Tanzania, Nepal, Albania, Nicaragua, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Barbados, the Virgin Islands and on, coming together to share what it means to walk in the light.

For Laura and me, it was also an opportunity to talk about Grace, Generosity and Gratitude and the important role women play in giving and the church.  Our workshop was entitled, “Shining Our Light: Moravian Women and Transformative Giving.”

We began with the history of Moravian women leading the way and walking in the light. In 1766, sixteen young Moravian women and girls walked from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Bethabara in North Carolina. Among those women was 17-year-old Elizabeth Oesterlein.  A few short years later, at age 23, she moved from Bethabara to Salem and became the founder of the School for Little Girls, now Salem Academy. Sister Oesterlein was young but she chose to accept the responsibility. She became a part of an unusual organization, the Single Sisters Choir, who were ready to work, teach, and do whatever needed to be done. Quoting Wayne Burkette’s Salem Academy and College Founders Day Address in 2013:     

“The Single Sisters choir of Salem was a vital community of woman where there was always work to be done, a community in which no one experienced poverty and where there was always mutual support and a safety net when needed. Closely related to that work ethic was the Single Sister’s financial and business acumen. The business arm of the choir, the Diacony, was arguably the most successful of all the business ventures of early Salem. They regularly turned a profit, they provided all the school needed to survive and prosper. Some might say they were generous to a fault, but they were willing to accept and manage the risk that's always a part of generosity. They also played a primary role in the establishment of the African Church in Salem which became the St. Philips Congregation, as well as the Moravian Home, now known as Salemtowne. The Diacony continued as an organization over many generations into the modern era, and the last member of the group, Caro Crosland, died in 1998, bringing to a conclusion 230 years of business enterprises. Their remaining financial assets of $67,114.39 were bequeathed to Salemtowne.”

We also shared stories about two modern Moravian women who shined their light through their leadership, hospitality, and generosity. Maxine Garrett and Vangie Smith were women who worked hard, managed well, and made a difference in many peoples’ lives. They made transformative gifts but also served as examples of transformative living. They were shining a light.

From the 1700's to the present, Grace, Generosity and Gratitude are reflected in the lives of women who play an active role in their churches and in the charities they support. For many of us, giving is based on a lifetime of acquired values and working for positive change. We focus on building a better life for others and ourselves.  And on shining our light.