A Century of Service

By the Rev. John Jackman

It’s not often that a Moravian church turns 100. But it happened on July 15th, when hundreds of members and friends of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem gathered to celebrate the Centennial of that congregation. In a service that included the premiere of a newly-composed anthem, meditations by two bishops, and the entire congregation signing the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living, the Trinity Centennial Celebration was an event that will be remembered for years to come.

Actually, Trinity’s roots go back more than a hundred years, for it really started with the building of Centerville Chapel, a Sunday School chapel that was built “out in the woods” on the hill south of the rapidly-growing towns of Winston and Salem.

With the installation of a new trolley car system that ran out South Main street, it became easier for city people to buy lots and build homes out in the “country.” Soon the neighborhoods of Washington Park, Central Terrace, and Sunnyside had become exciting areas of new development, and the decision was made to purchase land at the corner of Sunnyside and Sprague Streets and build a new Moravian Church, to be called “Trinity.”

With support from Home Church and other congregations, construction began in 1911, and the sanctuary was completed in early 1912. The first service was held in the new church on Sunday, May 12, 1912; but the charter was not closed and the church officially underway until July 14, 1912. The founding pastor, E. C. Stemple, got the congregation off to an excellent start and would be followed by the Rev. Douglas Rights, who would pastor there for 54 years. Two bishops of the Unity would be born in the brick parsonage next to the church: Graham and Burton Rights.

During the leadership of Douglas Rights, the congregation grew rapidly to nearly 600 members. A large Sunday School building was added to the sanctuary, and Trinity helped to start two new congregations, New Eden and Pine Chapel. Following Dr. Right’s death, a memorial chapel was added to the church in his honor; and during the 1970’s a large fellowship hall was added.

Over the last century, Trinity has maintained an unswerving dedication to a theology of servant leadership that is a marked characteristic of the congregation. Trinity has always been directly involved in ministry to the poor and the outcast; in our collection of archive pictures, we discovered a photo of the large Food and Clothing Distribution Group from 1939. Those in need have always found help at the door of either the parsonage or the church. During the 1970’s, this ongoing ministry was organized into a food pantry and clothes closet that became Sunnyside Ministry.

Today, that ministry is a separate ministry of the Southern Province that brings food to over 7,000 hungry people, clothing to over 3,000 people, and each year assists hundreds of families in financial crisis with energy and rent assistance. Today, the parsonage where Graham and Burton Rights were born is the home for Anthony’s Plot, a new intentional Christian Community. The congregation continues active involvement with Sunnyside Ministry, including hosting a free medical clinic twice a month. A children’s program called LOGOS is held each Wednesday night, and involves many children from the neighborhood that are otherwise unconnected to the church. This program, rather like Vacation Bible School except operated during the school year instead of in the summer, has touched hundreds of children over the years, and continues to reach children with the grace of Christ.

The Centennial Committee began work nearly a year in advance, and mapped out a series of events and commemorations leading up to the anniversary itself. A professional graphic artist designed a logo, which was then turned into massive canvas banners hung on the outside of the church. Former pastors and pastors who had grown up in the congregation were invited back to speak, either during a Sunday worship service or at one of several Sunday lunches. A series of special Centennial concerts were held; a commemorative centennial throw rug was created; a memorial brick prayer garden is being built, giving people in the congregation a chance to memorialize significant people in the congregations’ life. A new pictorial directory is being published, with historic photos as well as photos of the Centennial event itself. We will continue to have former pastors visit to preach as the year goes on.

On the celebration day itself, well over 350 packed the sanctuary, listening to a special prelude of band chorales, concluding with one conducted by Sam Fort, our director emeritus. The Board of Elders had determined that this anniversary would be an excellent time for members to reflect on the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living; and so the sermons throughout May focused on each section of the Covenant. At the end of the Centennial service, each member would be asked to come forward and voluntarily sign document recommitting themselves to living by the principles of this important document. The bell choir performed, and the senior choir sang a special Call to Worship. A children’s sermon, led by members Joyce Carter and Tammy Bass, explained the Covenant in terms the children could understand, as a “thumbs up” to Christ, and invited them to either sign or place their thumbprint on a special children’s version of the document. One thing that is important at Trinity is that everyone in included, no exceptions! The liturgy, based on the Liturgy of Celebration in the 1994 hymnal, was written especially for the occasion. It concluded with All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name, the same hymn that concludes our Christmas Eve service when we lift the candles. Without planning or prompting, people in the congregation began to lift their raised thumbs much as they would do their lit candles on Christmas Eve. It was a spontaneous moment of worship that will long be remembered by all who were there.

Following the liturgy, the Right Rev. Graham Rights shared his remembrances of growing up in the Trinity parsonage and being nurtured by the congregation. His memories included many saints who have left an indelible impression on many lives, but also people who were with us that day.

The service then proceeded with the premier performance of a new anthem, “Festival Anthem on Bechler ” commissioned for the occasion, by our music director Jonathan Sidden. This energetic anthem, based on the hymn “Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord,” was received with great enthusiasm.

The Right Rev. Wayne Burkette, whose father David Burkette also served at Trinity, then shared a meditation based on Luke 24:36-43, the story of one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. Br. Burkette detailed many ways in which the Trinity congregation has changed the neighborhood by its mere presence, and especially by its continued ministry and presence in the community when other congregations have decreased or moved away.

At the close of the service, every person present was invited to come forward and sign a document reaffirming personal commitment to abiding by the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living; the resulting document with its hundreds of signatures will be on display in a case, and new members who join will have the opportunity to sign as well from now on. Every person attending received a Centennial commemorative Christmas tree ornament.

Following the service, everyone gathered in front of the church to pose for a panoramic photo replicating one taken in the 1920s; they then enjoyed a potluck lunch, complete with special entertainment, including a parody “Trinity Song” written by Joyce Carter.

Times change, styles change, the neighborhood changes, but through all the changes the congregation of Trinity Moravian Church has sought to serve the poor and needy, to find the needs of the area and fill those needs with the grace of our Savior. Trinity continues as strong and innovative ministry, looking forward to the next hundred years with anticipation for the work of God in the South side of Winston-Salem.

– The Rev. John Jackman is senior pastor of Trinity Moravian Church.