As we prepare for our offering for Haiti at our Valentine “Heart to Heart” Family Rally, I’ve been pondering how we talk with children, and more importantly listen to them when tragedy strikes.   Not too long ago I heard a parent say to a child, who was upset about the death of another child, that “God just needed her for an angel.”

While I understand the adult’s attempt or need to soften the blow I have to ask, “What is it that makes us want to speak for or on behalf of God?”  For some reason we feel as if we need to defend God, or blame God.  We want to wrap up a tragedy and make it fit into our own construct of reality.

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to people.  Things simply happen, or some things, so called “destiny producing deeds” are a result from our own behavior.  In short, we reap what we sow.  For example, too much CO2 in the atmosphere creates global warming, a person who has smoked for years develops lung cancer, or our consumptive lifestyle creates an imbalance of justice, not only to other people, but also to the environment.  These are the sad outcomes because of our sinful behavior.   This is something kids can understand.  “If I take a toy away from a friend, I risk a tug of war.”  “When I plant this seed a green shoot pushes through the soil.” 

Natural disasters have nothing to do with God, aside from the fact that God created the earth.    Nor does the fault lie in people.  Tectonic plates shift, and a whole city and her people are smothered and crushed in the dust. No one is to blame, even if insurance companies want to call it an “act of God.”

 Scripture does tell us that God hates with a perfect hatred. God’s heart breaks when our hearts break.   God hates cancer, earthquakes, murder, famine and malaria, most anything that robs all of us of the abundant life.  So what does God do?  God redeems terrible times and brings good out of them.  God stays very close by our sides, and walks with us through our bewilderment and agony.  As scripture promises, God greets us every morning, offering us new mercy, after our “dark nights of the soul” when “our tears have been our food, day and night.” 

Jenny and Hal Runkel of ScreamFree have two excellent articles on how we might respond to our children during a catastrophe.  These are written both out of their expertise and more importantly, their personal experience.  With ScreamFree organization’s permission, I have included them here on our website. 

Suffice it to say, we can say to our children and teens, “I don’t know,” [why this tragedy occurred].   Also we might invite our children to share what they are wondering, by asking, “Tell me more about your thoughts on that…”  Or perhaps, if they are having very strong feelings  in terms of justice, or with regard to their own fear and security, we can simply ask, “how are you feeling about this?”  And it is always important to wonder out loud with our children, and share with them how we feel too, “I have lots of unanswered questions, and my heart breaks when I see and hear the cries of the Haitian people.”

What I do know and believe is that God is with us, beside us, there to catch us when we fall, and there to meet us as a friend, when we depart from this world.”

See you this Sunday at the Heart to Heart Family Rally on Valentines Day! (For more information about this fun event, visit our event page on Facebook! You can also view this informative summary page.)


Rev. Lisa Mullen
Director of Children and Family Ministries
Board of Christian Education

 Read the ScreamFree Parenting articles here…
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I apologize to all of you who just received an odd, generic email from me with the Subject line “Confirm Your Subscription.” It is not SPAM nor has my email address been compromised. This was supposed to have been an invitation to re-subscribe to the Moravian Roots and Wings Newsletter, which has been moved to a new home. But it sent out my notification without any customization, leaving me ticked off and you inconvenienced. I apologize!! We are now using a free mailing list service and obviously, you get what you pay for! 

If  you’re reading this because you ended up here after clicking the link in that odd email, welcome to the list! You may unsubscribe from this list by clicking the link at the bottom of any email you receive from me.

Think about becoming a fan on Facebook by visiting

Being a list member means you’ll receive periodic emails from us with information about upcoming Moravian family activities and timely issues facing most families.

-Ruth Cole Burcaw, Chair, Children & Family Life Commission Moravian Roots & Wings is a program of the Children & Family Life Commission of the Board of Christian Education, Moravian Church, Southern Province.

Moravian Putz

Putzes are often displayed in Moravian churches and even private homes, like this one.

It can be as simple as you like, it can be as elaborate as you like. The main thing is that the Putz tells the holy story of our dear Savior’s Birth long ago. There are Putzes that fill whole rooms and have many different scenes depicting the events of Our Lord’s Incarnation, the Prophet Isaiah or John the Baptist, the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, the Ascent to Bethlehem, the Stable, the Shepherds and so on. A Putz can be as simple as figures of the Blessed Virgin, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the Ox and the Ass in a simple stable made of twigs.

The main thing is to “tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love” as the hymn says. The Ox and the Ass are there, not as you might think because Jesus was born in a barn, rather they are there because they are the first witnesses of our Lord’s Birth. Isaiah the Prohet tells us (1:3) “‘The Ox knows its master and the Ass knows its owner’s manger, but My People does not know Me,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” Even they recognized the word made flesh. The Putz is a wonderful educational tool to help us do the same. What a wonderful opportunity the Putz gives us to “tell the old,old story”, to share it with our family and friends.

Bishop Kenneth Hamilton, who ordained me many long years ago, once said “The Baby Jesus is the center of every Putz.” And so He must be. The Putz also helps us keep Jesus at the Center of our Christmas celebration. Long ago Bishop Hennig Schlimm of Germany was trying to explain my Koenigsfeld Putz to some German visitors there. “In the American Moravian Church,” he said, “the Putz is as important as the Christmas Tree.” I wish it had been true then, I wish even more that it were true now. We need even more to put Jesus in the center of our Christmas celebrations.

Pastor Roy Ledbetter is a Moravian pastor serving an ELCA Lutheran parish in St. Louis. He has served parishes in Virginia, North Carolina, Germany and Missouri. A writer and editor, he raises blackberries for pies, is an avid woodcarver and Putz builder and does volunteer translating for the Moravian Archives in Herrnhut, Bethlehem and Salem.

(Editor’s Note: The Moravian putz, pronounced “puts,” is a miniature nativity scene. The word comes from the German word “putzen,” meaning “to decorate.” For more information about putzes, check out this Victorian Christmas site, or read about putz displays at Central Moravian Church and First Moravian Church in Greensboro, NC.  Accounts differ as to the origins of the Putz.)

Pastor Roy's Kastenkrippe

Pastor Roy’s Kastenkrippe appears at right. Read about his long-abiding love for the putz in this article, originally published in The Creche Herald in 2009:

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I heard the first Christmas carol on November l4.  I remember being 1) confused and startled – Is that “Silent Night”?  Why in the world is “Silent Night” playing on the radio? – then 2) resentful – What in the world are they thinking?!  It’s only November l4th! – and then resigned; after all, hadn’t the stores already been decorated for Christmas for two weeks?  Why should I be surprised by a little premature carol-playing?

     As they say, Christmas comes earlier every year.  I confess, I’ve grown weary of the whole event.  By that, I don’t just mean the rampant consumerism, the endless messages that suggest that we adults must give, give, give to prove our love and devotion, and the endless messages pumped out to our children that their job is to ask, ask, ask for more.  (The number of items on my youngest son’s Christmas list is fast approaching thirty.)  I’ve grown weary as well of the anti-consumerism messages.  The simplicity messages.  The “real meaning” of Christmas messages that have become so clichéd as to be meaningless themselves.

     By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that this article is supposed to be about … simplicity at Christmas.   Yet, whenever I think about Christmas, what comes to mind is a big to-do list – and backgrounding that list is an inventory that plays in my mind regardless of the season: 5 graduate school classes, 2 jobs, 2 small children, 2 aging parents – and somewhere in there is my poor spouse.   There is no way to simplify this formula, especially at Christmas.

     We like to reduce the advent and nativity story to a tale of sentimental simplicity.  But was it?  Think about Mary: according to Luke, twice in her pregnancy she made two long and arduous and perhaps dangerous journeys, first to see her kinswoman Elizabeth, and then to Bethlehem, with Joseph.  She was pregnant and young and unmarried.  She had been told that she was going to bear the son of God, of all things.  None of this could have been “simple.”  But what I love about Mary is that, despite what must have been overwhelming and frightening and terribly uncertain circumstances – she showed up.  She believed.  But she didn’t believe unthinkingly – she pondered these things in her heart.

     I cannot bring simplicity into my world, for as is true for most of us, it is a busy, complex, often overwhelming and uncertain and sometimes frightening place. I can’t make Christmas “simple.”  But I can show up.  I can believe the Good News.  I can ponder in my heart the love I have for my family  – and for a baby boy whose coming into the world changed everything, forever.  I can know the joy I receive from this is real, as my life – as all our lives – spiral toward return and completion in the Messiah.      

Karen Richardson Dunn writes for Morvian Roots and Wings,  even though she is a a wife and mother,  a full-time student at Wake Forest Divinity School, and serves at Fairview Moravian Church as a worship intern.

How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child’s personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people. — Sir John Templeton

Don’t wait until the last minute to plan a way to deliberately mark the Thanksgiving holiday other than stuffing yourself full of good food. These suggestions might make planning easier:

  • Don’t cook! Yes, it’s radical, but still possible. Plenty of local restaurants offer special Thanksgiving meal deals and other places provide take-out options. If you are spending all your Thanksgiving family time with the oven, it doesn’t have to be that way. Create your own tradition that enables everyone to enjoy being together.
  • If you’ve got to cook, get everyone involved in mealtime preparation. Cooking is a great way to get kids interested in science, math and physics, not to mention history and tradition. Children also will be more enthusiastic about Thanksgiving if they have a part to play. Just pick the task(s) best suited to their age and ability.
  • Tell family stories at the table. A twist on the old “here’s what I’m thankful for,” this has potential to engage the entire family just before the Tryptophan from the turkey kicks in. Need help coming up with a creative way to get things started? Try the talking fork. No, seriously. The Family Education web site  is full of other Thanksgiving tips this holiday season.
  • Reflect on thankfulness. For families with older kids, print out a variety of quotes, hymn text, and/or Bible verses and place on everyone’s plate to share. This is a nice alternative for shy folks who might not care to share out loud what they’re thankful for. It can also broaden horizons just a bit. Consider this quote from Anne Frank: “I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.”  Read the rest of this entry »


This past October, I had a serious car accident in which I managed to drive up a guide wire, hit a telephone pole eight feet off the ground, and knock down a transformer. At this point, my car spun completely around in the direction from which I came and rolled over.  I was knocked unconscious, so don’t remember a thing. Witnesses say that all of my windows shattered into little sparkling pieces and all of the “stuff” in my car went flying.  Paper, paper, everywhere!  

I had been cleaning out my office and had many files and books in my car.  I am not quite sure what I lost materially, but I know I did not — thanks be to God — lose my life or my limbs. What I gained, in a word, is perspective

In the past, friends have helped me clean and file and they’d ask, “Do you really need this? Really, Lisa, be honest.”  “Yes,” I would answer, as I retrieved a book out of the ‘giveaway’ pile or snatched a copy of an article out of the recycling box.  

Since one of my core values is simplicity, losing things is not a bad teacher.  Losing things has the potential to help us “turn round right.”    

Witnesses of my crash also wondered how I could have survived.  Since I did survive, I feel I owe it to God and my family to actually live into my true values and be aware of what I treasure most . . . people, not things.  

As I enter the season of Thanksgiving and Advent,  I will continue to pray for eyes to see what is truly essential, a heart brimming full with gratitude, and a head that has the good sense to travel lightly towards Bethlehem.  If we join Mary on that burro, we will carry the one thing needful, one treasure only — our Lord and Christ.   

Lisa Mullen is the Director of Children & Family Life Ministries for the Moravian Church, Southern Province.

November 13th is fast approaching. Have you ever talked to your children or grandchildren about the Moravians’ view of Chief Elder? Do you know the story of how Jesus Christ came to be elected the church’s Chief Elder? Thanks to our friend Craig Atwood for providing a little background on the topic:  

Moravians really like the number 13. We have two festivals in the church year that fall on the thirteenth day of the month: August 13 and November 13. This is probably just a strange coincidence, but it does tell us that Moravians are not very superstitious about numbers! August 13 was the great day when the Moravian church was given a new life by the Holy Spirit. We celebrate that event with communion and lovefeasts, but what is November 13 all about?

On September 16, 1741, the leaders of the church were meeting in London to make a number of important decisions. One of them was to choose a new Chief Elder. Leonard Dober, one of the first missionaries to the slaves in the Caribbean, had been serving as chief elder for several years. It was a big job. He was responsible for the spiritual welfare of a church that had grown rapidly from a little community in Herrnhut, Germany to an international fellowship stretching from Greenland to South Africa.

The Chief Elder was primarily responsible for hearing people’s complaints and concerns, especially in spiritual matters. He prayed on behalf of the community, and at times he worked to make peace between individuals. He was a pastor who was expected to offer sound advice. There was also a Chief Eldress for the women of the church. For many years, it was Anna Nitschmann, the head of the Single Sisters Choir.

Leonard Dober was tired. The job was wearing him out, and people were beginning to complain about how he did things. So, he officially asked to lay down this office, and then the rest of the elders set about trying to find someone to replace him. The elders who were gathered included the Count and Countess von Zinzendorf, Benigna, their daughter (who was  only 16), Leonard Dober, Anna Maria Lawatsch, Friedrich von Watteville (Zinzendorf’s best friend), Rosina Nitschmann, David Nitschmann (not the bishop), and August and Mary Spangenberg. This was an impressive group that included some of the wisest people in the church.

It is amazing that there were as many women as men at the meeting. That would not have been the case for other churches at that time. It is also remarkable that most of the participants were under the age of 42. By our standards, these elders were quite young. They were also creative and adventurous. Each of them had travelled through many countries and across the ocean to spread the good news that God loves all people, especially those who have been rejected by the world.

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Ruth & her first spiritual mentor, her grandma.

Ruth and her first spiritual mentor - her grandma.

Growing up, I had lots of fears. Now that I’ve watch my own very imaginative son struggle with similar feelings, I realize how normal I was. Lying in the safety of my warm, middle-class home, in my giant double bed, I obsessed over thunderstorms, fire, robbers, kidnappers and things that went creepy-crawly in the night. I pondered my own mortality, thinking, “Am I really real? Is life real or is it a dream?” This was the most frightening of all of my fears.

Fortunately, I was able to discuss my fears with a kind and compassionate adult — my maternal grandmother, whose faith has always been deep and wide and uncompromising. It was she who first really talked to me about Jesus and his great sacrifice, who prayed with me for comfort and peace when I felt unsettled, and who encouraged my heartfelt, childish writings and drawings about God and Jesus.

Though I grew up in the church with loving, faithful Christian parents, when I think back on my spiritual formation, I know that it began in my room at bedtime with Grandma praying me to sleep. I learned many things from my grandma — like closing the bread bag without using one of those twisty ties or how to decorate a dining table for company — but what I remember most about her is her deep and abiding faith – a faith that continues even today at 97 in a skilled nursing facility. Philippians is a favorite book of hers, and Philippians 4:13 provides special inspiration: “For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even as her body and mind fail her, Grandma still embodies what it means to be a Christian.

Who were your spiritual mentors? Who provided a context or foundation for you to discuss spiritual issues as a child? From where did your initial impressions of God & Jesus come? And how would your children answer these questions? Are there adults in their life who provide a kind of spiritual leadership?

-Ruth Cole Burcaw, Co-Chair
Children & Family Life Commission


Using humor in the family is a great opportunity to be human with our children and enjoy the life and the lifestyles that we share as a family unit. In fact most family humor is often narrative. It tells a story and is often meant as a way to recall the “funny” things that make our families unique.

Faith is also story as well. As we share with our families in worship, in discussions about the sermon or in the context of teaching moments most often faith is spoken of in a narrative fashion. Linking both humor and faith seems like a natural encounter.

Humor however, should never be used to humiliate or discipline our children in lowering their self-esteem. Our children learn through actions and words. Humor that make us less than human can cause harm and hurt the family fabric of trust. In our families, humor is spontaneous, it celebrates the moment and captures for us the entire flavor our shared experience of life. As someone who looks at life from a different point of view than most, I have found that humor is gift to be given and shared. It carries with it the responsibility to be mindful “when and where” it can and should be used.

So… let’s laugh at the human condition as well as cry. It is part of the story of faith that helps us to laugh at an old woman giving birth, a camel going through the eye of a needle and the a fisherman fishing for men and women. Laugh and give your laughter as a gift to your family as well as your faith. You’ll be glad…happy that you did!

~The Rev. Dave Merritt is pastor of Hope Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.  He is EXTREMELY funny. Well, his family thinks so, anyway!

  • In a 2000 study by the University of Michigan of 2818 students 12 and younger spent 13 ½ hours a week watching TV to 2 ¼ hours studying.
  • A 1999 government study found only 35% of high school seniors studies an hour or more a night.  This is down  from 40% in 1984.
  • In 2002 UCLA found that 76% of 282, 549 freshman at 437 colleges that as high school seniors they had spent 5 hours or more a week socializing, but only 33% spent as much time studying. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 10-1-03)

Homework is a student’s responsibility from the very first assignment through college and beyond.  The earlier they learn this the better.  Responsibilities are not necessarily our first choice in which to invest our energy, finances… but we do as we are responsible adults.  Homework is an excellent opportunity to help students learn responsibility. 
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Recognizing the home as a community of faith, Roots & Wings provides avenues for families to discover and develop their spiritual roots and wings in today’s world. Roots & Wings celebrates and enriches family connectedness within the Moravian Church community.


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