The Top Ten reasons I keep coming back to Bethlehem (PA)

I was privileged to attend gatherings of two of my favorite groups recently. The biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) met in Grand Rapids last weekend. I became involved in CFH while in grad school and it has served as a tremendous encouragement over the years. The meeting this year was the 50th anniversaryCFH 2018 of the beginning of CFH and the program did not disappoint. I got to chair a session with two excellent papers by Edward Davis and James Ungureanu on the history of the tensions between science and religion. Thanks to our friend, Chris Gehrz, you can find excellent reflections on the gathering from various participants here and here, as well as more analysis from John Fea and John Turner.

Then this past weekend I was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for another biennial conference — the Bethlehem Conference on Moravian History and Music. This gathering began (in its present form) in 2006. I was in grad school then and just beginning my research on eighteenth-century Moravians. I have come to find out that Moravian studies was beginning a renaissance of sorts just then. The Moravian Archives (northern province) and the Moravian Music Foundation has been the catalyst for much of this. The program was fantastic.

Bethlehem conference moses lecture

The Rev. Dr. Winelle Kirton-Roberts talks about Moravians, race, and Moravian missions in the Caribbean.

Since grad school, I haven’t missed a single one. Here’s ten reasons why, for the past 12 years, I have kept coming back to Bethlehem:

10. Cheese steaks and Philadelphia style pizza

9. Pennsylvania is just a great place. (I realize I’m biased – I grew up there.)

8. The Moravian spirit of generosity, hospitality, and community —  Moravians have celebrated good community for centuries. Its hard not to go away encouraged.

7. Friends I only see once every two years but re-start conversations like we talked last week (see #8)

6. Some of these people actually read the stuff I write … and they think its good. (See#8)

5. I get to rub shoulders with people way smarter than me, but they don’t seem to mind (See #8)Philly cheese steak

4. Archival collections that are infinitely rich — Colonial America, Atlantic world, radical Pietism, history of missions, ethnography, art, music … its all there.

3. Scholars from across the globe. I’m not very cultured or cosmopolitan, but its exciting to mingle with folks from continental Europe, Africa, the UK, Scandinavia and across the US.

2. Historians working in Moravian studies do cutting edge research in digital humanities, women’s history, race and cultural studies, preservation, and a host of other areas

1.  Moravian history and spirituality that is endlessly fascinating: blood and wounds theology, bridal mysticism, the choir system … need I say more?


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