Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happy Gedächtnestag

Actually I’m a day late. And realistically Gedächtnestag was celebrated back on Sunday so I’m even more late. But I am writing today….so deal with it.

Now if you are a normal person you are probably sitting there confused. You could most likely care less what day Gedächtnestag is and are wondering more about how the heck one pronounces it, or more importantly what the heck it is….good question.

Let me start this story by informing you that I am a Schwenkfelder. And I’m proud of it.

What is a Schwenkfelder you may ask? Well a Schwenkfelder is a follower of the religious teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. He lived way back in the 1500’s and one of his contemporaries was Martin Luther (whom hopefully you’ve heard of and know something about him and his 95 Theses and all). Schwenkfeld lived within the Holy Roman Empire in a place called Silesia (which is now round abouts where Poland is located) and he not only questioned Catholic practices, but also formed his own ideas that were outside of the Lutheran realm as well. His big teachings were thinking for ones self and coming to your own conclusions as well as following a “Middle Way.”

However inevitably Silesia (and most of the populated European world) were not so keen on the individual ideas thing and Schwenkfeld was labeled a heretic – ouch. He though did manage to gather a following, they called themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ, luckly for me the name didn’t stick and these people would eventually become known just as Schwenkfelders. Those people continued to follow Schwenkfeld’s teachings despite a harsh political environment. Back then religion and politics were pretty much one in the same. And at that time in history the Holy Roman Empire, while ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, was more like a bunch of smaller fiefdoms. And so an agreement had been made between the Emperor and all of the provincial rulers that each ruler could choose for himself if his lands would be Catholic or Lutheran. Unfourtionately Schwenkfelder was not an option, and so the valiant Confessors were persecuted.

By the early 1700’s it was getting pretty bad and the Schwenkfelder’s were seriously considering escaping their native lands to find religious freedom. After a temporary respite while staying on the lands of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendof, a pretty awesome and unbelievably liberal guy for the day, in Saxony their freedom was again in question and their thoughts turned to moving to the new world. Specifically they picked Pennsylvania where there people spoke of religious freedom, plus there was already a good contingent of German folk.

There were a few different migration groups however the largest set sail in 1734 and arrived in Philadelphia on September 22. Two days later on September 24th the Schwenkfelders held a day of Thanksgiving for having made the grueling journey to begin their new lives in the new world.

Each year, from then on, Schwenkfelders gather together on the Sunday closest to September 24 and together celebrate Gedächtnestag, or as we also call it Day of Remembrance. It is the oldest continually celebrated day of thanksgiving in the US (our claim to fame!).

On that day we take the opportunity to reflect upon our past. There is a traditional meal of bread, apple butter, and water. When I was younger I understood that we did that because when those pilgrims first landed that simple meal of fresh food was a feast. I now know that this is most likely not at all true, and I’m not sure if it’s a common misconception by everyone, or a child’s error. But it’s the tradition and we love us some apple butter. Some people even call it Apple Butter day.

Most importantly however is that we are remembering. The part that I love most about being a Schwenkfelder is our rich and vibrant history. What can I say, it makes me feel special. I love telling the story or even just teaching other people to pronounce the name.

I haven’t regularly attended church for over 4 years now having moved away most of the first 3 years for school and now having moved away for my job. And of all the reasons why I miss home being a practicing Schwenkfelder is probably what gets me the most.

But I still remember. And I figure that so long as I remember I’ll always be a Schwenkfelder at heart.

Happy Gedächtnestag!

Clause: The historical parts of this entry may not be 100% accurate as I was mostly just telling it from my own memory.

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