By Lydian Bernhardt
Morning Star, O cheering sight! Ere thou cam’st, how dark Earth’s night!
The opening lines of favorite Moravian hymn “Morning Star” thrill congregations every Christmas with their beauty and poignancy. But for Mary Jane Dewees of Winston-Salem, those familiar words may also provoke a thrill of familial pride. She is not only a member of Home Moravian Church who loves music, but is also the great-granddaughter of the hymn’s composer, Rev. Francis Florentine Hagen.
“When I hear that hymn, it does make me proud to know that I’m a part of that legacy,” Dewees says. “I do feel a connection when I play and hear Moravian music.”
Hagen (1815-1907) wrote the tune in 1836 when he was teaching at the Boys’ School in Salem, setting to music a text that is much older. Equal parts hymn and carol, the piece uses the imagery found in Revelation 22:16 of Jesus as “the bright morning star,” bringing light and clarity to an uncertain world.
Hagen was born and grew up in Salem, attended Moravian Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and spent time as a teacher and pastor in addition to being the composer of anthems, solo songs, solo piano works, an orchestral overture and works for organ, many of which were published in his lifetime.
As the descendant of a Moravian legend, Dewees has an extraordinary connection to the church and its music. Not surprisingly, music has played a big part in her own life.
When Dewees was in fifth grade, her mother gave her a flute, and she learned to play that year in band. “I kept that flute until about 10 years ago, when I bought my own,” she says.
She began to play at church and at school, and before long was drawn in by one of the highlights of the Moravian musical year: the gathering of the bands of Salem Congregation that play each Easter.
This year will mark her 71st year celebrating the Easter sunrise at God’s Acre.
“I love being with that many people in the band, all playing for the pure joy of it,” she says. “I’m always amazed at all the people who come to the service – no two are alike. Some have babies, some have children. All of them are very quiet and reverent. And then, when the sun rises, it’s just astounding.”
“They come for a reason – lots of different reasons,” says her husband, John. “When you stand at the foot of Church Street and watch the people process by, with whatever baggage they’re carrying, you know that you’re filling up those voids that they may have. It’s impressive to see them all come to worship.”
As careful planners for the future, the Deweeses decided to include the Moravian Music Foundation, along with other Moravian and non-Moravian agencies, in their estate plan. For advice, they turned to the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America.
The foundation invests funds for Moravian ministries by helping clients identify the work they most want to support, and providing proven options for achieving those goals.
“We loved the idea that you could do something with your estate plan through the MMFA,” says John Dewees. “A secular foundation doesn’t have the heart for ministry that the MMFA does. If you want to benefit an organization, the foundation is the logical way to do that.”
John Dewees works daily at Pfaff’s Inc., the paint, glass and decorating business begun by Mary Jane’s grandfather in 1913. Brought up in the Episcopal church, he and Mary Jane met in school in Atlanta, he at Georgia Tech, she at Agnes Scott College. John Dewees soon found an inescapable Moravian destiny in both Mary Jane and her church, and over the years has chaired the Moravian Music Foundation, helped with the Moravian Music Festival, and with Mary Jane, co-chaired a campaign to raise $2 million for Higgins Lodge at Laurel Ridge.
Now, years later, both enjoy being able to benefit the agencies with which they’ve been involved for years with funds managed by the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America.
“It brings me joy, and peace of mind,” Mary Jane Dewees says. “The Bible says, ‘We walk by faith,’ and part of that is giving your time and talents, which includes your resources.
“I like to give of my talents, such as they are, the best I can.”