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Time and Setting: 18th Century London, England; Dresden, Germany; and St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands
Cast of Characters: a minimum of 8 men and 2 women
Samuel Ashanti (fictional character)
Rebecca Freundlich Protten
Brother Friedrich Martin
Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
Ensemble (with speaking parts: Mrs. Henshaw, Saxon judge, Saxon churchman, Saxon supporter, Planter 1, Magistrate, Planter 2, Willem, Magdalena, Mingo, Governor, William Carey)
SCENE 1. AT RISE: London 1790, a testy exchange at Rev. Wesley’s residence.
Mrs. Henshaw. I am sorry, Sir. The Reverend Wesley cannot see you. He is very, very ill.
Mr. Ashanti. But my letter to the private secretary, Mr. Dawkins, was answered in the affirmative, that I am invited to visit. I am in possession of that letter now. (reaches into breast pocket)
H. (stridently) Never mind the letter, Dawkins himself is down with the black pox. You have not seen him since you arrived in London, have you?
A. Why no!
H. Thank God for that! Let me be candid with you, Mr.___?
A. Ashanti. Samuel Ashanti, newspaper correspondent traveled from far Pennsylvania to speak with Reverend Wesley.
H. You, a newspaperman? Fiddle-faddle I say! If in the former colonies…
John Wesley. (interrupting voice from a bed on darkened end of stage) Mr. Ashanti, I shall be pleased to receive you.
H. (to JW) Good Sir. You require rest---doctor’s orders.
JW. (lights on bed as JW turns over to face H & A). It is quite alright, let him pass. I wish to question our guest about Dr. Franklin. (motions with hand) Do come in.
Mrs. Henshaw, help me to sit up straight so I can speak properly. (H does so) And fetch Mr. Ashanti a chair (H rolls eyes and shakes head back and forth, but obeys. A sits, and H exits stage).
Now, that is much better. And old Benjamin Franklin, does he yet live?
A. (sits) Ahem. Sir, I loathe being the bearer of unhappy tidings, but Dr. Franklin passed away in April instant.
JW. (to himself) Alas, another octogenarian contemporary departed. (long pause) I was present at Oxford when Franklin received the honorary doctoral degree, you should know. (another long pause) Please restate your business, Mr. Ashanti. Dear me! Such a memory lapse never would have occurred in my younger years.
A. Of course. The American Methodist Episcopal Church newspaper, Zion’s Herald, has entreated me to write about Moravian churches’ missionary enterprises. I was astonished to learn that you, dear Reverend Wesley, once journeyed to German Saxony to confer with Count von Zinzendorf himself. Is it true that the two of you neared agreement to unite the respective Christian movements into one ecclesiastical body?
JW. (reflectively) Neared agreement, you ask? Perhaps. Our parlays were held in Latin, you see; neither of us being the master of the other’s mother tongue. We disagreed about the nature of sanctification, but to this day I hold that it was merely semantics that separated us. Yet, on this account von Zinzendorf thrice denied me to partake in Holy Communion! Do you know the sting of being denied the sacrament of Christian nurture? For that very reason I insist that Methodist churches practice open communion.
A. Reverend Wesley, I know the sting all too well. The wound cuts doubly deep when communion is denied due to one’s skin color.
JW. I beg your pardon, but I fail to comprehend.
A. Did you not take notice? Sir, my dark skin, that I am a Negro?
JW. With my failing eyesight, everyone appears to me as a shadowy figure. Perhaps that is for the better. (pauses) You possess eloquent speech and amiable accent. From whence do you come, Mr. Ashanti?
A. My surname attests that I am native to the Gold Coast of Africa. As an orphan I was taken in and schooled by the Moravian missionary couple, Christian and Rebecca Protten. While a youth, I joined the crew of a merchant vessel….
JW. Excuse the interruption. But this Rebecca, is she not the mulattress from the Danish West Indies, who married a Moravian brother?
A. (stands up, amazed) Sir, I stand speechless before thee. Although she passed away in obscurity ten years ago, you know of her, the anointed one, the blossom of the first fruits?
JW. The First Fruits? (pausing to remember) Yes, oh yes, I have seen this tender and adoring portrait at a Moravian church in Holland.
A. (excitedly) And I the same painting amongst the Moravian brethren in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania! The great multitude assembled before the throne of God is from every nation, tribe, and tongue!
JW. You cite the Book of Revelation 7:9. And from chapter 14, verse 4, I quote: “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.” As I recollect, a number of these first fruits are dark-skinned creatures, a fitting tribute to the Moravian brethren (pauses, chokes up) willing to go to the ends of the earth with the Gospel. (sobs)
A. My dear Reverend. You weep! Are these tears of joy, that salvation belongs to our God?
JW. (sobs) These are tears of a terrible remorse. For I failed to appreciate what God had wrought among the least of these, the poor, wretched bondsmen.
A. (concerned) Please cease to weep so, Reverend Wesley. Shall I call for Mrs. Henshaw to attend you?
JW. For heaven’s sake no. Confession is good for the soul. (pauses) Sit down again, Mr. Ashanti, I want to take you back 50 years, to events in the Danish Virgin Islands as related to me by Count Zinzendorf and the Herrnhuetter brethren. You, as a disciple of that upright mulattress, Rebecca, you must hear my confession and rid me of this vexation ere my own passing.
A. (sits, perplexed) Very well, Sir, very well. I now sit speechless before thee, all ears. If you please…
SCENE 2: St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands, 1738. Lights off A & JW, who remain on one side of stage. On other side, lights on Martin and several male and female Africans, singing one stanza of a German hymn; Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. The vocals then become a hum in order for the subsequent dialogue to be audible.
John Wesley. Amongst enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, the Christian faith was inconsequential at best, an agent of their oppression at its worst. Count Zinzendorf had received many letters from Brother Martin, the lead missionary to St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands. Martin excitedly related how the 20-year-old freewoman Rebecca claimed the prophetic missionary vision as her own. She foraged for and cared for Negro souls throughout the dispersed sugar cane fields, all the while building up a Christian church among them as a sanctuary from the plantation culture of forced labor, violence, and denigration.
Magdalena: (very loud prayer) My Lord and my God, If I had heretofore been willing to suffer for a bad cause, stealing things from my Blancken masters, why should I not now be willing to suffer for you, a charitable Savior who loves me so?
JW: Brother Martin wrote that Rebecca, herself born a slave, possessed a natural affinity with the enslaved women. Yet, as a free woman, she did not leverage her privileged social position for personal gain. Extremely gifted in languages, German, Dutch, the island Creole, and, having been born in Antigua, even English, she enjoyed greater social mobility and access than either whites or Negros. Rebecca was a very diligent worker, concluded Martin. She offered to walk further, stay later, and teach long hours. With over 300 converts to Christ amongst the Negros, more than half of these were women organized into 28 bands over which Rebecca shepherded a good many.
Mingo: (cries out) Magnificent Christ! I was so lacking in faith that I could not imagine You to make something beautiful out of me. I thank Thee for the blood thou hast shed for me, letting it flow over my corrupt heart washing it free of sin.
Baas Martin, pray for me that I will bear testimony to it to my people for as long as I live! (humming stops)
Brother Martin: (stands) Yes, we shall now divide into our male and female bands for prayer. Men, come with me; women, abide here with Rebecca. (men exit, women remain)
Magdalena: Sister Rebecca, we have traveled far from Guinea over the great sea; we have lost fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. That is why we want to know the Father above and join His family. We have heard of many rituals in the church. Teach us about baptism and the love feast.
Rebecca: I, too, was kidnapped from another island in this sea and arrived on St. Thomas an orphaned slave girl. But Christ has revealed His Word to me, a joyous word, life-giving, filling me with purpose and hope: to preach deliverance to the captives, to set at liberty them that are bruised. Now, about the love feast, it is a gift from Heaven for us, in our orphaned state, to experience divine kinship and fellowship with one another…(trails off when A speaks; women exit)
Mr. Ashanti: My dear Reverend, allow me to add this about Negro converts, as I am one myself. The search for a saving power wells out of the experience of slavery. Jesus is the ally of the black race, the Savior who sanctions and fortifies our struggle for dignity. How else can it be explained that the enslaved voluntarily embrace the religion of their oppressors? Sister Rebecca saw with eyes that seemed once to have witnessed, in the heavenly realm, all races worshiping together, just as in The First Fruits painting we each admire. Indeed, upon her bedrock Christian faith rested a new conception of the world as it should be. A worldview that she boldly acted upon.
John Wesley. You allude to Rebecca’s mixed marriage to Mr. Freundlich, Brother Martin’s assistant. Even without the biracial complication, the Moravian practice of arranged marriages can be rather awkward. (enter Martin and Freundlich, strolling)
BM: Brother Freundlich, I have long wanted to ask you something.
Matthaeus Freundlich: Yes, what would that be?
BM: Should the good Lord suggest someone, might you wish to change your marital status? (they stop) Let me explain my mind. I have taken the liberty to write the elders in Saxony and received a positive reply. Since Rebecca is known to be in the grace of God, there is no objection to the proposed marriage, which would serve as a means for furthering God’s work amongst the Negros. For us Moravian brethren, wedlock serves a much higher purpose than romance. Think of it, Brother Freundlich, as militant marriage, the common struggle to internalize and spread the word of God’s love. Now, what say you?
MF: Yes, I consent.
BM: God be praised. I shall now endeavor to gain the same consent from Rebecca. Today she works in the van Beverhout house. Go at once thither and send her hither. (BF departs, lights on A & JW))
A. Militant marriage? I have not heard that term before, but it makes sense given the assaults to soon assail them both. (lights on R & BM)
(Rebecca approaches) BM. Greetings, Rebecca. The work among the Negro women, most of whom are married, I believe, would be even more effective if you were married yourself. Furthermore, there have been whispers of impropriety given your close association with us male workers in the mission house. For the sake of the mission, Rebecca, would you consent to marry Brother Freundlich? (R avoids eye contact, is silent)
Rebecca, might you wish to change your marital status? With Brother Freundlich?
R: God guides our hearts according to His will. Not my own, but my Savior’s will be done. (R exits, BM remains)
BM: (to self, claps hands in “job completed” gesture,) With the matrimonial matter now settled, the mission house is the new home of Mr. and Mrs. Fruendlich. The missionary work itself shall move to the plantation I have just purchased at auction. The price includes nine of its people, one of whom is a baptized brother who plays the trumpet, a rousing call to worship! The estate shall be called Posaunenberg or trumpet hill; its central location facilitates the island’s Negros attending divine services. With landed property our church shall be henceforth free from rent increases and harassment from the planters. (exits)
A: (lights on A & JW, astonished) Landed property? My dear Reverend, can it be true that without any moral hesitation or embarrassment, the Moravian Church held as chattel the very souls it was entrusted to nurture? I am shocked! Why did Sister Rebecca never relate this fact to me?
JW: Von Zinzendorf himself believed that slavery has divine sanction. Rebecca was in no position to question that. For Martin, it was more important to fuse slave ownership with spiritual fellowship, thus humanizing slavery. Perhaps it was also a deliberate signal to the island’s planters that the missionaries posed no threat to the institution. Of course, our Methodist church is ardently abolitionist; another reason why a union with the Moravians would have ended in failure.
In my old age, I have come to dread any church’s close association with politics. I regret that I once branded the rebellious American colonists as scoundrels. Yea, dupes, I called them, in league with the French to overthrow the British crown. Am I ever the most vilified Englishman in America, second only to King George III?
A: (smiles) Only in a few circles at present, Sir. While we American Methodists have since exercised ecclesiastical independence, Francis Asbury himself insists that you be accorded all the respect due you as Methodism’s founder. And Count Zinzendorf, was he in his lifetime any less obnoxious to his fellow Lutherans?
JW: I am afraid not. The Count was a haughty fellow, but set his face like flint against every obstacle to the propagation of the Gospel. As a nobleman turned missionary-statesman, verily, he was peerless in a league of his own. (lights dim)
SCENE 3: A courtroom in Dresden, Saxony in the German lands 1736. Judge and Zinzendorf face audience. Ensemble members have backs to audience.
Judge: All rise, (all present do so) In the name of the King, the deliberations continue on the disposition of the religious faction known as Moravian Brethren and their head, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. (all sit except one agitator)
Churchman: Your honor, as representative of the parish church, I submit to you that Count Zinzendorf is no mere nuisance and disturber of the peace. He opposes the teachings of our Lutheran Church and has founded a new and unorthodox sect! Some decry it as a society for laziness, but I say ‘tis a legion of fanatics! (half the crowd roars, sits)
Supporter: (rises in defense) My dear churchman, while our peculiar Count has at times embarrassed his fellow nobles and irritated clerics with his opinions, you must admit that Christian zeal and discipline in his church is far superior to our own. Suffice it to say, when Count Zinzendorf flies up into the air, anyone who pulls him down by the legs will do him a great service! (all laugh heartily, he sits).
J: (conciliatory) Count Zinzendorf, might we end these deliberations with a pledge from you that you and your fellow Herrnhuetter shall not establish a new sect and behave quietly in your spiritual disciplines?
Zinzendorf. (offended, stands) Behave quietly? Behave quietly? (glares at churchman) I have no sympathy with those comfortable people who sit warming themselves before the fire of the future life. Our Lord Jesus has commanded us to a lifestyle that proactively glorifies Him.
As to the accusation of having founded a new sect, nothing could be further from the truth. We united brethren, Moravians as you call us, are descendants of the ancient church of the Apostles. We are not Hussites, we hold to the Augsburger Confession, and yet acknowledge no public Church of God except where the pure Word of God is preached, and where the members live as holy children of God! (crowd roars disapprovingly, judge gets up, confers with two in the crowd, and returns to the bench).
J: (quiets crowd with the gavel) Order, order. This hearing is concluded. (to Z) For the crimes of introducing religious novelties, convening meetings in secret, and teaching false doctrines, you are hereby banished from this Kingdom! This is the royal decree of Augustus III, King of Saxony. What say you, Count Zinzendorf?
Z: (stands unfazed, waves hand dismissively) What matter? We must now gather the Pilgrim Congregation and proclaim the Savior to the world! I shall go abroad!
SCENE 4: St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands, 1738. The planters plot to be rid of the Moravians. The agitator faces the audience, the ensemble members have their backs to the audience. JW and A reappear on side of stage, lights off them.
Planter 1: How many of you wish to suffer the same fate as our compatriots on St. John, to be mercilessly hacked to death by a rabble of slaves? (loud cries of No and Never) The Moravians are not amongst us for African soul care, I certain you, but to foment an insurrection that threatens us, our wives and children! Listen, I have spoken with our Dutch Reformed pastor, who contends that the Danish crown has not endorsed the ordination of that bogus clergyman, Friedrich Martin. Thus, in violation of the law, this renegade German baptizes our slaves, fills their heads with notions of equality with us, and unlawfully married that Negress Rebecca to Mr. Freundlich. Shall we now tolerate open fornication on our island? (loud cries of No and Never) Very well then. How many of you stand with me to remove those Pietist charlatans from our midst? (loud cries of Away with the frauds and fornicators, Away with the Pietists; all exit the stage).
(The magistrate and bailiff enter the stage, magistrate sits at a table, bailiff stands. Martin and the Freundlichs enter from the opposite side.)
Magistrate: As the magistrate for this island, I have some questions for you to answer as there have been various and sundry complaints. Friedrich Martin, step forward. (BM does so) How were you ordained a minister?
Brother Martin: Like all Protestant pastors, in my home church.
M: In the German lands then?
BM: Why, yes, of course. I possess the certificate (shows it) and another was sent to Copenhagen before our embarkment here.
M: Why then has no official on this island seen an endorsement from the Crown?
BM: I cannot say, Sir. The king’s decree from years ago that permits missionary work on this island implies that we missionaries carry out church functions.
M: (perturbed) That is not for you to conjecture, Mr. Martin; you are not a subject of the Danish crown. The authorities here shall decide such matters. Sit down. (BM sits) Rebecca Freundlich, step forward please. (R does)
Do you not know that one needs permission from the church authorities to marry, and that banns musts be published? What sort of ceremony did you have and who witnessed it?
Rebecca: Yes, but it is enough that we were betrothed to one another as witnessed by the Negro brethren of our small congregation. Brother Martin asked if we would live in the sight of God as married people. We said yes, gave each other our hands, and he read from the Bible.
M: Would you be willing to be married by the Reformed minister?
R: We have already been married by Brother Martin.
M: (flustered) Do you not have the same religion as the Lutherans, since it is the same word of God?
R: Anyone converted to God, any Negro, Jew, Greek, or heathen may unite with us and be of our congregation.
M: (shakes head) Your evasiveness is most tiresome --- and the hour is late. I ask each of you to swear to your statements on the propriety of the marriage.
R: Sir, we must remain true to the Savior’s words not to swear by anything at all. We gladly tell the truth from our hearts.
M: What? You refuse to swear that your statements are truthful?
BM: Sir, Christ has commanded us in the fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew not to swear, but to let our speech be Yea, yea, or Nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
M: Do you not regard it your duty to obey the laws of God and king? You can be prosecuted for this; you two Germans deported. Mr. Freundlich, be reasonable and swear an oath.
Matthaeus Freundlich: We remain with Jesus and His word and wish to ….
M: (angrily shouts) Enough of this foolishness! I hereby fine each of you ten Reichstaler for contempt.
BM: We are poor missionaries, Sir, and have not 30 Reichstaler.
M: Then I sentence each of you to three days confinement in the jail. Bailiff! (Bailiff enters, ushers the three off stage. The three exit singing the German hymn: Herrlichkeit Dir, Jesu allein 2X; Alles was Odem hat stimme mit ein, Herrlichkeit Jesu, ja Jesu allein; Lights on A & JW)
Mr. Ashanti: Reverend Wesley, did you notice the cleverness of Rebecca to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 12:13? For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…
John Wesley: Yes, whether Jew, Gentile---or Negro---a vivid application of the scriptures to the island context.
A: But at considerable risk. Sister Rebecca told me that any notion of Negro equality with whites, be it spiritual, or merely in the afterlife, evoked greater hostility. The planters trumped up more charges; more fines were levied, which the trio could never hope to pay. Thus, they languished in prison for months, became weaker and, Brother Martin, deathly ill.
(Planter 1 re-enters stage, faces the audience, the ensemble of planters enter, their backs to the audience)
Planter 1: Compatriots, we have the prosecutor in our pockets, that sham clergyman Martin at death’s door, and those scandalous fornicators, the Freundlichs, behind bars. Now ’tis time their Negro converts also pay a price for their insolence! Have you thrashed those slaves who continue to meet together, who pray and sing in the Pietist fashion?
Planter 2: (stands) I have set fire to their Bibles and thrashed them good, especially Mingo. He says they cannot help it, that the word they hear from the Pietists is too sweet. But if I thrash Mingo again he shall not be able to work---and he is a good worker. (sits)
Planter 1: Too sweet? Gentlemen, victory is what tastes sweet, and we are close to it. Increase pressure on your Negros to desist, and leave Mingo to me. Soon there will be neither pietists nor uppity slaves on St. Thomas. (all exit except JW and A)
SCENE 5: A prison cell holds Brother Martin and the Freundlichs. Visitors (either visible ensemble members or voices only) converse with them through a cell window)
Willem: Mr. Martin, Mr. and Mrs. Freundlich, ‘tis I your neighbor, Willem. Through the window I offer ye wine to soothe thy poor stomachs. (passes bottle through window) Why not relent and give up the struggle against the authorities? It can only come to a bad end for ye.
Matthaeus Freundlich: Brother Martin is too ill to speak, Willem. Can someone appeal the injustice of our case to a righteous official, perhaps on St. John?
W: Ye have no friends here, I regret to say. Relent, Sir, for the sake of thy good wife? And may the Lord watch over ye. (exits)
Rebecca: Husband, let us seek no one on earth to intercede for us. Jesus, as our intercessor, is enough. Like Paul and Silas, our prayers and praises to God in prison shall be heard by others. The stakes are much higher than us. We must remain strong because the brethren in bondage are watching to see if we waver. If we give in, then Brother Martin shall be ridiculed as a fraud and the work of the entire mission undermined.
MF: My beloved, when I pledged myself to God as a missionary, hardships and sacrifice were to be my lot. Still, I would dearly love to leave this prison.
R: If we are to leave, the Savior will send us a key, perhaps Count von Zinzendorf.
MF: Zinzendorf? He has never sojourned outside the German lands. You make a noble Christian martyr, my dear, but I have doubts about myself. (rap on window)
Magdalena: Sister Rebecca, it is I, Magdalena. I have wild onions and bring these as a remedy for Baas Freundlich’s earache. (passes through window)
R: Thank you, dear Sister.
MF: (rolls eyes, sarcastically) Wild onions for my earache? Are they perhaps cooked?
R: Shssssh, husband. Magdalena knows the most effective natural remedies.
Mingo: Baas Martin, Baas Martin, preach to us.
R: Who is there, I recognize not the voice.
MF: Is it not Mingo?
Magdalena: Yes, it is Mingo, but his face is swollen from many thrashings.
Mingo: Teeth missing now, I speak with difficulty.
Magdalena: Mingo wants to tell you that the Negros who once despised Moravian Brethren now much admire you. They understand that this struggle is about them. Many wish to join the congregation in spite of the persecution.
R: Husband, you see, our suffering is by the Lord’s will to increase His Kingdom. Preach to them now encouraging words from the Book of Acts.
MF: (to M & M) Brother Martin is too sick to preach, so I will do so from Acts Chapter 16. Let us first pray for you two faithful Helpers, and for those who wish to enter the Kingdom of God, yea, by many trials….(lights on JW and A)
John Wesley: Mr. Ashanti, what was meant that the Negros understood that the struggle was verily about them?
Mr. Ashanti: Sir, this was indeed –and remains-- the most important facet of the drama that played out for months on St. Thomas. Sister Rebecca held these new converts to a high standard, but no higher than the one she held herself to; embracing martyrdom if needed, or perhaps even worse, reverting again to a slave.
JW: But she was a free woman.
A: No sir, even free Negros lead a precarious life. A former slave who had no means to pay the exorbitant fines, she was told her worth was placed at 200 Reichstaler. The planters taunted her on this matter through the window.
JW: Dear Lord. At nearly 90 years of age, am I still so naïve?
A: Claiming the radical ethics of the Sermon on the Mount as her guide, Sister Rebecca saw herself as making a stand for black Christianity for all time! The trios’ willingness to bear punishment earned them great credit in the slave quarters. Not a gifted orator but a quiet influencer, Sister Rebecca’s revival now numbered over 650 congregants. The tiny church on St. Thomas is still thriving, and the Christward movement amongst Negros has spread throughout the Caribbean basin and to the American states. This is particularly the case in the Methodist churches.
JW: A most sobering thought to ponder. It must be at this juncture that he appeared, like a deux et machina.
A: I beg your pardon?
JW: Deux et machina. Latin for God out of the machine. In ancient Greek tragedies, a machine or crane, as one calls it today, lifted the hero, often a Greek God, onto the stage to save the day.
A: (chuckles) I never thought of the famed entrance in such terms, Sir. (lights on enter Count Zinzendorf accompanied by a physician and a jailer with keyring)
Zinzendorf: (pointing to the semi-conscious BM on the floor) Doctor, there is Brother Martin. (examines BM) Good God, he’s more dead than alive. (doctor now attends BM) Who is responsible for this travesty? (turns to MF, places hands on his shoulders) Brother Freundlich, you appear exceedingly gaunt yourself.
MF: Count Zinzendorf!? How is it possible that…never mind. (shouts) God be praised, our salvation draweth nigh. Good Sir, allow me to introduce you to my wife, Rebecca. (R comes forward, Z kisses her hands.)
Z. This dear sister requires no introduction. I am well acquainted with this tireless worker on the Lord’s frontier, mentioned so often in Brother Martin’s letters. How do you do, my child?
R: I am as astonished to see you as I am honored, your Highness.
Z: Your highness? Not in the Saxon realm at present, but that shall soon change. You, my dear, the foremost woman evangelist among the heathen whom I, at long last, am privileged to meet.
Brother Martin: (struggles to sit, coughs) And not only that, Sir, but a prophetess also. Sister Rebecca foretold your coming only two days ago.
MF: Truly, Sir. She did so, although it was one week past…
Governor: (rushes in kowtowing) Count Zinzendorf, oh my word! I am Governor here and just learned of your presence amongst us. What an honor, Sir, I must tell you…
Z: Surcease with the sycophantic babble, Governor. I find my spiritual brethren in this miserable sinkhole of a dungeon more dead than alive. Who is responsible for this outrage? Why cannot one single soul tell me what the charges are against my upright countrymen? Can you?
G: Why, no Sir. That is the prosecutor’s sphere and lies beyond the limits of my authority. And the prosecutor is away on business on St. John.
Z: Then release them on my authority! On the morrow I shall appear in your office to examine the case file. If I am not convinced that charges of merit exist, I shall have that prosecutor prosecuted. As for you, Governor…
G: Please believe me, Sir, I never desired that your countrymen be incarcerated for mere trivialities.
Z: (shouts) Then make amends for your acquiescing to such evildoing! Provide succor to these poor creatures. Take them, along with the doctor, to that sumptuous inn over in the next lane. Spare no expense on food, drink, and medicaments. That shall be all. (lights dim)
SCENE 6: Love Feast at the Posaunenberg plantation. Maximum cast members play congregants, singing one stanza of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. The vocals then become a hum in order for the subsequent dialogue to be audible. (JW and A remain on side of stage)
Zinzendorf: Brethren, the fiery trials you have endured reflect great credit on yourselves as bondservants of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we celebrate this love feast….
Magdalena: (stands, shouts) The love feast!? My heart bursts with joy.
Z: Yes, the love feast, a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Praise be to His name! This room can scarcely contain the multitude who has willingly united into Jesus’ loving arms and bleeding side.
Sister Magdalena, your written appeals to the Danish crown to right the injustices against the Negro congregation, I shall personally edit, endorse, and deliver! Henceforth, you shall be given title in this assembly as venerated evangelical elder. (applause, shouts of blessed be the name of the Lord).
And Brother Mingo (M stands to applause, smiles with front teeth missing), you shall have the title of keeper of the alms. (more applause, shouts of Glory to God) Given her heartfelt and forceful supplication to the Savior while imprisoned, Sister Rebecca is elevated to join her husband as a Servant of the Congregation! (more applause, shouts of hosanna; R comes forward, Z kisses her hands). Dear child, when your husband returns to Saxony on furlough, you shall be my esteemed visitant.
Now, I wish to introduce on St. Thomas steadfast prayer as practiced at Herrnhut. Brother Freundlich is seated at the table with a vigil calendar. Henceforth, every hour of each day shall not pass without prayer. Who shall join me in the wee hours of tomorrow morning? (Z signs the duty roster) Witness, I have the prayer watch from the third to fourth hour. (many rush to the table). Yet, at the rate this holy celebration is going, I scarcely believe that I shall be obliged to turn-in ere the third hour! (hearty laughter by all)
Matthaeus Freundlich: Good Count, when working in the sugar cane fields, how shall the men know the hour of the day, they ask?
Mingo: (stands, lisps) Baas Freundlich, that is an easy problem to overcome. We know the hour by the location of the sun---and the crowing of the cocks. (all laugh out loud and conclude the scene by singing Es ist ein Ros entsprungen as all, except JW and A exit)
Mr. Ashanti: (to JW) The birth of the first African-American congregation, how I enjoy relating it again and again.
John Wesley. And I thought my own devout mother, Susannah, to be as impactful a woman as could be. You wish to write about Moravian missionary enterprises, have you put Rebecca’s story into print?
A: Yes, as I compile notes, I learn time and again that God was not yet finished with Sister Rebecca. She did travel with her husband to Saxony, but Brother Freundlich died en route there, leaving her widowed in a strange land with an infant child, who also died.
Perhaps you, Reverend Wesley, can assist me in confirming that Sister Rebecca was the first woman of any color to be ordained a deaconess in a Protestant church. In any case, the elders were at a loss of what to do with Rebecca, so another arranged marriage occurred between her and the mulatto Christian Protten. Herr Protten, born in Africa but educated in Denmark, was a trying man. His clashes with Count Zinzendorf resulted in the couple being “dispatched” to his West African homeland for mission work. (JW places face in hands and weeps) Sister Rebecca faithfully followed him there, to a third continent of service, and carried on the Christian work after his passing. She took me in and schooled me well. I shall ever be indebted to her memory. (now notices JW) Reverend Wesley, you weep again.
JW: (looks up) Did you know that one in 60 Moravian brethren has served as a foreign missionary? That the hourly prayer watch has continued to this day? That is the reason I weep, Mr. Ashanti. We Methodists have not made our mark on missionizing the dark-skinned peoples of the world. And I confess that the culpability is entirely mine.
A: Sir, that cannot be true. As I told you, Negros flock to Methodist churches in America.
JW: Alas, but it is true. On my sea voyage to the new colony of Georgia, I was comforted by singing Moravian brethren when our ship was beset by tempests on the Atlantic. Yet, as an Anglican missionary there, I failed, and failed again in my first romance. I felt that my intended was unduly influenced by her Negress servant, so much so that she spurned me and married another! There, I have confessed it for the first time: I allowed my bitter feelings to transpose themselves. Since that time I have eschewed having Blacks as co-laborers.
A: Sir, again, the facts speak to the contrary.
JW: No, Sir, the facts only confirm it. And you may include my confession in your newspaper article! God knows, in the very month and year that Rebecca faithfully endured imprisonment, my flesh only brooded, seeking someone to blame that a silly 18-year-old girl had rejected me! You speak of an improved situation for Negros in America. I shudder to think that this absurd Three-fifths Compromise, counting a black man as 3/5 a whole man in your parliamentary representation, is somehow also my fault.
Had I only acted decisively, then Methodism, now much more numerous than the Moravians, likewise could have been a titanic missions agent, raising up more Rebeccas in the heathen lands, and improving social welfare in the civilized ones. Instead, it is the rabid revolutionaries in France who cry out for liberty, fraternity, and equality.
A: Sir, God is faithful to send forth laborers; we need only pray that first fruits blossom in all the heathen realms. Shall we not do so this instant?
JW: Quite right. Let us pray, even now, that God raise up another with the mantle of your Rebecca. (they bow in prayer) Lord of the harvest, we beseech thee…(knocks on front door) Lord Jesus, your grace is sufficient, forgive us our human frailties… (louder knocks on door) (both look up) Oh, where is that Mrs. Henshaw? Mr. Ashanti, would you be so kind and answer the door? (A goes to door, opens it)
William Carey: (cheerfully, holding a pair of boots) Good day. My name is Carey, a cobbler by trade. While buying up excess leather from a closing shoemaker, I came across these finished boots for a Mr. Dawkins at this address.
A: That is so very kind of you. What is the name again?
WC: Carey, Sir, William Carey, at your service.
Notes to the reader:
The historical source for this drama is Rebecca’s Revival (J.F. Sensbach, Harvard Press, 2010).
For a story set in a male-dominated 18th century society, female roles other than the heroine, Rebecca, were difficult to create.
Words like Negress and mulatto are considered offensive today, but were polite terms in the 18th century.
Female and dark-skinned ensemble members might still play white male roles by dressing in 18th century garb, wigs, and tricorn hats. For this reason, the ensemble sits with backs to the audience in Scenes 3 and 4.
Scene 1. Herrnhut, German for the Lord’s Watch, is the place name for where the Moravian congregation was founded. Adherents were known as Herrnhuetter.
Scene 2. Es ist ein Ros entsprugen, in English, Lo how a rose e’ver blossoms, is a popular German Christmas carol to this day. The tune dates to 1599. The choice of this song is consistent with the play’s title. Hear it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAIro_A1CYw
Blancken is Dutch Creole for white people, akin to Spanish and French, blanco, blanc, etc.
Baas is Dutch creole for boss or overseer.
The arranged marriage dialogue is intended as comic relief.
Scene 3. The source for the banishment of Count Zinzendorf is found at http://zinzendorf.com/pages/index.php?id=edict-of-banishment
Scene 4. Pietism was a movement in 17th and 18th century German lands away from a cold and stodgy state church to a warm, personal relationship with God. The term is used derisively by the planters of the Moravian Christians.
Reichstaler was the unit of currency, loosely translated imperial dollars.
Scene 6. Herr is German for Mister.
In 1793, former cobbler William Carey and family sailed for India where he labored as a missionary for over 40 years. Carey is considered by many to be the founder of modern missions.
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