Feast of John Kenneth Pfohl, Bessie Whittington Pfohl, and James Christian Pfohl (November 23)   5 comments

Pfohls

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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JOHN KENNETH “J. KENNETH” PFOHL, SR. (AUGUST 13, 1874-NOVEMBER 27, 1967)

U.S. Moravian Bishop

husband of

HARRIET ELIZABETH “BESSIE” WHITTINGTON PFOHL (JULY 28, 1881-NOVEMBER 23, 1971)

U.S. Moravian Musician

mother of

JAMES CHRISTIAN PFOHL, SR. (SEPTEMBER 17, 1912-MARCH 28, 1997)

U.S. Moravian Musician

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Two Sundays ago my church choir, in which I sing bass, performed “Hearken! Stay Close to Jesus Christ,” with music by David Moritz Michael (1751-1827).  The sheet music, bearing a 1956 copyright date, indicated that the composition came from the Moravian Church archives at Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  My fellow choristers and I sang a motet probably available to contemporary audiences because of the efforts of Bessie Whittington Pfohl and/or James Christian Pfohl, Jr.  These two saints brought Bishop John Kenneth Pfohl, Sr, to my attention.  Once again hagiography has become a family affair.

John Kenneth “J. Kenneth” Pfohl, Sr. (1874-1967) was a prominent bishop in the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum).  He was, in fact, heir to generations of faithful (often ordained) Christian witness within the Moravian Church, going all the way back to the Ancient Unity, founded in 1457.  Great-grandfathers and a grandfather were ministers, and his father, Christian Thomas Pfohl, served as a congregational elder at Salem (now Winston-Salem), North Carolina, for twenty-three years.  J. Kenneth, a graduate of Moravian College (1898) and Moravian Theological Seminary (1900), became the first Principal of the Clemmons School, Clemmons, North Carolina, which opened its doors in October 1900.  This proved to be a crucial assignment in his life.

Harriet Elizabeth “Bessie” Whittington (1881-1971), a graduate of Salem College, joined the faculty of Clemmons School; she taught music in the lower grades.  She and the Principal fell in love.  They married on August 21, 1901, becoming partners in life and ministry for the next sixty-six years, three months, and six days.  They also raised six children:

  1. Margaret Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell;
  2. Mary Dorothea Pfohl Lassiter;
  3. Ruth Whittington Pfohl Grams;
  4. John Kenneth Pfohl, Jr.;
  5. James Christian Pfohl, Sr., and
  6. Donald Lawrence Pfohl.

All of the Pfohl children received music education at home and became musicians.  Music became either a vocation or an avocation for each of them.

Home Moravian Church

Above:  Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1935

Photographer = Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-csas-02662

J. Kenneth and Bessie were partners in church work.  He, pastor of Christ Moravian Church (1903-1908) then Home Moravian Church (1908-1934), both in Salem, North Carolina, had Bessie by his side.  She served as the organist and choir director of Home Church for eighteen years.  She resigned that post to work on the provincial level after her husband became the Bishop of the Southern Province.  J. Kenneth’s work beyond the parish level included membership on the Southern Provincial Elders’ Conference (starting in 1920), the Presidency of that body (1929-1953), the leadership of the provincial Foreign Missionary Society (1923-1935), and the Episcopate (1931-1959).  During World War II he functioned as the de facto leader of the worldwide Moravian Church.  And, on the local level, he became the senior pastor of the Salem Congregation, a cooperative agency of the Moravian congregations in Winston-Salem, in 1931.

Bessie, meanwhile, was rediscovering early American Moravian Church music and making it available to new audiences.   James Christian Pfohl, Sr. (1912-1997), one of her sons, edited many of these masterpieces.  The Moravian Church in America had felt much pressure to change its music, to make it more “American,” in the 1800s.  In the process of conforming the Church buried and forgot many of its treasures of sacred music.  Pfohls restored these lost works, fortunately.

Bishop Pfohl, a musician, pastor, and historian with a down-to-earth manner, died at Winston-Salem in 1967.  He was ninety-three years old.  Bessie joined him in the next life four years later.  She spent her final years at the Medicenter, Winston-Salem, where she played the piano for other patients.

James Christian Pfohl, Sr. (1912-1997), was an excellent musician.  He had become so accomplished that, at the conclusion of his undergraduate studies, he started the Department of Music at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, in 1933.  He founded the Davidson Music School for Boys (later the Transylvania Music Camp) in 1936; he led it for twenty-nine years.  James Christian also served as the President of the North Carolina Bandmasters Association from 1938 to 1939, founded the Brevard Music Center, conducted the Charlotte (North Carolina) Symphony Orchestra, and served as the Music Director (1952-1962) of the Jacksonville (Florida) Symphony Orchestra.  He inspired the founding of the North Carolina School of the Arts (the University of North Carolina School of the Arts since 2008) in 1963.  If that were not enough, he founded a summer music camp at Reston, Virginia, in 1967 and another one at York, Pennsylvania, ten years later.

During my research I read the obituary of a son, James Christian Pfohl, Jr. (April 16, 1940-June 17, 2014).  He followed in the footsteps of many other Pfohls, for he maintained music as an avocation while working in a non-musical profession.

My reading about the Pfohl family of North Carolina has revealed it to be a nursery for artistic expression.  I have not worked out the full family tree, but I have read of singers, instrumentalists, musicologists, arrangers, choir directors, an orchestral conductor, and a dancer.  All this is wonderful, for beauty just might save the world.  Certainly beauty improves it.  As I heard years ago, people danced their religion before they thought it.  Also, music can convey meaning better than words can sometimes.  Thus we who seek God can benefit greatly from the arts if only we will permit ourselves to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS POTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF HUGH LATIMER, NICHOLAS RIDLEY, AND THOMAS CRANMER, ANGLICAN MARTYRS

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Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring the Pfohls and all those

who with words and music have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lies and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728

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5 responses to “Feast of John Kenneth Pfohl, Bessie Whittington Pfohl, and James Christian Pfohl (November 23)

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  1. Pingback: Declaring Independence: Moravians, 1849-1922 | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

  2. Pingback: Feast of David Moritz Michael (October 21) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  3. Pingback: Feast of Douglas LeTell Rights (December 1) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  4. haven’t worked out the Pfohl family tree you say? There are two long ones hanging on the walls at my parents house.

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