Archive for the ‘Bessie Whittington Pfohl’ Tag

Feast of Douglas LeTell Rights (December 1)   Leave a comment

Divinity Library, Harvard, 1900

Above:  Library, Harvard Divinity School, 1900

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a08542



U.S. Moravian Minister, Scholar, and Hymn Writer

Douglas LeTell Rights, born in Salem (now Winston-Salem), North Carolina, on September 11, 1891, was a minister and a scholar.  The saint’s mother was Emma Jones Rights.  His father was George Hanes Rights, editor of The Union Republican, a local newspaper.  Our saint attended local schools, graduating from Salem Boys School in 1905, at age 14.  Eight years later he graduated from the University of North Carolina with an A.B. degree.  Two years of study at the Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, ended with graduation in 1915.  Then Rights studied for a year at Harvard Divinity School, graduating with a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1916.

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 01A

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 01B

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 01C

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 02A

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 02B

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 02C

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 02D

Twin City Daily Sentinel, October 9, 1916, page 2 03

Above:  Twin City Daily Sentinel, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, October 9, 1916, Page 2

Accessed via

Then his ministerial career began.  Rights, ordained in October 16, became the pastor of the First Moravian Church, Greensboro, North Carolina, serving until 1918, when he left to become a chaplain in the United States Army.  That service ended the following year, when our saint became the pastor of Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  He remained there until his death (1956).  During his tenure church membership increased from about 200 to more than 850.

Indianapolis Star, May 18, 1920, page 7 I

Indianapolis Star, May 18, 1920, page 7 II

Above:  Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, May 18, 1920, Page 7

Accessed via

Rights married Cecil Leona Burton (1894-1977) on June 15, 1920.  The couple had five children.  Two sons, Burton, and Henry, became Moravian ministers.  Douglas (1922) died in infancy, George (1928-1951) died in the Korean War, and Eleanor (Rights Roller) revised one of her father’s hymn texts in 1991.

Gastonia Gazette, June 28, 1957, page 8 01

Gastonia Gazette, June 28, 1957, page 8 02

Gastonia Gazette, June 28, 1957, page 8 03

Above:  Gastonia Gazette, June 28, 1957, Page 8

Accessed via

Our saint had a lifelong interest in Native Americans.  Over time his collection of artifacts became quite large and he became an authority on native peoples of North Carolina.  Rights also founded and served as the first President of the Archaeological Society of North Carolina (1933-1991), a predecessor of the North Carolina Archaeological Society.  His articles and books relative to indigenous peoples included the following:

  1. Traces of the Indian in Piedmont North Carolina (1924);
  2. A Voyage Down the Yadkin-Great Peedee River (1929);
  3. “The Trading Path to the Indians,” in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1931; and
  4. The American Indian in North Carolina (1947).

Our saint also studied the history of the Moravian Church.  Many of his sources were in German, a language he read.  Rights, the Archivist of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America from 1950 to his death (1956), wrote about Moravian history in the Tar Heel State also:

  1. The Beginning of Bethabara, in Wachovia, the First Moravian Settlement in North Carolina (1953); and
  2. The Records of the Moravian Church in North Carolina, Volume VIII:  1823-1837 (1954), as editor.

Rights had varied interests, as his affiliations indicated.  In addition to the groups I have named already, he belonged to, among others, the American Legion, the Freemasons, The Wachovia Historical Society, the Boy Scouts of America, and The North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.  The Moravian College and Theological Seminary awarded our saint the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1947.

World peace was among our saint’s interests.  The former Army chaplain (1918-1919) considered war to be a “dangerous disease.”  Rights considered promoting peace via Christianity to be a duty.  He proposed a lecture series, whereby world leaders would speak of ways of creating peace, to Harvard University.  Our saint made the first contribution to the endowment for the lecture series.  The first lectures occurred in 1960.

Rights also wrote hymns.  I found two such texts, both under copyright protection as of 2004, in the Moravian Book of Worship (1995).  One hymn was “Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay” (1915), an Advent text, originated during World War I, the conflict which informed the references to “our dark night” and the song of the angels who appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem.  The committee which prepared the Moravian Book of Worship included the text as our saint’s daughter, Eleanor Rights Roller, had altered it in 1991.  In 1956 Bessie Whittington Pfohl, wife of Bishop J. Kenneth Pfohl, asked Rights to compose a hymn appropriate for the transition from one year to another.  The result was “With Praises and Thanksgiving” (1956).  Every year the Pfohls hosted a New Year’s gathering at their home in Winston-Salem.  They debuted the new hymn at the 1957 event.

The days are swiftly passing, time is not ours to hold,

Rights wrote in that hymn.  On November 15, 1956, the synod of the Southern Province chose him as its next bishop.  At the time our saint was recovering from a heart attack.  Certainly those who chose him to serve as a bishop expected him to complete the process of recovery.  Rights died on December 1, 1956, however, so he never joined the ranks of Moravian bishops.  Nevertheless, he left a great legacy.






Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Douglas LeTell Rights,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


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


Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor



U.S. Moravian Bishop

husband of


U.S. Moravian Musician

mother of


U.S. Moravian Musician


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.







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