On Tour: Bethlehem, PA

21 Mar

March 8, 2016 | REBEL | Bethlehem, PA

As I drove into Bethlehem I was greeted by the giant industrial abandoned warehouses and machinery rising hundreds of feet hulking over the gentle hills of Bethlehem, a town once prosperous from an American industrial steel industry no longer dominating the global market.  Bethlehem Steel’s warehouses and Plant now stood silent, but was once the builder of famous US landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State building.

My host, the energetic and welcoming Deborah Sacarakis, head of Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts center, toured me through these industrial ruins to show me the ongoing revitalization of these buildings into art centers, clubs, and even a nearby Casino.  But we were there to screen REBEL and Lehigh had been preparing the students for my visit!

2Zoellner Arts SculptureThe campus of Lehigh University is a picturesque jewel in the center of, but removed from the town with quiet greens and historic buildings.  We screened REBEL in the Zoellner Arts Center, a sleek and modern building bursting with performance spaces and theaters, classrooms and study spaces.

1Baker hall screens REBEL

A lively discussion followed the screening with students and townsfolk staying afterwards to talk about the film.  Several people asked questions about what motivated me to make REBEL. I would say it is my boundless curiosity for the stories that shaped our past, especially untold stories, and exploring how they inform and create the societies that we live in today.  It was a particularly great day to screen this film, as it was International Women’s Day, March 8, and a great day to think about one of the women who had lived through this pivotal moment of American history.  Loreta writes about being a soldier and spy in the American Civil War.  But she also writes that war is not a solution to anything.  To paraphrase Loreta:

“War fare inevitably breeds corruption, and the longer it lasts, the more does demoralization spread among all classes of society…right thinking people would be apt to hesitate more than they do… about encouraging appeals to arms for the settlement of national and international differences.”

So in this post, I will need to digress from my own film, to share what I learned about one community that believed in worship and tolerance of differences, in this fascinating town of Bethlehem.

3Maria at Zoellner entrance

I love history and this town is steeped in it, most fascinating to me was hearing about the Moravian community that had settled and founded Bethlehem in the mid 1700s in the colonial era.  Deborah had been raised going with her family to Moravian church services, and took me to see the historic section of town that still contained many of the public houses erected by the early Moravian settlers.

Once a communal society, the Moravian Church is considered the oldest Protestant denomination in the world, and were founded in 1457 in Europe by followers of a Roman Catholic priest named John Hus who would be burned at the stake for his efforts to reform the Catholic Church a hundred years before Luther’s Reformation.  His followers would eventually emigrate, seeking to build a new, more tolerant society.  Bethlehem would become the central governing organization for all of the Moravian communities in North America.

They were a religious community that welcomed and Christianized American Indians and Africans and eventually established over 30 mission towns I found this historic drawing of Moravian missionary baptizes Munsee-Delawares Natives, from the Historical Society of Philadelphia.


Deborah took me to the cemetery, where you could find the names of Indian and African members of the community buried alongside the white settlers.

5Moravian Cemetery

Moravian children would stay with their parents until 18 months, where they would then be cared for in nurseries, the boys and girls living together until four, when they would be separated into communal living groups called Choirs.  There were Boy’s Choirs and Girls Choirs where they lived together until 19, then either men’s or women’s Single Brethren Choirs.  Married adults then moved into Married People’s Choirs.

Members of the same choir ate, worked, worshiped, slept in dormitories, and attended school together.  The Moravians established schools, where they educated both the men and the women (unusual for the time) and encouraged industry as well as “Lovefeasts” where music and drink and religious worship blended together.

In the Choir system, the entire congregation depended on each other to fulfill the goals of the church as a whole. Rather than receive money for their work, members were supplied with food, shelter, an education, community support, and a place to worship. It was not until 1762 that members began operating their own businesses and were able to lease Church land for their own family homes.  The Choirs still stand, as well as beautiful schools and libraries built by this tolerant and communal society, with Bethlehem standing as the center of all the Moravian communities.

Although the communal societies are no longer operating, the Churches still exist, and Deborah explained that when her Greek father moved to Bethlehem and started working in the Steel industry, he wanted to join a Church and the Moravian church was the closest in their neighborhood, so she would be introduced to this fascinating society.

I wish I could show you pictures of the beautiful old historic structures, but it was so dark by the time we drove around the Moravian architecture that I didn’t take any.  You’ll have to visit for yourself!

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Maria Agui Carter.


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