Little more than two weeks ago, the Rev. Dr. Brigitte Schloss, an educator and Moravian minister, died in the Palliative Care Unit of the Miller Centre.
On the afternoon of Aug. 24, 2013, while her earthly remains were buried at Nain with a memorial service in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, I attended at the Anglican Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in
St. John’s, a moving celebration and thanksgiving for her life. That service was arranged according to her wishes, with many of her friends attending, including a large contingent from Labrador.
I met Brigitte in the early 1990s after she had retired from her position as co-ordinator of Memorial University’s native teacher education program in Labrador.
At the time she was studying in Queen’s College, a time-honoured Anglican theological institution in St. John’s, so that she might be better prepared for her post-retirement career as a minister in the Moravian Church. As I came to know this already ailing senior, I soon realized that here was an individual who had the widest life experience and an expansive mind that remained forever young and inquisitive.
Brigitte’s wish for ordination became a reality when the Moravian Bishop, Dr. Arthur Freeman, a man whom she admired very much for his creative and bold theological thinking, ordained her at Nain, Labrador, in October 1995.
As I became increasingly interested in the Moravian Church and its historical roots in Europe, we had many conversations, in which she taught me much about the church in Labrador.
Forced from her home
Brigitte, a very private individual, only gradually came to share some of her life experiences from her childhood in Gnadau, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, as the daughter of the Rev. Erwin Schloss, a Moravian minister of Jewish descent. Fear for the family’s lives forced them to flee Germany in 1935 during the dark days of the Nazi regime.
After the family’s arrival in Switzerland, she received her schooling and subsequent teacher training there. In 1949, she moved to England in preparation for becoming a teacher in Moravian schools in Labrador.
Brigitte’s long teaching career in Labrador began in 1950 and continued at MUN in 1981 when she became responsible for co-ordinating native teacher education in Labrador. Here, she helped Labradorians in becoming qualified teachers to educate the children and youth of Labrador. In the meantime, she had earned degrees at MUN and Laval University as well as a PhD in education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at Toronto.
When I met Brigitte, she had begun to lead worship services in St. John’s for Moravians from Labrador. She also visited people from Labrador who had come to the capital city for medical and hospital treatment and conducted a dedicated ministry at the local correctional facility — work that she considered “a privilege and high calling.”
Her faith expressed itself in the breadth and depth of her own ministry.
“God has led me all the way,” Brigitte said, “and I learned that nothing can separate me from his love.”
Like Count Zinzendorf, the spiritual father of the Renewed Moravian Church, she sought with fellow clergy in the St. John’s and Area Council of Churches to give “expression to the fundamental unity of the several Christian denominations and to provide for common action in Christian witness and service in and for the community.”
Her interior reconciliation with the German people, who had been responsible for the flight of her family, was a long and arduous spiritual journey that began when she realized that her father’s cousin, who had suffered even more than her family had, was able to remain positive throughout her life.
Brigitte’s struggle for wholeness and reconciliation led also to her closer identification with the Inuit struggle for identity and for overcoming alienation, shame, and resentment.
“I am always anxious not to let cuts remain cuts that fester, but to have them turn into something that helps me, and hopefully others along the way,” she wrote.
“Then it will not be lost, not have happened in vain. This has been a deep concern of mine. I am deeply grateful for all the many people who have helped me along the way.”
With the help of that same cousin she also came to appreciate the depth and wisdom of Judaism and thus found a way back to the spiritual roots of her paternal family. When I visited her a few months ago, Brigitte told me once again that reading the rabbis was a great consolation to her and had opened new ways of understanding the Bible for her Christian faith.
Hans J. Rollmann is Professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland and can be reached by email