Moravian Church: Wikis


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This page is about the Moravian Church globally. For information about the church in a particular geographic area, use the links at Organization below.

The Moravian Church or Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine is a mainline Protestant denomination. Its religious heritage began in Kunvald late 14th century Bohemia (modern Czech Republic). Its official name is Unitas Fratrum[1] meaning Unity of the Brethren (not to be confused with the small Unity of the Brethren church based in Texas). It is also occasionally referred to as the Bohemian Brethren. It places a high premium on Christian unity, personal piety, missions and music.

The church's emblem is the Lamb of God with the flag of victory, surrounded by the Latin inscription: Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur; or in English: "Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him."



The movement that became the Moravian Church was started by Jan Hus (English: John Huss) in the late 14th century. Hus objected to some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to return the church in Bohemia and Moravia to what were the practices in these territories when it had been Eastern Orthodox: liturgy in the language of the people (i.e. Czech), having lay people receive communion in both kinds (bread and wine), married priests, and eliminating indulgences and the idea of Purgatory. Evidence of their roots in Eastern Orthodoxy can be seen today in their form of the Nicene Creed, which like Orthodox Churches, does not include the filioque clause. In rejecting indulgences, Jan Hus can be said to have adopted a doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone; in doing so, the Moravians became the first Protestant church.

The movement gained royal support and a certain independence for a while, but was eventually forced to be subject to the authority of Rome. Hus was tried by the Council of Constance and burned at the stake (1415).

Within fifty years of Hus's death, a contingent of his followers had become independently organized as the "Bohemian Brethren" (Čeští bratři) or Unity of the Brethren (Jednota bratrská), which was founded in Kunvald, Bohemia, in 1457. They received episcopal ordination through the Waldensians in 1467. These were the earliest Protestants, rebelling against Rome more than a hundred years before Martin Luther.

After 1620, due to the Counter Reformation and the Thirty-Years War (1618–1648), and after being abandoned and betrayed by the local nobility, who had previously tolerated or supported them, the Brethren were forced to operate underground and eventually dispersed across Northern Europe as far as the Low Countries, where Bishop John Amos Comenius attempted to direct a resurgence.

The largest remaining communities of the Brethren were located in Leszno (German: Lissa) in Poland, which had historically strong ties with the Czechs, as well as in small, isolated groups in Moravia, these are referred to as "the Hidden Seed" which John Amos Comenius had prayed would preserve the evangelical faith in the land of the fathers.

Today, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church claims also to be a modern successor of the Hussite tradition.


Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine, 18th century renewal

Zinzendorf preaching to people from many nations

In 1722, a small group of Bohemian Brethren who had been living as an underground remnant in Moravia (the so-called "Hidden Seed") for nearly 100 years arrived at the Berthelsdorf estate of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a nobleman who had been brought up in the traditions of Pietism. Out of a personal commitment to helping the poor and needy, he agreed to a request from their leader (Christian David, an itinerant carpenter) that they be allowed to settle on his lands in Upper Lusatia, which is in present-day Saxony in the east of modern-day Germany.

The refugees established a new village called Herrnhut, about 2 miles (3 km) from Berthelsdorf. The town initially grew steadily, but major religious disagreements emerged and by 1727 the community was divided into warring factions. Count Zinzendorf worked to bring about unity in the town and the Brotherly Agreement was adopted by the community on 12 May 1727. This is considered the beginning of the renewal. Then, on 13 August 1727 the community underwent a dramatic transformation when the inhabitants of Herrnhut "Learned to love one another," following an experience that they attributed to a visitation of the Holy Spirit, similar to that recorded in the Bible on the day of Pentecost.

Herrnhut grew rapidly following this transforming revival and became the centre of a major movement for Christian renewal and mission during the 18th century. Moravian historians identify the main achievements of this period as:

  1. Setting up a watch of continuous prayer that ran uninterrupted, 24 hours a day, for 100 years.
  2. Originating the Daily Watchwords.
  3. Establishing more than 30 settlements internationally on the Herrnhut model, which emphasised prayer and worship, and a form of communal living in which simplicity of lifestyle and generosity with wealth were held to be important spiritual attributes. As a result, although personal property was held, divisions between social groups and extremes of wealth and poverty were largely eliminated.
  4. Starting missionary work; and
  5. Forming many hundreds of small renewal groups operating within the existing churches of Europe, known as "diaspora societies". These groups encouraged personal prayer and worship, Bible study, confession of sins and mutual accountability.


Portrait of a group of Moravian Church members with George II of England, attributed to Johann Valentin Haidt, circa 1752-1754

The Moravian missionaries were the first large-scale Protestant missionary movement. They sent out the first missionaries when there were only 300 inhabitants in Herrnhut. Within 30 years, the church sent hundreds of Christian missionaries to many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, North and South America (see Christian Munsee), the Arctic, Africa, and the Far East. They were the first to send lay people (rather than clergy) as missionaries, the first Protestant denomination to minister to slaves, and the first Protestant presence in many countries.

The first Moravian missionaries were a potter named Leonard Dober and a carpenter named David Nitschmann, who went to the Caribbean island of St Thomas in 1732. Nitschmann, a descendant of the Ancient Unity, became the first bishop of the Renewed Unity in 1735.

Moravians founded missions with Algonquian-speaking Mahican in the British New York colony in North America. For instance, they founded one in 1740 at the Mahican village of Shekomeko in present-day Dutchess County, New York. The converted Mahican people formed the first native Christian congregation in the present-day United States. Because of local opposition to the Moravians' defense of the Mahican, rumors spread of their being secret Catholic Jesuits trying to ally the Mahican with the French, at a time of tensions between the British and French. Although supporters defended their work, at the end of 1744, colonial government based at Poughkeepsie expelled the Moravians from New York.[2]

On Christmas Eve in 1741, David Nitschmann and Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, led a small community to found a mission in the colony of Pennsylvania which they named Bethlehem, after the Biblical town in Judea. There, they ministered to Algonquian Lenape. According to the 2000 US census, Bethlehem, PA is today the sixth largest city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, and Reading.

The start of far-flung missionary work necessitated the setting up of independently administered Provinces. So, from c. 1732,[citation needed] the history of the church becomes the history of its provinces.

The Moravians no longer conduct missions in Australia and Greenland.


Moravian Church

The modern Unitas Fratrum (or Moravian Church) with about 825,000 members worldwide, continues to draw on traditions established during the 18th century renewal. In many places it observes the convention of the lovefeast, originally started in 1727. It uses older and traditional music in worship. In addition, in some older congregations, Moravians are buried in a traditional God's Acre, a graveyard organized by gender, age, and marital status rather than family.

The Moravians continue their long tradition of missionary work, for example in the Caribbean. This is reflected in their broad global distribution. The Moravians in Germany, whose central settlement remains at Herrnhut, are highly active in education and social work. The American Moravian Church sponsors the Moravian College and Seminary. The largest concentration of Moravians today is in Tanzania.

The motto of the Moravian church is:

(Latin) In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
(English) "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love"

Some Moravian scholars point to a different formula as a guide to constructive debate about faith. This formula was first advanced by Luke of Prague 1460-1528, one of the bishops of the ancient Unitas Fratrum. Luke taught that one must distinguish between things that are essential, ministerial or incidental to salvation. The essentials are God's work of creation, redemption and sanctification, as well as the response of the believer through faith, hope and love. Things ministerial are such items as the Bible, church, sacraments, doctrine and priesthood. These mediate the sacred and should thus be treated with respect, but they are not considered essential. Finally, incidentals include things such as vestments or names of services that may reasonably vary from place to place. [3]



For its global work, the Church is organized into Unity Provinces, Mission Provinces and Mission Areas. This categorization is based on the level of independence of the Province. Unity Province implies a total level of independence, Mission Province implies a partial level of supervision from a Unity Province, and Mission Area implies full supervision by a Unity Province. (The links below connect to articles about the history of the Church in specific provinces after 1732, where written.)


  • Alaska
  • America (North): Greenland, Canada and the Northern States of the USA
  • America (South): Southern States of the USA
  • British: England and Northern Ireland
  • Congo * Zambia
  • Costa Rica'
  • Czech Republic
  • Eastern West Indies: Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, and the Virgin Islands including St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Tortola.
  • European Continental: Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Nicaragua
  • South Africa
  • Suriname
  • Tanzania (Rukwa)
  • Tanzania (Southern)
  • Tanzania (South Western)
  • Tanzania (Western)


  • Guyana
  • Tanzania,Kigoma
  • Labrador
  • Zambia
  • Zambia
  • Malawi
  • Eastern Tanzania &


  • Northern Tanzania


  • Burundi, Belize, Cuba, * French Guiana, *Kenya, * Peru, *Rwanda, *Uganda

Other areas with missions but that are not yet established as Provinces are:

  • Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre, Ramallah, Palestine - under the care of the European Continental Province. Work began among people with leprosy in 1867 at the 'Jesus Hilfe'(Jesus, help) home in Jerusalem, responsibility for which was taken over by the Israeli State. In 1980, the former Leper Home on Star Mountain was converted for use as a home for handicapped children of the Arab population.[4]
  • South Asia (India, Ladakh, Nepal, Assam) - under the care of the British Province. Formerly the West Himalayan Province (1853) and designated a Unity Undertaking in 1967.

Tanzania is divided into five provinces because of the size of country and the numbers of people in the church. "The Moravian Church in Tanzania" co-ordinates the work in the nation.

The lists above, except for some details given under 'Other areas', can be found in The Moravian Almanac.[4]

Each Province is governed by a synod, made up of representatives from each congregations plus ex officio members.

The Synod elects the Provincial Board (aka Provincial Elders' Conference or PEC[5]) to be responsible for the work of the Province and its international links between Synods.


Many, but not all, of the Provinces are divided into Districts.

District Conferences need a mention.


Each congregation belongs to a district and has spiritual and financial responsibilities for work in its own area as well as provincially. The Congregation Council (all the members of a congregation) usually meets twice a year and annually elects the Church Committee that acts as an executive.

In some provinces two or more congregations may be grouped into circuits, under the care of one minister.

Unity Synod and Board

The Unity Synod meets every 7 years and is attended by delegates from the different Unity Provinces and affiliated Provinces..

The Unity Board is made up of one member from each Provincial Board, and acts as an executive committee between Unity Synods. It meets 3 times between Synods but much of its work is done by correspondence and postal voting.

There is no "Head Office". The President of the Unity Board (who is elected by the Board for 2 years and not allowed to serve for more than two terms) works from his/her own Provincial office.


In her Book of Order[6][7] the several provinces of the Moravian Unity accept:

According to the Ground of the Unity[6][7] of 1957, fundamental beliefs include but are not limited to:

  • The Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son or Logos/Word, and the Holy Spirit.
  • The Fatherhood of God
  • God's Love for fallen humanity
  • The Incarnation of God in the God/Man Jesus Christ
  • Jesus' sacrificial death for the sinful rebellion of humanity
  • Jesus' Resurrection, Ascension and Exaltation to the Right Hand of the Father
  • Jesus' sending of the Holy Spirit to strengthen, sustain and empower believers
  • Jesus' eventual return, in majesty, to judge the living and the dead
  • The Kingdom of Christ shall never end
  • There is one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
  • Infants are baptized
  • Without defining the mode or method (i.e. the "how"), Moravians believe that they receive the true Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion (see "real presence" and the Lutheran notion of sacramental union ). This is most clearly seen in Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg's Idea Fidei Fratrum, and in the Easter Morning Litany.

These tenets of classical Christianity are not unique to the Moravian Church. The emphasis in both the Ancient Unity as well as in the Renewed Unity is on Christian living and the fellowship of believers as a true witness to a vibrant Christian Faith.

Spirit of the Moravian Church

An account of the ethos of the Moravian Church is given by one of its British bishops, Clarence H Shawe.[8] In a lecture series delivered at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Shawe described the Spirit of the Moravian Church as having five characteristics: simplicity, happiness, unintrusiveness, fellowship and the ideal of service.

Simplicity is a focus on the essentials of faith and a lack of interest in the niceties of doctrinal definition. Shawe quotes Zinzendorf's remark that The Apostles say: 'We believe we have salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ ....' If I can only teach a person that catechism I have made him a divinity scholar for all time (Shawe, 1977, p 9). From this simplicity flow secondary qualities of genuineness and practicality.

Happiness is the natural and spontaneous response to God's free and gracious gift of salvation. Again Shawe quotes Zinzendorf: There is a difference between a genuine Pietist and a genuine Moravian. The Pietist has his sin in the foreground and looks at the wounds of Jesus; the Moravian has the wounds in the forefront and looks from them upon his sin. The Pietist in his timidity is comforted by the wounds; the Moravian in his happiness is shamed by his sin (p 13).

Unintrusiveness is based on the Moravian belief that God positively wills the existence of a variety of churches to cater for different spiritual needs. There is no need to win converts from other churches. The source of Christian unity is not legal form but everyone's heart-relationship with the Saviour.

Fellowship is based on this heart-relationship. Shawe says: The Moravian ideal has been to gather together kindred hearts ... Where there are 'Christian hearts in love united', there fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook. ... Fellowship [in Zinzendorf's time] meant not only a bridging of theological differences but also of social differences; the artisan and aristocrat were brought together as brothers and sat as equal members on the same committee (pp 21,22).

The ideal of service entails happily having the attitude of a servant. This shows itself partly in faithful service in various roles within congregations but more importantly in service of the world 'by the extension of the Kingdom of God'. Historically, this has been evident in educational and especially missionary work. Shawe remarks that none could give themselves more freely to the spread of the gospel than those Moravian emigrants who, by settling in Herrnhut [ie, on Zinzendorf's estate], had gained release from suppression and persecution. (p 26).


  • Hymn Books
  • Liturgy
  • the Sacrament of the Holy Communion
  • The Sacrament of Baptism, Infants and Adults
  • Marriage
  • Confirmation
  • Christian Burial
  • Ordination Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons
  • Consecration of church buildings and facilities


Former traditions

  • Settlements (Either under a separate heading or in a main article, list all worldwide & describe usual range of constituent buildings, etc.)
  • the drawing of "lots" in decision making
  • Single Brethren's and Single Sisters' Houses: In the old original Settlement Congregations of Europe, Britain and the US, there were separate Houses caring for the spiritual and also temporal welfare of the Choirs of Single Brethren, Single Sisters, Widows.[9]
  • Wide/Short layout of church interiors
  • Separate seating of sexes in churches
  • Mission ships (the Harmony & the Snow Irene)
  • Choirs (age/sex): The word 'Choir' has been used in the Moravian tradition since the eighteenth century to indicate a group of congregation members classified according to age and sex. Formerly there were in several congregations separate Houses caring for the spiritual and also temporal welfare of the Choirs of Single Brethren, Single Sisters, Widows.[9]

Uniformed and other organizations

  • Boys Brigade / Scouts
  • Girls Brigade / Guides / Upward & Onward
  • Women's Fellowship
  • Men's Fellowship
  • Sunday School
  • Young People's Missionary Association (YPMA)

Prominent Moravians from c1400 to c1750

Ecumenical relations

The Moravian Church provinces are members individually of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. Most provinces are also members of their national councils of churches, such as the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) in Germany and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the US. The American Southern Province was instrumental in the founding the North Carolina Council of Churches. The British Province is of the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (formerly the British council of Churches) and has an interim Communion agreement with the Church of England. The two North American provinces are in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and are in dialogue with the Episcopal Church in the United States about entering full communion. At it's 2009 Convention the ECUSA voted to share their lineage of the historic episcopate with the Moravian Church.[10] In the 1980s there were discussions in England by which an agreement was created that would have created full communion between the Moravians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and the Church of England. The Presbyterians and Methodists would have accepted the Historic Episcopate, but since the Moravians already had this, they would have changed nothing. This agreement fell through because the Church of England synod did not give approval.

One aspect of Moravian history and mission is the so-called "Diaspora" work in Germany and Eastern Europe, seeking to deepen and encourage the Christian life among members of the territorial churches, particularly in Poland and the Baltic states, but also throughout the German-speaking lands. Count Zinzendorf's ideal was a fellowship of all Christians, regardless of denominational names, and the Moravian Brethren sought in the Diaspora not to convert people to the Moravian Church but to awaken the hearts of believers and make them better members of the churches to which they already belonged. At first the object of suspicion, in the course of time the Moravian Diaspora workers became valued co-workers in eastern Europe. This Diaspora work suffered almost total destruction in World War II, but is still carried on within the territorial churches of Germany. With the independence of the Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia, it was revealed that much of the Diaspora Work there had been kept alive in spite of domination by the former Soviet Union and had even born fruit.

Historical societies, etc.

  • American North: the Moravian Historical Society and Historic Bethlehem (Pennsylvania)
  • American South: the Wachovia Historical Society as well as Old Salem
  • British: Defunct.
  • Continental Province Verein für Geschichts- und Gegenwartsfragen der Brüdergemeinde


  • Herrnhuter Bote (former title: der Brüderbote), the periodical of the Continental Province
  • Unitas Fratrum, the publication of the Continental Province's historical society
  • the Moravian Magazine, the publication of the North American Provinces
  • the Moravian Messenger, periodical of the British Province
  • Moravian History Magazine - Published within the British Province but deals with the work worldwide.
  • Journal of Moravian History[11] - scholarly journal, published by the Moravian Archives[12] in Bethlehem, PA, and the Moravian Historical Society[13] in Nazareth, PA.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ Philip H. Smith, "Pine Plains", General History of Duchess County from 1609 to 1876, inclusive, Pawling, NY: 1877, accessed 3 Mar 2010
  3. ^ Craig Atwood (2005) "Proclaiming the Moravian Theological Heritage", International Theological Dialogue, No 4, May 2005, pp 44-49; ISSN 1525-7223
  4. ^ a b The Moravian Almanac is published annually (October) as a supplement to the devotional book 'Daily Watchwords'. Most Provinces publish their own almanac with details of local congregations and the wider Provinces. Copies may be obtained from the Moravian Church House (office) of any province (for addresses see the provinces pages).
  5. ^ In Moravian usage, Elder is a title applicable to the members of any church board (conference) whether at provincial or congregational level. The term refers to responsible people who, commanding the respect of their fellow members, have been elected, at provincial level by the Synod, and at local level by the Congregation Council. A Board of Elders always acts collegially, not individually[7].
  6. ^ a b Church Order of the Unitas Fratrum, published by order of the Unity Synod.
  7. ^ a b The Ground of the Unity
  8. ^ Rt Revd C H Shawe, DD (1977) The Spirit of the Moravian Church, London, The Moravian Book Room
  9. ^ a b Book of Order, The Moravian Church in Great Britain and Ireland, 2002.
  10. ^ Anglicans Online Article
  11. ^ Journal of Moravian History
  12. ^ Moravian Archives
  13. ^ Moravian Historical Society


  • Church of England & the Moravian Church in Great Britain and Ireland Anglican-Moravian Conversations: The Fetter Lane Common Statement with Essays in Moravian and Anglican History (1996)
  • Fogleman, Aaron Spencer. Jesus Is Female: Moravians and the Challenge of Radical Religion in Early America (2007)
  • Freeman, Arthur J An Ecumenical Theology of the Heart: The Theology of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1998)
  • Fries, Adelaide Records of the Moravians in North Carolina (1917).
  • Gollin, Gilliam Lindt. Moravians in Two Worlds (1967)
  • Hamilton, J Taylor, and Hamilton, Kenneth G History of the Moravian Church: The Renewed Unitas Fratrum 1722-1957 (1967)
  • Hutton, J E A History of the Moravian Church (1909)
  • Hutton, J E A History of the Moravian Missions (1922)
  • Jarvis, Dale Gilbert. "The Moravian Dead Houses of Labrador, Canada" Communal Societies 21 (2001): 61-77.
  • Langton; Edward. History of the Moravian Church: The Story of the First International Protestant Church (1956)
  • Lewis, A J Zinzendorf the Ecumenical Pioneer (1962)
  • Linyard, Fred, and Tovey, Phillip Moravian Worship (Grove Worship Series No 129, UK) 1994
  • Podmore, Colin The Moravian Church in England 1728-1760 (1998)
  • Rican, Rudolf The History of the Unity of the Brethren (transl by C Daniel Crews) (1992)
  • Shawe, C H The Spirit of the Moravian Church (1977)
  • Weber, Julie Tomberlin (transl) and Atwood, Craig D (ed) A Collection of Sermons from Zinzendorf's Pennsylvania Journey (1741-2; 2001)
  • Weinlick, John R Count Zinzendorf: The Story of his Life and Leadership in the Renewed Moravian Church (1984)
  • Zinzendorf, Nicholaus Ludwig Nine Public Lectures on Important Subjects in Religion (1746; translated and edited by George W Forell 1973)

External links


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