Moravians: Our History & Traditions

In 2012 the Moravian Church celebrates 555 years of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and serving people throughout the world.

Here are some “key words” to describe our heritage as a community of faith:

We focus on the saving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Moravians emphasize a “religion of the heart” and a daily, personal walk with the Savior.  We know our faith must be continually nourished to remain living and vital.

In worship, our faith is expressed through liturgies which follow the Church year, through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and especially through a rich tradition of Moravian music and hymns. The Daily Texts, a personal devotional guide, has been published for over 275 years.

We accept the historical creeds of Christianity, cooperate in witness and service with other churches, and welcome believers of all traditions to our worship. We believe that the various denominations provide unique gifts to the wider Christian Church and are ready to share and to learn from one another.

We are one of the oldest Protestant churches, organized in 1457 in ancient Bohemia and Moravia, taking the name Unitas Fratrum (Unity of the Brethren) and striving to live by the New Testament ideals of simplicity and service.  Our spiritual roots can be traced to John Hus, a reform-minded Czech priest, who advocated the centrality of the Bible for faith and life, Scripture and worship in the language of the people; and witnessing to one’s faith through good works.

By the late 1500s the Moravian “Unity” numbered over 200,000 with 400 parishes; produced its own hymnal and catechism; and provided the people of Bohemia and Moravia with the Bible in their own language.

After years of conflict and persecution, some Moravian families found refuge in 1722 on the estate of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony.  Others joined them as the town of Herrnhut was formed (in what is now eastern Germany) and our church grew and was reorganized.  A spiritual renewal in 1727 led to extensive mission work throughout the world.

We have 700,000 members in over 30 countries.  The largest numbers of Moravians are found in places such as Tanzania, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Suriname (South America).

The Southern Province, with offices in Winston-Salem, NC, celebrated 250 years of service in 2003.  It includes 58 congregations and 9 fellowships in NC, VA, SC, GA, and FL.

Our Northern Province (headquartered in Bethlehem, PA) includes 98 congregations in PA, NY, NJ, OH, MD, IL, IN, MI, MN, ND, WI, CA, the District of Columbia, and the Provinces of Ontario and Alberta, Canada.

We began organized mission work in 1732, on St. Thomas, (U.S. Virgin Islands).  Moravians share the Gospel in word and deed.  We minister to the whole person — body, mind and spirit — through schools, clinics, social service agencies and ongoing programs of care.

Our congregations and individual members are involved in a wide variety of ministries in and for their communities, such as: emergency assistance programs, affordable housing and home repair, homeless shelters, service to older adults, disaster response, tutoring programs, prison ministries, after-school care, and pre-schools.

We focus on the basics of the faith and live by the motto: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things, love.”  The one great essential is the saving love of God revealed in the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In non-essentials such as worship forms, musical styles, ways of organizing for ministry, program offerings and service opportunities we welcome diversity and variety in our life together. The love of God we share as believers in Christ draws us together and allows us to love one another “in all things” and to live in unity.

We believe that we are created for relationships – a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and relationships with others.  Sometimes Moravians have been jokingly accused of making fellowship a third sacrament of the church!  In our congregations we strive for a warm, genuine welcome; mutual caring and support; and relating to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Groups and programs for children, youth, young adults, singles, couples, and older adults provide places to develop rich friendships and life-long connections.

In the 1740s Moravians were once referred to as “the Savior’s happy people.”  The joy we find in our relationship with Christ shows in our life as believers – in our singing, our serving, our sharing.  Worship experiences such as Lovefeast (a service of songs and a simple fellowship meal), Easter sunrise, or Christmas Eve Lovefeast (with lighted beeswax candles) help us to share in that joy.  Our mission work at home and abroad makes the joy of Christ a reality for us and those whom we serve.