About the Moravian Church

The Moravian Church (officially the Unitas Fratrum, Unity of Brethren) is the oldest Protestant Church, predating Luther by 50 years.  A hundred years before Luther, what would become the Reformation was already under way in the person of Jan Hus, a Catholic priest who called for major reform in the Roman Catholic Church.   He was declared an arch-heretic at the Council of Constance, and was burned at the stake.  His martyrdom began the Hussite Wars and several groups exploring faith independent of Rome.  At the end of the Hussite Wars, one group of Hussites influenced by Petr Chelcicki (whose writings also inspired Gandhi and MLK) abandoned violence and built a town where they could follow the Beatitudes and the model of the early church. They published the first hymnals for congregational singing, translated the Bible into Czech, and by the mid-16th century numbered over a half million. John Amos Comenius, the “Father of Modern Education” was a bishop and president of the group when the Thirty Years War nearly destroyed the population in Moravia and Bohemia, and placed them under Roman Catholic rule. Many went underground.

In the early 1700s a remnant — the grandchildren of the last official Brethren — emigrated to Saxony and built the village of Herrnhut on the lands of a Lutheran noble, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. After a terrible period of conflict, they all experienced a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit (the “Moravian Pentecost” in 1727) that brought them together as a true community — again trying to emulate the first century church. They felt called to mission (there were no organized Protestant missions at that point) and sent people all over the world to evangelize – particularly to the “last and the least,” slaves and natives, who were treated as equals. Moravians came to America not for religious freedom but to minister to the native Americans and settlers. They influenced the conversion of John & Charles Wesley, founded Bethlehem, PA and Salem, NC as central church communities that supported outlying mission communities. Moravians were the first to educate women in America at Salem Academy & College in North Carolina and Moravian Seminary for Women in Pennsylvania.

Today, most Moravians are in Africa and other mission fields. There are only about 35,000 in the US but over a million in Tanzania. The “Moravian principle,” which we share with other denominations, is “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things love. We are the only mainline denomination that has never experienced a schism.