The Moravian Church

Overview of the Moravian Church in North America

Emmaus Moravian Church, founded in 1747, in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, United States
EmausPriester/Creative Commons

Sixty years before Martin Luther began his reformation in Germany, the Moravian Church, or Unity of Brethren, as it was officially known, started in Bohemia. The church takes its name from the ancient land of Moravia, in what is now the Czech Republic.

Surviving persecution in Europe, the Moravian Church eventually spread to the American colonies, where it flourished. Today the church has congregations in 16 U.S. states, two provinces in Canada, and in Europe and Africa.

Number of Worldwide Members:

Various sources list the total Moravian church membership worldwide at over 720,000, with about 60,000 in the United States.

Founding of the Moravian Church:

The people of Bohemia and Moravia began protesting some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in the 15th century, led by the Czech reformer John Huss. Huss was rector of the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. He was branded a heretic by the Catholic Church, went through a long trial, and was burned at the stake in 1415.

Other reformers carried on. The Moravian Church was organized in the village of Kunvald, about 100 miles east of Prague, in 1457, as the Unity of Brethren (Unitas Fratrum). The church suffered constant persecution until it came under the protection of nobility. Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a noble in Saxony, in Germany, offered part of his huge estate to church members fleeing persecution in Bohemia and Moravia.

They built the community of Herrnhut there in 1722. When the church moved to the American colonies of Pennsylvania and North Carolina, it was able to establish many churches and expand, even into Canada.

Prominent Founders:

John Huss (1369-1415), John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), Augustus Spangenberg (1710-1788).

Geography:

Moravians can be found today in North and South America, Europe, South Africa, Tanzania, Suriname, and the United Kingdom.

Moravian Church Governing Body:

Each province is governed by a Provincial Synod composed of members elected to represent each congregation or district, as well as a number of standing members. This legislative body meets every four years. The Provincial Elders' Conference (PEC) carries out the rulings of the Synod and acts for the Synod when it is not in session. The PEC meets twice a month. The Moravian Church Unity Synod meets every seven years and is dedicated to the goals and programs of international unity.

Sacred or Distinguishing Text:

The Bible.

Notable Moravian Church Ministers and Members:

John Huss.

Moravian Church Beliefs and Practices:

The Moravian Church uses a lectionary and liturgy that follow the seasons of the church year, like many other Protestant denominations. Members profess the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed in worship services.

Church members seek continual growth through "family devotions, personal prayer and study, and the opportunities for spiritual development offered by the Church."

The Moravian Church believes in cooperation with and respect for other Christian denominations, especially in worthy charitable activities.

The church professes the Trinity and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Scripture is the "sole standard" of doctrine and faith.

Two sacraments are practiced: baptism and communion. Baptism is conducted on infants, children or adults and is done by sprinkling. Communion is offered during worship services several times a year. Any baptized Christian adult is eligible to participate.

To learn more about what the Moravian Church teaches, visit Moravian Church Beliefs and Practices.

(Sources: Moravian Church in North America, Unitas Fratrum, and Moravian Church Southern Province.)