In 1743 Count Zinzendorf was on his way to visit one of the religious societies formed by clergyman Benjamin Ingham. Ingham was a preacher who would find followers in Churches, houses, barns and fields, and he formed religious societies wherever he went. A year earlier, Ingham had offered his societies to the stewardship of the Moravian Church and the thousand or so members had gladly agreed. At this time, ministers from the Moravian Church were sent out to the Societies.
Zinzendorf, a Saxon Nobleman, had become a prominent figure in the Moravian Church (then know as the Unitas Fratrum, which means Unity of Brethren) when their group took refuge on his land in Herrnhut, Germany in 1722. Zinzendorf was most likely coming over to meet with Brother and Sister Gussenbauer who had being assisting with the work of the Pudsey Society and now needed a new centre.
It is noted that as Zinzendorf looked northwards across the green valley of Tong, towards Pudsey, he “had such a sweet feeling and deep impression of the place, that he immediately determined it should be the site of the Moravian settlement, similar to that of Herrnhut, and that it should be named ‘Lambshill’”.
The area he was referring to was actually known as ‘Fallneck’ and the moment was opportune as the 22 acre estate was up for sale by the owner, William Moss. Ingham learned that Moss was in a hurry to sell and negotiated the asking price down from £1130 to £905 and then leased the land to the Moravian Church.
The name ‘Fulneck’ replaced the chosen name of Lambshill and the local name of Fallneck. Fulnek was the hometown in Moravia of the famous educator and Bishop of the Unitas Fratrum, John Amos Comenius.
The foundation stone of the present Church was laid in 1746 by Toltschig and the Church was named Grace Hall. It was completed in 1748. Shorty afterwards, there was the building of the ‘Choir Houses’ for the Single Sisters and the Single Brethren, which were built either side of Grace Hall.
The settlement was virtually self-sufficient with it’s own blacksmith, bakery, shop, tailor, shoemaker and doctors. The Sisters would work as spinners and later embroider. The Brethren would weave and dye cloth. Again, a job in any of these industries was decided with the help of The Lot.
On one side of the Church was the Single Sisters’ house where single women, widows, infants and small children lived, worked and slept. The other side of the Church was the Brethren’s house where men, widowers and young boys had the same arrangement.
In the early years, marriages were arranged. A possible match between the Sisters and Brethren’s Houses was put forward to The Lot. A question would be proposed and one of three small tubes was chosen at will. They read ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and the third one was blank. If blank, the question was proffered again another time, in a slightly different form. They believed that the answer would reveal the Saviour’s will. The proposed couple was allowed to give their consent or withdraw from the arrangement. Widowers were also encouraged to remarry. The availability of married accommodation also determined the frequency of marriages.
This is affectionately known as “God’s Acre” and was consecrated in 1749. It is the resting place for the members of the Fulneck congregation. The gravestones are a simple, flat stone, no bigger than one and a half feet, laid horizontally in rows.
It is recorded that the Moravian Church customs associated with death during this period would have been slightly unusual to the local people. For instance, they would not wear mourning clothes, they would follow the coffin from the church to God’s Acre blowing horns, and immediately after the passing away some of the men would sing requiems for the dead in the bell tower of the Church.
One of the traditions continues from 1750 to the present and that is the Easter Litany. An early Easter service, led by the Minister, begins in Church and then the congregation walk out to God’s Acre for prayers and to name the members of the Congregation who have died in the past year. This short act of remembrance closes with the singing of a hymn and the congregation then share breakfast together.