Herrnhut nearly ceased to exist within the five years after it was established in 1722. During those years there was discord that pushed Herrnhut to the brink of destruction. The Memorial Day celebrated on 13th August marks the end of these troubles.
On a positive note, believers wishing to live peacefully and follow their faith continued to escape from Moravia and travel to Herrnhut. There are numerous stories of how Catholic neighbours helped these people escape; sometimes by singing loudly as a warning, sometimes by leaving prison doors unlocked. Helping people escape could be dangerous but highly appreciated by those wishing to move to Herrnhut.
On a less positive note, it wasn’t just believers from Moravia who moved to Herrnhut. Various people moved to the growing community; some of these people sought to actively disrupt life and cause disharmony within the community. Herrnhut was becoming a place of arguments and fights.
By early 1727 it appeared that the community may destroy itself, at this point Count Zinzendorf stepped in. He took leave of absence from his court duties and returned with the sole aim of preventing further infighting by establishing peace and a positive sense of community.
By May he had drawn up a set of rules that everyone in Herrnhut was required to sign. Then over the summer he visited people in their homes, and many conferences and prayer meetings were held.
As peace began to return, people felt ready to share their unity by celebrating a service of Holy Communion. This was to be held on Wednesday 13 August 1727. During the service people deeply sensed the gift of reconciliation and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Naturally afterwards, people wanted to meet in groups and chat, talking about the peace and joy they were each experiencing. Seeing the groups standing around chatting, Zinzendorf decided to encourage them to continue talking. To do this he sent food for them to share. This became the foundation of the Lovefeast service, still celebrated regularly in Moravian churches today.
Probably for the centennial of the event, the English Moravian poet, James Montgomery, wrote the best word-picture known of what took place on August 13, 1727.
They walked with God in peace and love
but failed with one another;
While sternly for the faith they strove
brother fell out with brother.
But He in whom they put their trust,
who knew their frames that they were dust,
pitied and healed their weakness.
He found them in His house of prayer
with one accord assembled,
and so revealed His presence there
they wept for joy and trembled.
One cup they drank, one bread they brake,
one baptism shared, one language spake,
forgiving and forgiven.
Then forth they went, with tongues of flame
in one blest theme delighting;
the love of Jesus, and His Name,
God’s children all uniting.
That love our theme and watchword still;
that law of love may we fulfill
and love as we are loved.
The hymn, slightly altered, appears in the 1995 Moravian Book of Worship, 396.
With this new sense of unity and purpose, the Herrnhut community was transformed to grow into a movement for mission and evangelism of international scope.