Creating a worldwide church – one step at a time

Next year the Moravian Church will celebrate three hundred years since the refugees from Moravia found a home where they could practice their religion in peace. In 1722 it was one small community living in Herrnhut; next year it will be a worldwide church that celebrates its founding. How did it get from one small settlement to being worldwide? One small step at a time, great sacrifices by many missionaries and people welcoming the word of God into their hearts.

Count Zinzendorf had been to the Royal Court in Denmark and while there had met a servant, Anthony, who had been traded as a slave from Africa. The treatment he described of being captured, the journey over the ocean and working on the plantations all horrified Zinzendorf. Upon his return to Herrnhut, he retold this story and how Anthony was so sad that his brother and sister, Anna and Abraham, were still slaves. It was after hearing this story that two young members of the Herrnhut community decided to leave and go to the West Indies to work among the slaves. After initial resistance from some members of the community, they set out on 21 August 1732. That is now the date of the Memorial Day that marks the beginning of the Moravian Missions.

The two young men had a tough time and must have felt revulsion at the treatment of the slaves by men who then went to Church each Sunday. Others in Herrnhut soon followed their example: three missionaries sailed for Greenland in 1733 and by 1752 they moved to Labrador; South America was reached in 1735 and South Africa in 1737.

These early ventures were only the start. Over the years many parts of the world have accepted and welcomed Moravian missionaries. Today the Church is truly world-wide with schools, training centres and churches frequently the vibrant part of a community.

From that one small step in 1732 to Zoom in 2020. Due to the worldwide pandemic the British Province invited Moravian Churches around the world to take part in a Unity service on Zoom. Those attending the service were treated to hymns and prayers in many languages, school children under the tropical sun reading from the Bible, and beautiful views of churches high up in mountains and on isolated islands. Without those two intrepid missionaries in 1732 would this service have happened? Let us be thankful that they made that journey.

By making that journey they also brought joy to the brother and sister of young Anthony. They found them and read to them a letter from him: they then preached a sermon to a group of slaves who had gathered. This was greeted by cries of joy and clapping, rare emotions one imagines in the life of slaves. One small step and a smile to two young faces.