It is the 23rd of January 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
A very happy Monday- just as I cleared out the mailbag for our mega mailbag last weekend, I received a number of really good questions- I’m going to go to Kelvin in Hamilton, Ontario- the great white north- he notes that Hamilton is the birthplace of the Tim Hortons doughnut chain- I’ve enjoyed the chain when I’ve been up there- certainly better than Dunkin’ Donuts which I have no time for. Still, as a SoCal kid, I grew up with Winchells. Also, Hamilton is home to Eugene Levy of SCTV, Best in Show, and a modern show about a creek that sounds like a bad word. Also, home to Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, formerly of the Clippers, now with the OKC Thunder (a team not tanking!)
Kelvin did something good for all of us- in the show last week on Greenland, I mentioned the Moravians but just flew right past them as if everyone knew who the Moravians are and were. Kelvin wrote, “I know very little about the Moravians and wonder if you might say more?”
I can! And I should!
It could be confusing because there is a historical region of Eastern Europe known as Moravia- currently, in the Czech Republic, it was home to Bohemia and in the Middle Ages, home to Jan Hus and the Bohemian church (remember them, early Reformers in the 1400s with the first vernacular hymnal in the early 1500s). They would also go by the name of Unitas Fratrem or the United Brethren. After the 30 Years War (1618-1648) the movement was banned in Bohemia (you could now be Catholic, Lutheran, or Calvinist but not the Brethren). But a German Count- Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf- a Lutheran in the Pietist tradition, invited the United Brethren from Moravia to his estate in Saxony. They would form a community called “Herrnhut”- which means something like “under the Lord’s Watch.” Here they would worship with Lutherans but also in conventicles- kind of like small groups.
The movement here recognized its birthday in 1727 when a communion service resulted in a time of spiritual renewal and reconciliation. They were ecumenical Protestants that stressed personal piety and evangelism.
As they were a persecuted minority, it made sense for them to stress international missions where they could travel with the Gospel and avoid persecution. In the 18th century, we see them, though small, throughout the globe- including Greenland, as we discussed last week. The tension there with the Lutherans came from the fact that they looked kind of like Lutherans- but weren’t exclusively so in their theology. The modern Moravian church recognizes Luther’s Small Catechism as a trustworthy confession of faith along with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Reformed Heidelberg Confession, and the 39 Articles of the Church of England. The official motto of the church is the oft-quoted maxim: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love.
The Moravians came to the West Indies in the 1730s as missionaries and then to the colony of Georgia, where they met the Wesley brothers during their trip to the new world. They then set up a colony in North Carolina and then in Pennsylvania with the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth. They initially practiced a form of community organizing that only allowed fellow Moravians to live in their towns. When they opened their boarding schools, they would accept students from outside their community and confession. Today there are roughly half a million Moravians in America. Most Moravians today are in, you guessed it, Africa.
So- the Moravians are a Pre-Reformation movement whose theology would mirror an amalgamation of Reformation creeds, and their status as an unrecognized church led them to become a missional church, spreading out throughout the world. Their historically exclusive communities and eastern European heritage contributed to their lack of inclusion into broadly Protestant coalitions in America.
Thank you for the email, Kelvin from Hamilton, Ontario- you can email your question to me at email@example.com.
The last word for today comes from- if I may, I’d like to pepper in a poem again from time to time- this is Epiphany on the Jordan by Malcolm Guite, a poem based on the Baptism of Jesus.
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are beloved, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of January 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows that at Dunkin Donuts in China, you can order a pork and seaweed donut. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man strangely tempted by the popular Indian donut flavor of olive and mustard- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.