For our Christmas @ 3BC this year, our worship pastor, Mark Moore, is leading our church in a Moravian Love Feast. It will be a time filled with music, food, community, and a focus on Jesus. Below you’ll see what Mark sent out to our worship team concerning who the Moravians are and what a love feast is. I thought you’d enjoy reading his comments, too…
The much anticipated, oft-misunderstood, frequently mis-pronounced Love Feast is upon us. I’ll be happy when Sunday night is over…not because I dread the rehearsals or work or details or the program itself…but because I won’t have to answer questions about Moravian Love Feasts. So, since you’re in the worship team that’s leading a love feast, I’m going to give you the answers to questions you, or others, may have.
Who are the Moravians? In the beginning, they lived in Moravia, which is now eastern Czechoslovakia. I suppose, now, you could say that anyone who is a member of the Moravian Church is…well…Moravian. Not necessarily by ethnicity or origin, but by heritage or association. For example, my great-great-great-great grandfather was Johann Bullitschek, a Moravian. He was a carpenter by trade, and built the organ which still exists in the chapel in Old Salem, North Carolina. So, I guess I’m Moravian by heritage. You get the idea.
What’s the big deal about Moravians? The Moravian Church formed in the 14th century and was led by a Catholic monk named Jan Hus. Hus was a bit tired of the direction the Roman Catholic Church was headed – indulgences, abuse of power, political meddling, and so on – and wanted the Church to be more like the early version, which focused on teaching, fellowship, discipleship, proclaiming the gospel, and so on. The people in Moravia agreed and began to give great support for Hus and his method of doing church. But, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t like what was going on, so they accused Hus of heretical teaching and he was burned at the stake. His followers continued the teachings of Hus, and they, too, began to be attacked by the Church authorities.
Fast forward a hundred years or so, and we find what’s left of the Moravian Church fleeing Moravia to Germany, to avoid persecution. In Germany, a prince – Count Zinzendorf – gave them land to live on and allowed them to worship freely. As with any group of people, they encountered some internal strife and dissention and realized they’d forsaken the very principles they were founded on. So, after revival went through the Moravian Church, the group flourished in Germany and they focused on four things – missions, piety, unity, and music.
Of the many hymns written and collected by Zinzendorf and the Moravians, only one is included in The Baptist Hymnal – “Christian Hearts, in Love United.”
So, the Moravians were the first Protestant church (predating Martin Luther) and were very active in mission work.
Does the Moravian Church still exist? Absolutely! The Moravians left Germany and settled in New England in the colony of New York, where they did mission work with the Mohican Indians. But, because tensions between settlers and various Indian tribes ran high, the Moravians were expelled from New York. Later, a band of Moravians settled in Pennsylvania. Because they arrived on Christmas Eve, the named the town Bethlehem. After flourishing in Bethlehem, another group was sent to settle North Carolina, around what is now the Winston-Salem area. The settlement was called Bethabara, and if you visit the Winston-Salem area today, there’s much to see in the area regarding the Moravian settlements there. In addition to the churches in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, there are over 800K members of the Moravian Church, which may also be called The Church of the Brethren.
So, what’s the deal with the Love Feast? After the revival, or renewal, occurred in Germany, the Moravians began the love feast as a way to return to what the early New Testament Church experienced in its infancy (Acts 2). These were called Agape Meals, or Love Feasts (Jude 12). You may recall that the Apostle Paul chided the Corinthian Church because the agape meals they were having promoted everything but unity, and he encouraged them to stop if they couldn’t do it right. The same thing was going on in Jude, where the Church was being warned that false believers were coming in to be part of their love feasts.
The Moravian love feast is built around a celebration of something – Christmas, missions, Easter – and involves much music, scripture-reading, testimonies, and a meal. The meal, though, is simple…a sweetly-flavored bun and milk coffee. It is symbolic in that there is fellowship and sharing (building unity) around a meal, just like the early church.
Some interesting facts about Moravians:
*When a church member dies, they’re buried in God’s Acre, with flat head stones. This signifies the equality of the dead before God, and members are buried according to gender, age, and marital status rather than by family.
*If you visit the country of Tanzania, you’ll experience the largest concentration of Moravian Churches in the world there.
*The Moravian Church placed a high value on music, and often incorporated brass ensembles in their worship. Trombone choirs were especially popular.
*Another name for the Moravian Church is Unitas Fratrum, or “Unity of the Brethren.”
*Their motto is “In essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
*Salem, North Carolina is one of the early settlements of Moravians. This is not the Salem of the 17th century witch trials (that one was in Massachusetts).
*There is a restaurant in Salem – The Tavern at Old Salem – where President George Washington stayed on his tour through the Southern States. Good food, Great history.
*Speaking of George…the Moravians were pacifists and did not participate in the War for Independence. As a result, they were criticized by both patriots and loyalists.