The Moravian Church is a mainline moderate worldwide Protestant denomination that has been serving Christ since 1457.Although small in number – around one million people – our denomination is truly an international church, with congregations in North America, Central America, South America, Africa and Europe, in addition to specialized ministries in Palestine, India and Nepal. As the first protestant denomination to send out missionaries, Moravians have a reputation for bringing the Gospel of Christ to people in places where others were either unwilling or unable to go.
The Moravian Church is Christ-centered.Moravians recognize the example of Christ's life and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. Living the Christian life depends not only on our own effort but also upon God our Father, who in Jesus Christ strengthens and sustains us. Fellowship and service are dual values that flow out of our Christ-centeredness. They emerge from the unifying power of God’s love alive in our midst.
Moravians believe the Bible to be the humanly produced but God-inspired record of God’s revelations. The primary means by which humankind knows God’s love and favour is through God’s Word. In the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, we receive a testimony from one generation of believers to another. The Word of God makes itself heard through faithful prayer and study. Moravians believe that the Bible summons people not just to faith but also to faithful action.
The Moravian Church seeks to emphasize Christian faith, hope and love and to de-emphasizes doctrines and creeds. Freedom of faith expression is a hallmark of who we are as Moravians. The Triune God as revealed in the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments and the only source of our life and salvation is the sole standard of the doctrine and faith of the Unitas Fratrum and therefore shapes our life. We don’t have an official creed, but we accept the historical creeds of Christianity. We recognize that faith comes from a personal heart-felt relationship with God through Jesus Christ rather than from abstract doctrinal arguments and theological formulations. Moravians emphasize the unity and togetherness created by God who made us one and place great value on their ties with Christians of other denominations throughout the world. Our faith identity is as Christians, as followers of Christ who happen to be affiliated with the Moravian church as a way of being Christian.
A Brief History of the Moravian Church
Moravians number nearly one million worldwide and stand in the mainstream of Protestantism. The Moravian Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches in the world, founded back in 1457, sixty years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a door in Wittenberg. The official name of the Moravian Church is the Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of Brethren.
We trace our roots back to John Hus, a priest and philosophy professor from Moravia in what is now part of the Czech Republic. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415 for speaking out against the corruption and abuse of the church and state of his day. Despite fear of persecution, his followers organized the United Brethren, now known as the Moravian Church.
By 1517 the United Brethren numbered at least 200,000. Using a hymnal and a catechism of its own, the church promoted the Scriptures through its printing presses and provided the people of Bohemia and Moravia with a Bible in their own language. Influenced by his beliefs as one of the Brethren, Bishop John Amos Comenius(1592 – 1670) is considered the father of modern education, espousing universal education and developmental theory.
The United Brethren were bitterly persecuted in their homeland so some fled and found refuge on the estate of Count Nicholas of Zinzendorf, a nobleman in Saxony, now part of Germany. It is here that the Brethren were given the nickname, Moravian. In 1722 they built the community of Herrnhut(Lord's Watch) where the church saw a renewal under the patronage of Count Zinzendorf who encouraged them to take the gospel to the far corners of the globe. In 1732 the first missionaries were sent to the West Indies. In 1735 the Moravians established their first successful settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Today, the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in North America are part of the worldwide Unitas Fratrum.
The Moravians came to Canada and established missions in Labrador between 1752 and 1771. The Moravian Church in Labrador continue to exist in Inuit communities. Distinctive Moravian buildings, once characteristic of all the mission stations, still survive under the care of Parks Canada. The New Dawncongregation in Toronto, was established by Moravians coming from former mission areas in the Caribbean.
The first Moravians in Alberta came in the late 1800’s when German speaking Russian emigrants fleeing religious persecution were encouraged to come to Canada. Here religious freedom was guaranteed and Christian communities could be formed on land made available by the government. In May and June 1894, the first Moravian immigrants arrived in the Edmonton area and established the communities of Bruderheim, Bruderfeld (Millwoods) and Heimtal. In 1902, Central Moravian Church in Calgary was founded.
Currently, there are six Moravian congregations in the Edmonton area: Burderheim Fellowship, Edmonton, Good News, Heimtal, Millwoodsand Rio Terrace, with an alternative congregation developing at the Common Ground Café in Sherwood Park. Calgary has two congregations, Good Shepherd (formally Central Moravian) and Christ Church.
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Moravians emphasize baptism and Holy Communion as gifts of God’s grace. This helps to explain why the Moravian Church practices open rather than closed communion. This means that members of other Christian churches are invited to receive Holy Communion in our services. We believe that, in the sacrament of baptism, God in Christ makes us all members of the one, holy, and universal church, and not just members of a particular denomination. Likewise, we believe that at Holy Communion we gather at the Lord’s Table and not our own, and that the sacrament is intended for Christians of all denominations.
The Moravian Church is a living witness to our motto: “In essentials unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.
In essentials, unity: Christ is the one big essential. The reality of God’s love offered in Christ is what our life of faith is all about. Even though we may not understand or experience Christ in exactly the same way, Christ is the ground and source of our unity. Our faith in Christ and our commitment to live as his followers is what really matters.
In non-essentials, liberty: The list of nonessentials is as big and wide as the heart of liberty. Here we go beyond mere tolerance to acceptance of diversity. We need to be able to say that it is not only okay to have variety of the church.
In all things, love: Love affirms our unity rather than our divisions. We believe we all have much more in common than we will ever have in difference. Love has the power to make of our differences no difference at all. Love not only brings us together in God’s family but also keeps us together as a community of faith.
The essence of our faith is found in the Ground of the Unity statements of the Worldwide Moravian Church and is affirmed by Moravian Christians throughout the world. To help put our faith into practice for daily life, Moravians look to the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living, a document that traces its roots to the early Moravian community of Herrnhut, Germany.