The Moravian Church British Province

in things essential, unity... in non-essentials, liberty... in all things, charity

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Moravian History - our past

The Moravian Church was founded in 1457 in Bohemia - the name Moravian derives from the refugees from Moravia who settled on lands of Count Zinzendorf in the 18th century, thus founding the renewed church.

Formally, we are known as the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren. The original church suffered persecution during the counter-Reformation and survived in an underground fellowship over the next hundred years or so.

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Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf

The present or Renewed Church is dated from 1727 when refugees initially from Moravia but also from other states, were granted permission to settle on lands belonging to Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf in Saxony near the present day border with Poland. The settlement was named Herrnhut - ‘under the watch of the Lord’.

The settlers lived in community and, on August 13 1727, were blessed by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that so fired them with enthusiasm for the Gospel that it was not long before men were being sent out from Herrnhut to the West Indies, to North America and to other places nearer home, to carry the Saviour’s message of redeeming grace to those who had not heard it.

A Church with a Mission

Zinzendorf’s vision was not that the ‘Moravians’ should be a separate church but should rather form societies within established churches, to encourage work already being carried on. This aim, however, was not realised for various reasons, and eventually a separate church was formed. It was never intended to set up work in England because that was the domain of the established church and missionaries only spent time in London en route for America and the West Indies.

However, as these missionaries spent time in London awaiting their sailing dates, they met and worshipped with other devout Christians in the City. As the group grew in numbers and became too large to meet in private houses, a room was rented and eventually, in 1740, a chapel off Fetter Lane, near Fleet Street.

Inspiration for the Wesleys

During this time the Society included John and Charles Wesley and there followed a period of disagreements as the members wrestled with various theological issues. Eventually there was a separation and the Wesleys went in one direction and the Moravians in another. The Fetter Lane chapel was registered under the Toleration Act in September 1742 and, following a mutually amicable visit to the Archbishop of Canterbury in October of that year, the first congregation was settled in Fetter Lane. The Society had been an important focus of what came to be seen as the 18th century evangelical revival in England.

Other congregations were settled in due course as Moravian workers moved, generally by invitation, to parts of the country that were not well served by the Church of England. You can see where our congregations are today by visiting the Church Locations page.