A history of the moravian church

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“No,” retorted the Moravian Evangelical, “you have not met the Apostle Paul; but I think I have met one of those wild beasts which he says he fought with at Ephesus.”
Meanwhile, the Brethren showed other signs of vigour. The first, and one of the most influential, was their system of public school education. At the General Synod in 1782 a resolution had been passed that education should be a recognized branch of Church work; and, therefore, following the example set in Germany, the English Brethren now opened a number of public boarding-schools. In 1782-1785 they began to admit non-Moravians to the two schools already established at Fulneck. In 1792 they opened girls’ schools at Dukinfield and Gomersal; in 1794 a girls’ school at Wyke; in 1796 a girls’ school at Fairfield; in 1798 a girls’ school at Gracehill; in 1799 a girls’ school at Ockbrook; in 1801 a boys’ school at Fairfield, and a girls’ school at Bedford; in 1805 a boys’ school at Gracehill; and, in 1813, a boys’ school at Ockbrook. At these schools the chief object of the Brethren was the formation of Christian character. They were all established at settlements or at flourishing congregations, and the pupils lived in the midst of Moravian life. For some years the religion taught was unhealthy and mawkish, and both boys and girls were far too strictly treated. They were not allowed to play competitive games; they were under the constant supervision of teachers; they had scarcely any exercise but walks; and they were often rather encouraged in the notion that it was desirable to die young. At one time the girls at Fulneck complained that not one of their number had died for six months; and one of the Fulneck records runs: “By occasion of the smallpox our Saviour held a rich harvest among the children, many of whom departed in a very blessed manner.” As long as such morbid ideas as these were taught, both boys and girls became rather maudlin characters. The case of the boys at Fulneck illustrates the point. They attended services every night in the week; they heard a great deal of the physical sufferings of Christ; they were encouraged to talk about their spiritual experiences; and yet they were often found guilty of lying, of stealing, and of other more serious offences. At first, too, a good many of the masters were unlearned and ignorant men. They were drafted in from the Brethren’s Houses; they taught only the elementary subjects; they had narrow ideas of life; and, instead of teaching the boys to be manly and fight their own battles, they endeavoured rather to shield them from the world. But as time went on this coddling system was modified. The standard of education was raised; the masters were often learned men preparing for the ministry; the laws against competitive games were repealed; and the religious instruction became more sensible and practical. If the parents desired it, their children, at a suitable age, were prepared for confirmation, confirmed by the local Moravian minister, and admitted to the Moravian Communion service. The pupils came from all denominations. Sometimes even Catholics sent their children, and allowed them to receive religious instruction.151 But no attempt was ever made to make proselytes. For many years these schools enjoyed a high reputation as centres of high-class education and of strict moral discipline. At all these schools the Brethren made much of music; and the music was all of a solemn devotional character.
“The music taught,” said Christian Ignatuis La Trobe, “is both vocal and instrumental; the former is, however, confined to sacred compositions, congregational, choral, and orchestral, the great object being to turn this divine art to the best account for the service and edification of the Church.” At that time (about 1768) the dormitory of Fulneck Boys’ School was over the chapel; and La Trobe tells us how he would keep himself awake at night to hear the congregation sing one of the Liturgies to the Father, Son and Spirit.152 Thus the Brethren, true to their old ideal, endeavoured to teach the Christian religion without adding to the numbers of the Moravian Church. It is hardly possible to over-estimate the influence of these schools. In Ireland the schools at Gracehill were famous. The pupils came from the highest ranks of society. At one time it used to be said that the mere fact that a boy or girl had been educated at Gracehill was a passport to the best society. In Yorkshire the Brethren were educational pioneers. The most famous pupil of the Brethren was Richard Oastler. At the age of eight (1797) that great reformer--the Factory King--was sent by his parents to Fulneck School; and years later, in an address to the boys, he reminded them how great their privileges were. “Ah, boys,” he said, “let me exhort you to value your privileges. I know that the privileges of a Fulneck schoolboy are rare.”
But the greatest influence exercised by the Brethren was in the cause of foreign missions. For that blessing we may partly thank Napoleon Buonaparte. As that eminent philanthropist scoured the continent of Europe, he had no intention of aiding the missionary cause; but one result of his exploits was that when Christian people in England heard how grievously the German Brethren had suffered at his hands their hearts were filled with sympathy and the desire to help. At Edinburgh a number of gentlemen founded the “Edinburgh Association in Aid of Moravian Missions”; at Glasgow others founded the “Glasgow Auxiliary Society”; at Bristol and London some ladies formed the “Ladies’ Association” (1813); in Yorkshire the Brethren themselves formed the “Yorkshire Society for the Spread of the Gospel among the Heathen” (1827); at Sheffield James Montgomery, the Moravian poet, appealed to the public through his paper, the Iris; and the result was that in one year subscriptions to Moravian Missions came in from the Church Missionary Society, and from other missionary and Bible societies. In Scotland money was collected annually at Edinburgh, Elgin, Dumfries, Horndean, Haddington, Kincardine, Perth, Falkirk, Jedwater, Calton, Bridgetown, Denny, Greenock, Stirling, Paisley, Anstruther, Inverkeithing, Aberdeen, Lochwinnoch, Leith, Tranent, St. Ninian’s, Brechin, Montrose; in England at Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Henley, Berwick, St. Neots, Bedford, Northampton, Colchester, York, Cambridge; in Ireland at Ballymena, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Lurgan, Cookstown, Dublin. As the interest of Englishmen in Foreign Missions was still in its infancy, a long list like this is remarkable. But the greatest proof of the rising interest in missions was the foundation of the “London Association in Aid of Moravian Missions” (1817). It was not a Moravian Society. The founders were mostly Churchmen; but the basis was undenominational, and membership was open to all who were willing to subscribe. At first the amount raised by the Association was a little over £1,000 a year; but as time went on the annual income increased, and in recent years it has sometimes amounted to £17,000. It is hard to mention a nobler instance of broad-minded charity. For some years the secretary of this Association has generally been an Anglican clergyman; he pleads for Moravian Missions in parish churches; the annual sermon is preached in St. Paul’s Cathedral; and thus the Brethren are indebted to Anglican friends for many thousands of pounds. Another proof of interest in Moravian Missions was the publication of books on the subject by non-Moravian writers. At Edinburgh an anonymous writer published “The Moravians in Greenland” (1830) and “The Moravians in Labrador” (1833). Thus the Brethren had quickened missionary enthusiasm in every part of the United Kingdom.
At home, meanwhile, the Brethren moved more slowly. As they did not wish to interfere with the Church of England, they purposely confined their forward movement almost entirely to villages and neglected country districts. In 1806 they built a chapel in the little village of Priors Marston, near Woodford; in 1808 they founded the congregation at Baildon, Yorkshire; in 1818 they began holding services at Stow, near Bedford; in 1823 they founded the congregation at Kimbolton; in 1827 they founded the congregation at Pertenhall; in 1833 at Brockweir-on-the-Wye; in 1834 they started a cause at Stratford-on-Avon, but abandoned it in 1839; in 1836 at Salem, Oldham. In 1829 they founded the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Ireland; in 1839 they began holding services at Tillbrook, near Bedford; and in 1839 they endeavoured, though in vain, to establish a new congregation at Horton, Bradford. In comparison with the number of societies abandoned, the number of new congregations was infinitesimal. The same tale is told by their statistical returns. In 1824 they had 2,596 communicant members; in 1834, 2,698; in 1850, 2,838; and, in 1857, 2,978; and thus we have the startling fact that, in spite of their efforts at church extension, they had not gained four hundred members in thirty-three years. For this slowness, however, the reasons were purely mechanical; and all the obstacles sprang from the Brethren’s connection with Germany.
First, we have the persistent use of the Lot. For some years the English Brethren adhered to the custom of enforcing its use in marriages; and even when it was abolished in marriages they still used it in applications for membership. No man could be a member of the Moravian Church without the consent of the Lot; and this rule was still enforced at the Provincial Synod held at Fairfield in 1847. Sometimes this rule worked out in a curious way. A man and his wife applied for admission to the Church; the case of each was put separately to the Lot; the one was accepted, the other was rejected; and both were disgusted and pained.
Another barrier to progress was the system of ministerial education. For a few years (1809-27) there existed at Fulneck a high-class Theological Seminary; but it speedily sickened and died; and henceforward all candidates for the ministry who desired a good education were compelled to go to Germany. Thus the Brethren now had two classes of ministers. If the candidate was not able to go to Germany, he received but a poor education; and if, on the other hand, he went to Germany, he stayed there so long--first as a student, and then as a master--that when he returned to England, he was full of German ideas of authority, and often spoke with a German accent. And thus Englishmen naturally obtained the impression that the Church was not only German in origin, but meant chiefly for Germans.
Another cruel barrier was the poverty of the ministers. They were overworked and underpaid. They had generally five or six services to hold every Sunday; they had several meetings during the week; they were expected to interview every member at least once in two months; they were entirely without lay assistants; their wives held official positions, and were expected to share in the work; and yet, despite his manifold duties, there was scarcely a minister in the Province whose salary was enough to enable him to make ends meet. At one time the salary of the minister in London was only £50 a year; at Fulneck it was only 8s. a week; in other places it was about the same. There was no proper sustentation fund; and the result was that nearly all the ministers had to add to their incomes in other ways. In most cases they kept little schools for the sons and daughters of gentry in the country districts; but as they were teaching five days a week, they could not possibly pay proper attention to their ministerial duties. If the minister had been a single man, he might easily have risen above his troubles; but as he was compelled by church law to marry, his case was often a hard one; and at the Provincial Synod held at Fulneck, the Brethren openly confessed the fact that one of the chief hindrances to progress was lack of time on the part of the ministers {1835.}.
Another barrier was the absolute power of officials and the limited power of the laity. No Church can expect to make much progress unless its institutions are in tune with the institutions of the country. For good or for evil, England was growing democratic; and, therefore, the Moravian Church should have been democratic too. But in those days the Moravian Church was the reverse of democratic. In theory each congregation had the power to elect its own committee; in fact, no election was valid unless ratified by the Lot. In theory each congregation had the power to send a deputy to the Provincial Synod; in fact, only a few ever used the privilege. At the first Provincial Synod of the nineteenth century (1824), only four deputies were present; at the second (1835), only seven; at the third (1847), only nine; at the fourth (1853), only twelve; at the fifth (1856), only sixteen; and thus, when the deputies did appear, they could always be easily outvoted by the ministers.
Another hindrance was the Brethren’s peculiar conception of their duty to their fellow-men in this country. In spite of their enthusiasm for Foreign Missions, they had little enthusiasm for Home Missions; and clinging still to the old Pietist notion of a “Church within the Church,” they had not yet opened their eyes to the fact that godless Englishmen were quite as plentiful as godless Red Indians or Hottentots. For proof let us turn to the “Pastoral Letter” drawn up by commission of the Synod at Fulneck {1835.}. At that Synod, the Brethren prepared a revised edition of the “Brotherly Agreement”; and then, to enforce the principles of the “Agreement,” they commissioned the P.E.C.153 to address the whole Church in a “Pastoral Letter.” But neither in the Agreement nor in the Letter did the Brethren recommend Home Mission work. They urged their flocks to hold prayer meetings, to distribute tracts, to visit the sick, to invite outsiders to the House of God; they warned them against the corruption of business life; and they even besought them not to meddle in politics or to wear party colours. In Ireland they were not to join Orange Lodges; and in England they were not to join trade unions. Thus the Brethren distinctly recommended their people not to take too prominent a part in the social and political life of the nation.
Again, twelve years later, at the next Synod, held at Fairfield {1847.}, the Brethren issued another “Pastoral Letter.” In this letter the members of the P.E.C. complained that some were denying the doctrine of eternal punishment, that the parents were neglecting the religious education of their children, that the Bible was not systematically read, that the “speaking” before the Holy Communion was neglected, that the old custom of shaking hands at the close of the Sacrament was dying out, that the members’ contributions were not regularly paid, and that private prayer meetings were not held as of old; and, therefore, the Brethren pleaded earnestly for the revival of all these good customs. And yet, even at this late stage, there was no definite reference in the “Letter” to Home Mission Work.
Another cause of paralysis was the lack of periodical literature. We come here to an astounding fact. For one hundred and eight years (1742-1850), the Moravians struggled on in England without either an official or an unofficial Church magazine; and the only periodical literature they possessed was the quarterly missionary report, “Periodical Accounts.” Thus the Church members had no means of airing their opinions. If a member conceived some scheme of reform, and wished to expound it in public, he had to wait till the next Provincial Synod; and as only five Synods were held in fifty years, his opportunity did not come very often. Further, the Brethren were bound by a rule that no member should publish a book or pamphlet dealing with Church affairs without the consent of the U.E.C. or of a Synod.
At length, however, this muzzling order was repealed; and the first Briton to speak his mind in print was an Irishman, John Carey. For some time this man, after first reviving a dying cause at Cootehill, in Co. Cavan, had been making vain endeavours to arouse the Irish Moravians to a sense of their duty {1850.}; but all he had received in return was official rebukes. He had tried to start a new cause in Belfast; he had gathered together a hundred and fifty hearers; he had rented a hall for worship in King Street; and then the Irish Elders’ Conference, in solemn assembly at Gracehill, strangled the movement at its birth. Instead of encouraging and helping Carey, they informed him that his work was irregular, forbade him to form a Society, and even issued a notice in the Guardian disowning his meetings. But Carey was not to be disheartened; and now, at his own risk, he issued his monthly magazine, The Fraternal Messenger. The magazine was a racy production. As John Carey held no official position, he was able to aim his bullets wherever he pleased; and, glowing with patriotic zeal, he first gave a concise epitome of the “History of the Brethren,” and then dealt with burning problems of the day. If the magazine did nothing else, it at least caused men to think. Among the contributors was Bishop Alexander Hassé. He had visited certain places in Ireland--Arva, Billies, and Drumargan--where once the Brethren had been strong; he gave an account of these visits; and thus those who read the magazine could not fail to see what glorious opportunities had been thrown away in the past.
At the next Synod, held in Fulneck, all present could see that a new influence was at work {1853.}. For the first time the Brethren deliberately resolved that, in their efforts for the Kingdom of God, they should “aim at the enlargement of the Brethren’s Church.” They sanctioned the employment of lay preachers; they established the Moravian Magazine, edited by John England; and they even encouraged a modest attempt to rekindle the dying embers at such places as Arva and Drumargan.
At the next Synod, held again at Fulneck, the Brethren showed a still clearer conception of their duties {1856.}. The Synodal sermon was preached by William Edwards. He was a member of the Directing Board, and must have spoken with a sense of responsibility; and in that sermon he deliberately declared that, instead of following the German plan of concentrating their energy on settlements, the Brethren ought to pay more attention to town and country congregations. “It is here,” he said, “that we lie most open to the charge of omitting opportunities of usefulness.” And the members of the Synod were equally emphatic. They made arrangements for a Training Institution; they rejected the principle, which had ruled so long, of a “Church within the Church”; and, thirdly,--most important point of all--they resolved that a society be formed, called the Moravian Home Mission, and that the object of that society should be, not only to evangelize in dark and neglected districts, but also to establish, wherever possible, Moravian congregations. The chief leader in this new movement was Charles E. Sutcliffe. He had pleaded the cause of Home Missions for years; and now he was made the general secretary of the new Home Mission society.
In one way, however, the conduct of the Brethren was surprising. As we have now arrived at that point in our story when the Moravian Church, no longer under the rule of the U.E.C., was to be divided into three independent provinces, it is natural to ask what part the British Moravians played in this Home Rule movement; what part they played, i.e., in the agitation that each Province should have its own property, hold its own Provincial Synods, and manage its own local affairs. They played a very modest part, indeed! At this Synod they passed three resolutions: first, that the British P.E.C. should be empowered to summon a Provincial Synod with the consent of the U.E.C.; second, that the Synod should be empowered to elect its own P.E.C.; and third, that “any measure affecting our own province, carried by a satisfactory majority, shall at once pass into law for the province, with the sanction of the Unity’s Elders’ Conference, without waiting for a General Synod.” But in other respects the British Moravians were in favour of the old constitution. They were not the true leaders of the Home Rule movement. They made no demand for a separation of property; they were still willing to bow to the authority of the German Directing Board; they still declared their belief in the use of the Lot in appointments to office; and the agitation in favour of Home Rule came, not from Great Britain, but from North America. To North America, therefore, we must now turn our attention.


FOR nearly a century the Moravians in America had felt as uncomfortable as David in Saul’s armour; and the armour in this particular instance was made of certain iron rules forged at the General Synods held in Germany. As soon as Spangenberg had left his American friends, the work was placed, for the time being, under the able management of Bishop Seidal, Bishop Hehl, and Frederick William von Marschall; and then, in due course, the American Brethren were informed that a General Synod had been held at Marienborn (1764), that certain Church principles had there been laid down, and that henceforward their duty, as loyal Moravians, was to obey the laws enacted at the General Synods, and also to submit, without asking questions, to the ruling of the German Directing Board. The Americans meekly obeyed. The system of Government adopted was peculiar. At all costs, said the Brethren in Germany, the unity of the Moravian Church must be maintained; and, therefore, in order to maintain that unity the Directing Board, from time to time, sent high officials across the Atlantic on visitations to America. In 1765 they sent old David Nitschmann; in 1770 they sent Christian Gregor, John Lorentz, and Alexander von Schweinitz; in 1779 they sent Bishop John Frederick Reichel; in 1783 they sent Bishop John de Watteville; in 1806 they sent John Verbeck and John Charles Forester; and thus they respectfully reminded the American Brethren that although they lived some thousands of miles away, they were still under the fatherly eye of the German Directing Board. For this policy the German Brethren had a noble reason. As the resolutions passed at the General Synods were nearly always confirmed by the Lot, they could not help feeling that those resolutions had some Divine authority; and, therefore, what God called good in Germany must be equally good in America. For this reason they enforced the settlement system in America just as strictly as in Germany. Instead of aiming at church extension they centralized the work round the four settlements of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Salem and Lititz. There, in the settlements, they enforced the Brotherly Agreement; there they insisted on the use of the Lot; there they fostered diaconies, choirs, Brethren’s Houses and Sisters’ Houses, and all the features of settlement life; and there alone they endeavoured to cultivate the Moravian Quietist type of gentle piety. Thus the Brethren in America were soon in a queer position. As there was no State Church in America, and as, therefore, no one could accuse them of being schismatics, they had just as much right to push their cause as any other denomination; and yet they were just as much restricted as if they had been dangerous heretics. Around them lay an open country, with a fair field and no favour; within their bosoms glowed a fine missionary zeal; and behind them, far away at Herrnhut, sat the Directing Board, with their hands upon the curbing rein.
If this system of government favoured unity, it also prevented growth. It was opposed to American principles, and out of place on American soil. What those American principles were we all know. At that famous period in American history, when the War of Independence broke out, and the Declaration of Independence was framed, nearly all the people were resolute champions of democratic government. They had revolted against the rule of King George III.; they stood for the principle, “no taxation without representation”; they erected democratic institutions in every State and County; they believed in the rights of free speech and free assembly; and, therefore, being democratic in politics, they naturally wished to be democratic in religion. But the Moravians were on the horns of a dilemma. As they were not supposed to meddle with politics, they did not at first take definite sides in the war. They objected to bearing arms; they objected to taking oaths; and, therefore, of course, they objected also to swearing allegiance to the Test Act (1777). But this attitude could not last for ever. As the war continued, the American Moravians became genuine patriotic American citizens. For some months the General Hospital of the American Army was stationed at Bethlehem; at another time it was stationed at Lititz; and some of the young Brethren joined the American Army, and fought under General Washington’s banner for the cause of Independence. For this natural conduct they were, of course, rebuked; and in some cases they were even expelled from the Church.

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