The Beginnings of the Moravian Church
|Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf|
Missions to the Indians
Moravians first came to America in 1735. The community they founded in Savannah, Georgia, didn’t prosper, and in 1740 they began a mission among the Mohicans at the village of Shemomeko, New York, where the first native Christian congregation in the colonies was formed. On Christmas Eve 1741 the Moravians also established a mission called Bethlehem in Pennsylvania in order to spread the gospel to the Delaware Indians. This became the center of Moravian missions in colonial America. Additional communities followed, including Nazareth and Gnadenhutten, as well as congregations in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Maryland, on Staten Island in New York, and in North Carolina.
In 1741 Count Zinzendorf traveled to Pennsylvania. He met with leading men such as Benjamin Franklin, and with the assistance of the well-known translator and negotiator Conrad Weiser, also met with Iroquois leaders and concluded agreements that allowed Moravian missionaries to move freely throughout lands under Iroquois control.
|Lenape Chief Lapowinsa|
These practices and the Moravians’ efforts to stop the profitable liquor trade with the Indians aroused opposition from the English colonists. Because of local hostility to the Mohicans in New York, rumors were spread that the Moravians were either secretly Jesuits or were allied with these “atheistic papists”. In spite of those who defended their work, at the end of 1744 the colonial government expelled them from New York, forcing the Moravians to close the mission at Shemomeko.
|Baptismal service at a Moravian mission|
Even though the Moravians played an important role in U.S. history, church membership is only about 60,000 in all of North America today. There are more than one million members around the world, however, mostly in eastern Africa. Other major Moravian centers include the Caribbean, South Africa, Winston-Salem, NC, and Bethlehem, PA.
In my next few posts, I’m going to focus on several important Moravian missionaries to the Lenape and other native tribes in Ohio Territory during the 18th and early 19th centuries: Christian Frederick Post, David Zeisberger, and John Heckewelder.
I was very impressed by the Moravian missionaries’ faithfulness to Christ and their attitude toward and treatment of the native peoples they worked among. What do you admire most about the Moravians’ missions and teachings?