AN OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF THE WORLDWIDE MORAVIAN CHURCH
For over five centuries the Moravian Church has proclaimed the gospel in all parts of the world. Its influence has far exceeded its numbers as it has cooperated with Christians on every continent and has been a visible part of the Body of Christ, the Church. Proud of its heritage and firm in its faith, the Moravian Church ministers to the needs of people wherever they are. The name Moravian identifies the fact that this historic church had its origin in ancient Bohemia and Moravia in what is the present-day Czech Republic. In the mid-ninth century these countries converted to Christianity chiefly through the influence of two Greek Orthodox missionaries, Cyril and Methodius. They translated the Bible into the common language and introduced a national church ritual. In the centuries that followed, Bohemia and Moravia gradually fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, but some of the Czech people protested. The foremost of Czech reformers, John Hus (1369-1415) was a professor of philosophy and rector of the University in Prague. The Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where Hus preached, became a rallying place for the Czech reformation. Gaining support from students and the common people, he led a protest movement against many practices of the Roman Catholic clergy and hierarchy. Hus was accused of heresy, underwent a long trial at the Council of Constance, and was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.
ORGANIZED IN 1457
The reformation spirit did not die with Hus. The Moravian Church, or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren), as it has been officially known since 1457, arose as followers of Hus gathered in the village of Kunvald, about 100 miles east of Prague, in eastern Bohemia, and organized the church. This was 60 years before Martin Luther began his reformation and 100 years before the establishment of the Anglican Church. By 1467 the Moravian Church had established its own ministry, and in the years that followed three orders of the ministry were defined: deacon, presbyter and bishop.
GROWTH, PERSECUTION, EXILE
By 1517 the Unity of Brethren numbered at least 200,000 with over 400 parishes. Using a hymnal and catechism of its own, the church promoted the Scriptures through its two printing presses and provided the people of Bohemia and Moravia with the Bible in their own language. A bitter persecution, which broke out in 1547, led to the spread of the Brethren’s Church to Poland where it grew rapidly. By 1557 there were three provinces of the church: Bohemia, Moravia and Poland. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) brought further persecution to the Brethren’s Church, and the Protestants of Bohemia were severely defeated at the battle of White Mountain in 1620. The prime leader of the Unitas Fratrum in these tempestuous years was Bishop John Amos Comenius (1592-1670). He became world-renowned for his progressive views of education. Comenius, lived most of his life in exile in England and in Holland where he died. His prayer was that some day the “hidden seed” of his beloved Unitas Fratrum might once again spring to new life.
RENEWED IN THE 1700S
The eighteenth century saw the renewal of the Moravian Church through the patronage of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony. Some Moravian families fleeing persecution in Bohemia and Moravia found refuge on Zinzendorf’s estate in 1722 and built the community of Herrnhut. The new community became the haven for many more Moravian refugees. Count Zinzendorf encouraged them to keep the discipline of the Unitas Fratrum, and he gave them the vision to take the gospel to the far corners of the globe. August 13, 1727, marked the culmination of a great spiritual renewal for the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, and in 1732 the first missionaries were sent to the West Indies.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF THE MORAVIAN CHURCH IN JAMAICA
1754 – present
The Moravian Church in Jamaica, which was established in 1754, represents a continuation of the Caribbean Moravian mission, which commenced in 1732. Prior to its mission in the Caribbean, the Moravians established work in the Continental and British Provinces. About 130 years after its establishment, the Moravian Church in Jamaica was formally incorporated by an act of the Parliament. At the time of incorporation, the Church had a training college for ministers at Fairfield, the teachers’ college at Bethlehem, along with several other primary education institutions. The work in Jamaica was then under the supervision of the Supreme Executive Board in Britain. The local executive board at the time consisted of Rev. Edwin E. Reinke, the President, Rev. George H. Hanna, the treasurer and Johnan P. Pulkrabek, the secretary. Some of the larger portions of land listed at the time of incorporation include 469 acres at Lititz, 341 acres at Nazareth and 95 acres at Beaufort near Darliston. There were altogether 68 different parcels of land, most of which have remained to today. The period between 1754 and 1834 can thus be called the period of establishment.
The period between 1834 and 1894 can be described as the period of settlement. During this time, Moravian mission emanated from 14 centres in St. James, Westmoreland, St. Elizabeth and Manchester: Beaufort, Bethabara, Bethany, Bethlehem, New Carmel, New Eden, Fairfield, Fulneck, Irwin Hill, Lititz, Mispah, Nazareth, Salem and Springfield. It was not until 1891 that work in Kingston was initiated. Since then, four other congregations have been established in Richmond Park, Harbour Vew, Molynes Road and Portmore. Of particular note were the settlements, which were attempted or established between 1834 and 1861. The parcel in Beaufort near Darliston was purchased in 1833, Litiz, near Nain in St. Elizabeth in 1834 , Nazareth at Maidstone in Manchester in 1840 and Salem, near Beeston Spring in Westmoreland in 1860. Of these settlements, Nazareth was the most successful. The character of the work in that community today owes much to the community initiatives of the 1840’s. The fact that some forty schools were established on the 68 pacels of lands is a testimony to the emphasis that the Moravian Church has placed on education. The programmes of community development, which were centred at New Eden, near Bogue in St. Elizabeth, from as early as 1769 and Fairfield in Manchester from 1824, are the early precursors of the community outreach projects that Unitas of Jamaica is involved in today.
The period between 1894 and 1954 can be described as the time of consolidation. It was during this period (1899) that the first Synod was held. Prior to this the Provincial meetings were referred to as conferences. Maybe the most critical factor facing the Province then was the matter of financial sustainability. The period also saw an intensification of attempts to develop an indigenous clergy and local ecumenical ventures. When the 150th anniversary was observed in 1904, less than twenty-five percent of the clergy was Jamaican but that would change in the ensuing period.
The period since 1954, the modern period, is one in which there has been a complete transition to a local leadership. The first native President of the local Provincial Board, Rev. Walter O’Meally was elected in 1951, having graduated from the Moravian College at Fairfield in 1899. O’Meally was succeeded by Bishop S. U. Hastings. The late Dr. R. W. M Cuthbert succeeded Hastings and Bishop Robert Foster succeeded Br. Cuthbert. Rev. Stanley Clarke, who served from 1997 – 2003, Rev. Dr. Livingstone Thompson served from 2003 to 2005 and the Rev. Dr. Paul Gardner who is currently serving as President. Rev. Dr. Paul Gardner is also the current President of the Unity Board of the World wide Moravian Church. The Moravian Church in Jamaica is comprised of some 63 congregations, 27 educational institutions, 35 ordained ministers and 40 lay pastors that serve Jamaica, Cuba and Grand Cayman. Presently the Moravian community in Jamaica is about 30,000 persons. The Bishops of the Moravian Church within the Jamaica province are the Rt. Rev. Stanley Clarke and Rt. Rev. Devon Anglin.