World Heritage Meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA

To achieve World Heritage Status it is necessary to demonstrate 'Outstanding Universal Value' (OUV). This means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.

Moravians have a wonderful heritage in terms of historic sites, historic characters and a powerful contribution to Christian life and understanding that has been adopted and shared across many denominations right around the Globe. Early Moravians demonstrated true person focused sacrificial service by their pioneering missionary work. The Christingle, a powerful yet simple summary of Christianity and the first early morning Easter services were originated by Moravians as were the Daily Watchword and the continuous worldwide Prayer Watch.

The Moravian Settlement in Christiansfeld (Denmark) was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015. At that time it was recommended that this world heritage inscription should, in future, be expanded to include additional Settlements from around the world. This would not only enrich the 'Outstanding Universal Value' established in the Christiansfeld application but also demonstrate the worldwide spread of the ethos and ideals.

A number of Settlements including Gracehill and Bethlehem (USA) led by Christiansfeld had been working together since 2003 on the World Heritage project. Following Christiansfeld's success, Bethlehem was added to the United States Tentative list in 2017 as a potential future nomination to UNESCO.

Since then representatives of Bethlehem have been working with Christiansfeld, Herrnhut (Germany) and Gracehill to take forward a joint, or so called Transnational Serial Nomination, to be led by Bethlehem. The preparation of such an application is not straightforward and involves not just the Settlement communities but also local government, planning and conservation authorities and ultimately national governments.

Following a number of virtual meetings, representatives from Bethlehem, Herrnhut, Christiansfeld and Gracehill met for a two-day conference in Bethlehem beginning on 14th September 2021. We were given a very warm welcome by our American hosts. The first day was taken up with working on the nomination process and was ably led by Mr Barry Gamble, a World Heritage Consultant.

The following day began with an inspiring early morning service organised by Bishop Hopeton Clennon, the Senior Pastor at Central Moravian Church. It took place in the Old Moravian Chapel and included representatives from each of the Settlements and was both a meaningful and significant start to what was an important day.

At 10 am we met at Bethlehem Town Hall in the presence of local government officials and U.S. Federal Government representatives, and it was announced that the U.S. Department of the Interior had formally authorised Historic Moravian Bethlehem to participate in a planned Transnational Serial Nomination to the World Heritage List of historic 'Moravian Church Settlements' in Europe and North America.
This was the moment everyone had been waiting for and it now means that the U.S. Government officially support the nomination and international partners can be involved.

Following this, representatives on behalf of the involved parties, for each of the Settlements signed a Voluntary Association Agreement. I had the pleasure of signing, in person, on behalf of Gracehill Trust. The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Cllr William McCaughey, signed virtually after making a presentation and Bishop Sarah Groves also signed virtually on behalf of Gracehill Church again after making a presentation. By happy coincidence the British Province 'Pilgrims' were in Gracehill at just the right moment and were also included in the Gracehill video to the bemusement of the Americans.
After further speeches and an address by the German Consul General David Gill, who has close Moravian connections, the day concluded with a formal lunch and a tour of Historic Bethlehem. Another successful step towards World Heritage Status has been taken and we look forward to growing our partnerships further as we complete the nomination process.

So, what does this all mean for the wider Moravian Church?

The aim is not to highlight any one country, community, Settlement or Congregation but to highlight the worldwide influence of the Moravian Church. The Settlements directly involved are but examples representing the whole Church. Moravians are not only of historic importance but also contemporary relevance and that is true for every congregation. It was in fact entirely appropriate that the 'Pilgrims' were included in the Gracehill video helping to represent our whole Church.

To highlight this in Gracehill we have named the guest bedrooms in the holiday accommodation of our newly restored 'Old Shop' after each of the existing congregations in the Irish District (Kilwarlin, Ballinderry, Cliftonville and University Road) and we plan to have a 'Settlement's Room' with illustrations of the four Settlements in the British Province (Fulneck, Ockbrook, Fairfield and Gracehill).
World heritage status can have many benefits for us all. It is about raising the profile of our place in the World (not just geographical sites but the spiritual, societal and ethical ideals as they were disseminated across continents over so many years) for the benefit of all people in our time and generation and for generations to come. Outstanding Universal Value.

heritage author
Br David J Johnston