Monday, 15 August 2022

A New Hope - 300th Anniversary Service

'Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself.' (Psalm 84)

On Friday 17th June 2022 we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the renewed Moravian Church in a service via Zoom - something the early Moravians could not have foreseen and neither could any of us three years ago.

Sr Claire Maxwell, Br Michael Newman and Br Joachim Kreusel organised the service. As the British Province of the Moravian Church is closely connected to the South Asian Mission Area, we encouraged participation from this part of the world, but of course also from Herrnhut where the main celebrations took and take place.

Inspiring songs by young people from India and Nepal, the Brass Choir from Herrnhut and the Steelband from Hornsey Moravian Church were all part of the service in which about 80 people from across the world took part.

Br David Newman gave the following address:

We rightly look back - to learn, to gain inspiration and encouragement for the present day. But an occasion such as an anniversary is also a day when we should be looking forward.

Anniversary celebrations often focus solely on the past, which can lead to misplaced self-glorification. History should be a learning tool, equally as much about the present and future as it is about the past.

The history of Central Europe in the Early Modern period (1453-1789) has never featured strongly in the school curriculum in the UK. Hardly surprising given the lack of British involvement in that part of the world at that time. It was a period of great upheaval with many differing migrant groups fleeing persecution, much of it religious.

Protestant Christians in Bohemia and Moravia, which included those of the ancient Unitas Fratrum, suffered much persecution in the period of the Counter Reformation.

In 1517, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, thus marking the beginning of the Great Reformation in Europe, the Czech Church of the Unitas Fratrum numbered over a quarter of a million people in more than 400 parishes or local church communities. The teachings of Hus were being kept alive; simple piety and a tolerant and charitable outlook towards other Christians were the hallmarks of these communities. And the state authorities tolerated their existence.

However, following Luther's actions, the first half of the 16th century saw an edict from Rome demanding that the Brethren either become Roman Catholics or leave the country, which resulted in many thousands fleeing their homeland and crossing the border into Poland. By 1557, the church's centenary year, the Unitas Fratrum has three Provinces: Bohemia, Moravia and Poland.

By the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, the Counter Reformation had gathered pace, leading to the Thirty Years War, a most brutal and bloody conflict.

Tens of thousands more Protestants now fled the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, for Poland and the surrounding countries. So great was this exodus that within just a few years the population of Bohemia and Moravia was decimated: it decreased from three million to less than eight hundred thousand in just three decades.

The Protestants of Bohemia and Moravia were severely defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1621 and the Unitas Fratrum was virtually wiped out.

There followed decades of wandering, with large groups of Czech protestant refugees looking for somewhere to establish a permanent home. This reflected the situation across Central Europe at that time, and most of the great European cities, including those in the Baltic states, were affected in some way. Generally speaking, these migrants were not treated well.

A large contingent arrived in Neukšlln in Berlin, including families of the old Unitas Fratrum. Many other Bohemian protestant Christians also arrived there, and together they established a Bohemian community, known as Rixsdorf. Today, there is still a Bohemian cemetery in Neukšlln/Rixsdorf, and there are visible signs of the old Utraquist dwellings. It is here that you find the present-day church buildings of the Berlin congregation of the BrŸdergemeine (the German Moravian Church).

As in Berlin, so also in southern Saxony on lands not far from the city of Dresden, where a similar group of such migrants found refuge: here, against the general trend in Central Europe, they found welcome, they found acceptance, they found encouragement, and most importantly, they felt included in a community life which resulting in the building of Herrnhut - the beginnings of which we remember today, 300 years on.

This small settlement established itself as a village, subsequently grew into a town, and now has city status. This anniversary marks 300 years of a church community, and 300 years of a civic community.

Compare this to Europe today.

300 years later, Europe is still experiencing a tide of refugees and migrants, mainly coming from troubled regions in the middle-east and Asia, as well as from Africa. They are seeking refuge for many and complex reasons, and today, just as then, they are not well received or well treated.

They seek a welcome, they are hoping to find acceptance and encouragement, and to be included in community life; but such is not always forthcoming.

And now, following Putin's brutal, vindictive and senseless invasion of Ukraine, many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of new refugees are on the move.

So today, ask the question: how do we respond as individuals, as Christians, as a church, as a nation to those seeking a new home within our borders? Well worth reflecting upon and then acting upon, as we remember the first settlers of what became known as Herrnhut.

'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

Br David Newman

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Church House is the Headquarters of the Moravian Church in the British Province and is located in London at:
Moravian Church House, 

5 Muswell Hill, 
N10 3TJ


020 8883 3409

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