The Moravian Church is a
mainline Protestant denomination with more than five hundred years of history.
Founded before the Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Methodist churches, Moravians
have long focussed on faithful living and Christian unity. They are encouraged
to live their faith out through service to those in need, and their mission
work has concentrated on the poor and the powerless. An early motto of the
denomination is followed to this day: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials,
liberty. But in all things, love." Their name derives from the fact that
most early members of the church came from the province of Moravia, now in the
Czech Republic. Most Moravians in western Canada are the descendants of
German-speaking emigrants from 19th-century Russia, predominantly Volhynia.
The Moravian church
traces its beginnings to the pre-reformation teachings of Jan Hus, a Czech
reformer and philosophy professor at the University in Prague. He led a protest
movement against certain doctrinal positions of the Roman clergy and hierarchy
and was accused of heresy, tried and burned at the stake in 1415. But his
followers gathered on an estate in eastern Bohemia and organized this church in
1457-60 years before Martin Luther began his reformation.
By 1517 the Moravian
numbered at least 200,000. Using a hymnal and a catechism of its own, the
church promoted the Scriptures through its printing presses and provided the
people of Bohemia and Moravia with the Bible in their own language. Moravians
were also early in their emphasis on educating women as well as men, and they
were pioneers of the Protestant mission movement.
The Moravian Church was
bitterly persecuted in its homeland, and as a consequence spread to Poland where
it grew rapidly. There was more persecution during the Thirty-Years' War, but
in the 18th century the church saw a renewal through the patronage of Count
Nicholas of Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony. Some Moravians fled from
persecution in Bohemia and Moravia and found refuge on Zinzendorf's estate in
1722 where they built the community of Herrnhut (Lord's Watch). Zinzendorf
encouraged them to take the gospel to the far corners of the globe. In 1732 the
first missionaries were sent to the West Indies. In 1735 the Moravians came to
America and tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a Moravian settlement in
Georgia, but soon after settled in Pennsylvania. Other settlement congregations
were in New Jersey and Maryland, and later in North Carolina.
Settlement in Canada
The Moravians also came
to Canada and established missions in Labrador between 1752 and 1771; over
time, congregations were established in Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville,
Happy Valley, and Northwest River. Today, only Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik
remain on the coast, along with Happy Valley/Goose Bay. Moravian congregations
exist still in Labrador's Inuit communities. Distinctive Moravian buildings,
once characteristic of all the mission stations, survive at Hopedale and Hebron
under the care of Parks Canada.
There are eight
congregations in the Province of Alberta and one congregation in Toronto.
According to the 2001
Census, there were 5,330 Moravians in Canada of whom 2,495 lived in
Newfoundland, 560 in Ontario, and 2,035 in Alberta; of those, 1,260 lived in
Edmonton and 610 in Calgary.
Moravians in the
Andreas Lilge and family. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-2676-4.
The Bruderheim community was started as a Moravian settlement
by German-speaking emigrants from Volhynia, Russia, in 1894. The Moravian
congregation was officially organized under lay pastor Andreas Lilge in 1895.
He had served as a teacher and lay-leader in Volhynia from 1878 to 1892 and
planned to bring Volhynian Moravians to Canada where religious freedom was
guaranteed and Christian communities could be formed on land made available by
the government. About 100 families responded to the invitation, and in May and
June 1894, the first immigrants arrived. In 1895 the Bruderheim Moravian Church
was established in her present location (it is still standing, but no longer in
active use). The congregation numbered 44 adults, 16 youths and 51 children.
One month later, in South Edmonton, in present-day Mill Woods, the Bruederfeld
Moravian Church was established. In 1896, Moravian work also began in Heimthal,
south of Edmonton. Groundwork was also laid in Beaver Hills on which other
denominations would build.
In 1896, the first
pastor, the Rev. Clement Hoyler, arrived; he was joined by a co-pastor, the
Rev. William Schwarze.
The Moravian community
was among the first Protestant congregation in Western Canada. To serve the
multilingual immigrant population that had settled in the Edmonton region,
worship services from the beginning were conducted in the vernacular of the
various groups, e.g., in German, English, Norwegian, Russian, and Ukrainian.
Gottfried Henkelmann, like Lilge a former teacher in Volhynia, joined the
Bruederfeld congregation and was the resource person for Russian and Ukrainian
congregations are the following:
Moravian Church, Rio Terrace Church, and Millwoods Church), Sherwood Park (Good
News Moravian Church), Bruderheim (Bruderheim Moravian Church), Rural South
Edmonton (Heimtal Moravian Church), and Calgary (Good Shepherd Church and
Christ Church). Six of them are thriving.
In 2002, there were
1,332 Moravians in Alberta; the average attendance at Sunday worship services
was about 100.
Moravians churches are
fairly active for their congregation and the surrounding community (all
activities are carried out in English, and the churches do not operate Saturday
language schools). They organize bible study classes, youth activities and
outreach programs for seniors, and the support of mission work plays a very
large role. They either organize or sponsor programs—such as a soup lunch for
needy people once a month and the Alpha program—and offer their facilities for
AA and anti-violence programs for the community at large.
congregations are independent in organizing their activities, they do come
together on a number of occasions each year. For example, at Christmas their
choirs and musical groups share Christmas music with the members of the other
churches. They hold an annual Camp Sunday at Camp Van Es on Cooking Lake, which
is always attended by 150 to 200 people. Also, about once a year members of
other congregations are invited when one of the churches holds a district
mission event where someone from a mission shares his or her experiences with
congregation in Alberta has a governing board and runs its own affairs under
the auspices of the Canadian District Board which consists of laypeople and,
often, clergy. The local board can decide on church activities and even
determine the character of worship in their church. The District Board has a
purely administrative function in that it fills pastoral vacancies, and
conducts and operates synods on a regular basis. The bishop's role is "to
serve as a pastor to pastors."
The Canadian Moravian
Historical Society with headquarters in Edmonton is a non-profit society; its
board members-who have to be Moravians-are elected annually. The Society
undertakes several important initiatives:
1. It manages the Canadian
Moravian Archives (2304-38 St., Edmonton, AB, T6L 4K9, phone: (780) 440-3050,
fax: (780) 463-2143) that preserve the records of the World Wide Moravian
Unity, Northern Province and Canadian District, which in includes British
Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The Archives also maintain congregational
records of individual Moravian churches in Western Canada, Camp Van Es, and the
personal papers of the Reverend Clement Hoyler. The holdings date from 1882 and
encompass ca. 20 meters of documents, diaries, books and other writings.
2. The Society publishes
the Western Canadian Moravian Historical Magazine, a newsletter to the
community, and historical books and booklets. It also organizes events of
historical significance at least once annually and occasionally sets up
displays at, for example, synods and anniversary celebrations.
seal of the Moravian Church goes back to the 16th century. In the centre is the
Lamb of God, a favourite symbol of the early Christian church. A lamb is
holding a staff, and from the staff waves a banner of victory. On the banner a
cross is clearly displayed. The inscription reads "Our Lamb has conquered,
let us follow him."
On the first Sunday in
Advent, lighted stars, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the World, are hung
in Moravian churches and homes; they likely originated in a Moravian school in
Niesky (Saxony, Germany) in the 1850s. Many Moravians recreate the Nativity
Scene by assembling an elaborate Putz in their homes or place of worship. On
Christmas Eve, candlelight services are held with beeswax candles trimmed in a
skirt of fireproof red paper. They are to remind worshipers of the purity and
sacrificial gift of Christ.
The Lovefeast is an
informal yet dignified service that dates back to 1727. The basic structure is
alternate singing by the congregation and by choirs. There usually is no
sermon. After an opening hymn and a prayer, the worshipers are served a sweet
bun and beverage. After all are served, the congregation partakes in unison
demonstrating the congregation's family spirit and promoting Christian
Many Moravians start
their day with a reading from the Moravian Daily Texts. Each day's selections
include an Old Testament Verse, a hymn stanza fitting the verse; a New
Testament verse on a related theme with its matching hymn selection, and a
brief prayer for the day.
1. Bruderheim Moravian
Church, http://www.connect.ab.ca/~bmc/index.htm. History of the
congregation, links to other Moravian churches, addresses.
2. Edmonton Moravian Church, http://www.edmontonmoravian.com/. Website of the Edmonton
3. Rio Terrace Community
Moravian Church, http://fm2.forministry.com/Church/church.asp?SiteId=T5R2Z9RTCMC.
Website of the Rio
Terrace Community Moravian Church.
4. Good Shepherd Church, http://www.goodshepherdmoravian.org/. Website of the Good
Shepherd Church; history, traditions and symbols.
5. Canadian District
Moravian Churches, http://www.mcnp.org/Churches/churches.asp. Links to churches in
6. The Moravian Church in
Canada, http://www.moravian.ca/. Official web page of the
Moravian Church in Canada.
7. Establishment of the
Moravian Church in Labrador, http://www.mun.ca/rels/hrollmann/morav/index.html. Map of the Moravian
missions to Labrador
8. The Moravian Church, http://collections.ic.gc.ca/agvituk/moravian.htm.
Moravians in Labrador.
9. The Moravian Church in
North America, http://www.moravian.org/. History, beliefs, daily
10. Canadian Moravian
Contact details and
access to Archives Network of Alberta.
11. Moravian Church
Genealogy Links, http://www.enter.net/~smschlack/. Collection of links to
websites on the history of the Moravian Church in North America.
12. Short Introduction to
the History, Customs and Practices of the Moravian Church, http://www.everydaycounselor.com/ archives/sh/shistory.htm.
13. 1853 Moravian Atlas, http://bdhp.moravian.edu/maps/1853moravianatlas.html.
Map of Moravian
settlements in the U.S. and Canada.
14. Volhynia District Map, http://www.rollintl.com/roll/volhynia.htm.