by Denise Weimer
|Germanic-built Single Brothers' House|
In my last post, we focused on the origins of the Moravian Church (The Unity of the Brethren). Moravians followed the convictions of Protestant reformer John Hus and expanded from the Saxon Herrnhut estate of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf to missions around the world. They also established trade towns in America—especially Pennsylvania and North Carolina—to support missionaries to the American Indians.
|A Moravian sister on baking day|
While Moravians embraced many traditional Protestant beliefs, during the mid-1700s, they engaged in some unique practices. One of these involved the choir system.
The practice started when a group of single men moved into their own dormitory in 1728 Herrnhut. Some unmarried women did likewise a couple of years later. Soon, even married couples lived separately, only meeting occasionally in “special sleeping quarters.” Children were sent to the “nurserie” as soon as they were weaned. They entered the dorm for older boys and girls around age twelve.
|Single Sisters' House in Salem|
Count Zinzendorf believed each group of people could best minister to its own kind. Each choir possessed its own liturgy, hymn book, and services, in addition to the community worship services.
The choir system served as part of the communal “General Economy” meant to provide for the financial needs of the community and the missionaries in the field. Each person had the freedom to apply themselves to specific industry. Single sisters devoted time to washing, nursing, teaching, sewing, cooking, gardening, and livestock care. The choir system also allowed them to hold church offices like eldress, choir helper (spiritual overseer for other sisters), and deaconess. The deaconesses helped the priests and held the bread baskets during Moravian love feasts.
Count Zinzendorf died in 1760. By 1762, an economic crisis threatened the church in Germany, and choir houses remained only for single men and women. A 1764 synod meeting prevented Moravian women from holding church offices with oversight over both men and women. The move toward the town structure had begun.
|Salem Single Brothers Tailor Shop|
|Single Brothers Woodworking|
Another unique practice of the Moravians involved taking major decisions—including marriage!—before the lot. Stay tuned for a future post about the lot—and for my novel, The Witness Tree, coming in September 2019 from Smitten Romance, about a marriage of convenience in Salem, North Carolina, that leads to an adventure in the Cherokee Nation.
See also: National Council on Public History, “Religion in Moravian Bethlehem” and Moravian Women’s Memoirs: Their Related Lives, 1750-1820, Katherine Faull