8 Year Anniversary party winners: Joan Hochstetler's book winner is -- Caryl Kane, Naomi Musch's ebook goes to Crissy Yoder Shamion, Roseanna White's winner is -- Connie Saunders, Pegg Thomas's "A Bouquet of Brides" goes to Deanna Stevens, Debra E. Marvin's winner is -- Becky Dempsey, Carrie Fancett Pagels' giveaway of Colonial Michilimackinac: Michigan State Parks goes to Wilani Wahl, Carla Olson Gade's winner is Leila Reynolds, Shannon McNear -- Kaitlin Covel

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Moravian Church During Colonial Times – Going Before the Lot

Peek inside and find two Moravian ladies hard at work.
by Denise Weimer

In my recent posts, we learned about 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.

We also discovered that while Moravians embraced many traditional Protestant beliefs, during the formative years of the mid-1700s, they engaged in some unique practices. One of these involved the choir system, and another involved the use of the lot.
Tubes in a Salem lot bowl.
Whenever elders of the Moravian church faced a major spiritual or secular decision, they began with discussion and prayer. If the matter was not easily resolved, they would consult the lot. Tubes placed in a bowl held slips of paper that said “yes,” “no,” or blank for “wait.” They based this practice on biblical references in Numbers 33:54 and Acts 1:26. The outcome indicated the will of the God and was not to be challenged.

Church authorities used the lot for choosing a pastor or missionary candidate, a building site, an occupation, or a marriage partner. In the case of marriage, a man might bring the name of a potential candidate before the elders. If they elders thought the man at a suitable stage in life to begin a family, and found the woman suggested an appropriate choice, they would take her name to the lot. If the answer came in the affirmative, the woman’s choir helper (spiritual advisor to the single or widowed sisters) would then let her know of the proposal. She then had the option to accept or decline. As you can imagine, ladies rarely declined, believing the affirmation of the lot to indicate God’s approval.

A young lady could decline the lot - but did she?
As you can also imagine, negative answers from the lot were not always taken with grace. Many left the church in order to pursue desired marriage partners. The practice was discontinued in 1818.

This news was greeted with special joy by John Vogler, a watchmaker and silversmith in Salem, North Carolina. In 1814, he’d sought to marry Christina Spach, only to be declined by lot. After that, he made six other marriage proposals regarding five women. The only proposal not rejected by the lot was declined by a single sister who lived in Pennsylvania. In 1818, John hastened back to the Elders’ Conference to renew his request for Christina. The request was approved, and Christina accepted immediately.

You can learn more in Old Salem: The Official Guidebook, by Penelope Niven.

Do you think the Moravian practice of marrying by the lot makes good fodder for a novel? I did too. Check out my marriage of convenience that led to an adventure in the Cherokee Nation in my upcoming novel, The Witness Tree (Smitten Romance, September 2019).

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  1. Yes! That's a terrific premise. I look forward to your book. My maternal grandparents were Moravian, and I was married in their church. Thankfully, not by lot! :D

  2. Denise, this is a wonderful post. I had no idea they included "marrying by lot" as well..wow! Yes, this would make a great novel...have you started it yet? ;-)
    Blessings, Tina

    1. Yes, indeed, married by the lot. They had very specific steps for the process, who delivered the news, when the parents were told, etc. Fascinating. ... And yes, THE WITNESS TREE has been written and edited already. It's in process to release with Smitten this September. So exciting.

    2. Oh yay! That is exciting Denise!
      Blessings, Tina

  3. Naomi, you can be glad they did away with that custom, right? :)

  4. So interesting. Your book sounds like one I would love to read. Blessings

  5. Interesting Post, Good luck with your book, it sounds great.

  6. Thanks so much, Emily. I'll be sharing more about it as the time approaches. :)

  7. Very interesting post and practice. I wonder what took place in order for the practice to be stopped. I'm looking forward to reading The Witness Tree. Sounds intriguing!

  8. Thank you, Kay! I believe the discontent over using the lot for confirming marriage partners led to the abandonment of the practice.


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