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A History of the Moravian Church

by 'Joseph Edmund Hutton'

Book 4 — The Modern Moravians. 1857-1908

Chapter 3 — The Moravians in Great Britian

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Section III. — THE MORAVIANS IN GREAT BRITAIN. — For the last fifty years the most striking feature about the British Moravians is the fact that they have steadily become more British in all their ways, and more practical and enthusiastic in their work in this country. We can see it in every department of their work.

They began with the training of their ministers. As soon as the British Moravians became independent, they opened their own Theological Training Institution; and then step by step they allowed their students to come more and more under English influences. At first the home of the Training College was Fulneck; and, as long as the students lived in that placid abode, they saw but little of the outside world. But in 1874 the College was removed to Fairfield; then the junior students began to attend lectures at the Owens College; then (1886) they began to study for a degree in the Victoria University; then (1890) the theological students were allowed to study at Edinburgh or Glasgow; and the final result of this broadening process is that the average modern Moravian minister is as typical an Englishman as any one would care to meet. He has English blood in his veins; he bears an English name; he has been trained at an English University; he has learned his theology from English or Scotch Professors; he has English practical ideas of Christianity; and even when he has spent a few years in Germany — as still happens in exceptional cases — he has no more foreign flavour about him than the Lord Mayor of London.

Again, the influence of English ideas has affected their public worship. At the Provincial Synods of 1878 and 1883, the Brethren appointed Committees to revise their Hymn-book; and the result was that when the next edition of the Hymn-book appeared (1886), it was found to contain a large number of hymns by popular English writers. And this, of course, involved another change. As these popular English hymns were wedded to popular English tunes, those tunes had perforce to be admitted into the next edition of the Tune-book (1887); and thus the Moravians, like other Englishmen, began now to sing hymns by Toplady, Charles Wesley, George Rawson and Henry Francis Lyte to such well-known melodies as Sir Arthur Sullivan's "Coena Domini," Sebastian Wesley's "Aurelia," and Hopkins's "Ellers." But the change in this respect was only partial. In music the Moravians have always maintained a high standard. With them the popular type of tune was the chorale; and here they refused to give way to popular clamour. At this period the objection was raised by some that the old chorales were too difficult for Englishmen to sing; but to this objection Peter La Trobe had given a crushing answer.160 At St. Thomas, he said, Zinzendorf had heard the negroes sing Luther's fine "Gelobet seiest"; at Gnadenthal, in South Africa, Ignatius La Trobe had heard the Hottentots sing Grummer's "Jesu, der du meine Seele"; in Antigua the negroes could sing Hassler's "O Head so full of bruises"; and therefore, he said, he naturally concluded that chorales which were not above the level of Negroes and Hottentots could easily be sung, if they only tried, by Englishmen, Scotchmen and Irishmen of the nineteenth century. And yet, despite this official attitude, certain standard chorales fell into disuse, and were replaced by flimsier English airs.

Another proof of the influence of English ideas is found in the decline of peculiar Moravian customs. At present the British congregations may be roughly divided into two classes. In some, such as Fulneck, Fairfield, Ockbrook, Bristol, and other older congregations, the old customs are retained; in others they are quite unknown. In some we still find such things as Love-feasts, the division into choirs, the regular choir festivals, the observance of Moravian Memorial Days; in others, especially in those only recently established, these things are absent; and the consequence is that in the new congregations the visitor of to-day will find but little of a specific Moravian stamp. At the morning service he will hear the Moravian Litany; in the Hymn-book he will find some hymns not found in other collections; but in other respects he would see nothing specially distinctive.

Meanwhile, the Brethren have adopted new institutions. As the old methods of church-work fell into disuse, new methods gradually took their place; and here the Brethren followed the example of their Anglican and Nonconformist friends. Instead of the special meetings for Single Brethren and Single Sisters, we now find the Christian Endeavour, and Men's and Women's Guilds; instead of the Boys'Economy, the Boys'Brigade; instead of the Brethren's House, the Men's Institute; instead of the Diacony, the weekly offering, the sale of work, and the bazaar; and instead of the old Memorial Days, the Harvest Festival and the Church and Sunday-school Anniversary.

But the most important change of all is the altered conception of the Church's mission. At the Provincial Synod held in Bedford the Brethren devoted much of their time to the Home Mission problem {1863.}; and John England, who had been commissioned to write a paper on "Our Aim and Calling," defined the Church's mission in the words: "Such, then, I take to be our peculiar calling. As a Church to preach Christ and Him crucified, every minister and every member. As a Church to evangelize, every minister and every member." From that moment those words were accepted as a kind of motto; and soon a great change was seen in the character of the Home Mission Work. In the first half of the nineteenth century nearly all the new causes begun were in quiet country villages; in the second half, with two exceptions, they were all in growing towns and populous districts. In 1859 new work was commenced at Baltonsborough, in Somerset, and Crook, in Durham; in 1862 at Priors Marston, Northamptonshire; in 1867 at Horton, Bradford; in 1869 at Westwood, in

Oldham; in 1871 at University Road, Belfast; in 1874 at Heckmondwike, Yorkshire; in 1888 at Wellfield, near Shipley; in 1890 at Perth Street, Belfast; in 1896 at Queen's Park, Bedford; in 1899 at Openshaw, near Manchester, and at Swindon, the home of the Great Western Railway Works; in 1907 at Twerton, a growing suburb of Bath; and in 1908 in Hornsey, London. Of the places in this list, all except Baltonsborough and Priors Marston are in thickly populated districts; and thus during the last fifty years the Moravians have been brought more into touch with the British working man.

Meanwhile there has been a growing freedom of speech. The new movement began in the College at Fairfield. For the first time in the history of the British Province a number of radical Moravians combined to express their opinions in print; and, led and inspired by Maurice O'Connor, they now (1890) issued a breezy pamphlet, entitled Defects of Modern Moravianism. In this pamphlet they were both critical and constructive. Among other reforms, they suggested: (a) That the Theological Students should be allowed to study at some other Theological College; (b) that a Moravian Educational Profession be created; (c) that all British Moravian Boarding Schools be systematically inspected; (d) that the monthly magazine, The Messenger, be improved, enlarged, and changed into a weekly paper; (e) that in the future the energies of the Church be concentrated on work in large towns and cities; (f) and that all defects in the work of the Church be openly stated and discussed.

The success of the pamphlet was both immediate and lasting. Of all the Provincial Synods held in England the most important in many ways was that which met at Ockbrook a few months after the publication of this pamphlet. It marks the beginning of a new and brighter era in the history of the Moravian Church in England. For thirty years the Brethren had been content to hold Provincial Synods every four or five years {1890.}; but now, in accordance with a fine suggestion brought forward at Bedford two years before, and ardently supported by John Taylor, the Advocatus Fratrum in Angliâ, they began the practice of holding Annual Synods. In the second place, the Brethren altered the character of their official church magazine. For twenty-seven years it had been a monthly of very modest dimensions. It was known as The Messenger; it was founded at the Bedford Synod (1863); and for some years it was well edited by Bishop Sutcliffe. But now this magazine became a fortnightly, known as The Moravian Messenger. As soon as the magazine changed its form it increased both in influence and in circulation. It was less official, and more democratic, in tone; it became the recognised vehicle for the expression of public opinion; and its columns have often been filled with articles of the most outspoken nature. And thirdly, the Brethren now resolved that henceforth their Theological Students should be allowed to study at some other Theological College.

But the influence of the pamphlet did not end here. At the Horton Synod (1904) arrangements were made for the establishment of a teaching profession, and at Baildon (1906) for the inspection of the Boarding Schools; and thus nearly all the suggestions of the pamphlet have now been carried out.

Finally, the various changes mentioned have all contributed, more or less, to alter the tone of the Moravian pulpit. As long as the work was mostly in country villages the preaching was naturally of the Pietistic type. But the Moravian preachers of the present day are more in touch with the problems of city life. They belong to a democratic Church; they are brought into constant contact with the working classes; they are interested in modern social problems; they believe that at bottom all social problems are religious; and, therefore, they not only foster such institutions as touch the daily life of the masses, but also in their sermons speak out more freely on the great questions of the day. In other words, the Moravian Church in Great Britain is now as British as Britain herself.


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Wednesday, December 12th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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