Home Moravian Church, Winston Salem

Home Moravian Church was officially established as the Moravian congregation of Salem (from the Hebrew for “peace”) on November 13, 1771. November 13 is a special festival day in the Moravian Church because that was the date that it was officially proclaimed that Christ is the Chief Elder of the church (in 1741). Most Moravian churches hold a special service of Holy Communion or a lovefeast on that day.

The Moravians purchased almost 100,000 acres of land in North Carolina from the Earl of Granville in 1753. The land had been surveyed and selected by Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg in 1752-53. He named the tract “die Wachau” in honor of the familial estates of the German nobleman Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the leader of the international Moravian Church. The name was anglicized to Wachovia, a name chosen by a bank that began more than a century later in this area.

The pioneering settlers first arrived on November 17, 1753, and they lived communally in a small settlement called Bethabara, which is now a historical park. From the beginning there were plans to construct a large town in the center of Wachovia. It was to be the industrial and administrative center for the Moravians in North Carolina. The rest of the Wachovia tract was primarily for farming, and several communities were established (Friedberg, Bethania, Friedland, Hope).

Salem was a “settlement congregation” or in which all of the residents were members of the congregation who had agreed to live by a Brotherly Agreement. Until the middle of the 19th century there was no real distinction between the town of Salem and the Salem congregation. Residents could sell their homes only to other Moravians approved to live in Salem until 1857. Trades were regulated by the church’s leaders until 1849.

The American Revolution had a lasting impact on the Moravians in Wachovia. At that time they were pacifists who tried to remain as neutral as possible during the conflict. They had to pay extra taxes and billeted troops for both armies. When the war was over, on July 4, 1783, Salem held a reverent celebration to thank God for the restoration of peace and to express loyalty to the new American government.

The education of the little girls of Salem began in 1772 when Sr. Elisabeth Oesterlein agreed to open a “school room.” Heeding the requests of neighbors, the church opened a Girls Boarding School in 1804 with the first students arriving that May 13. For many years the Single Sisters of Salem were the teachers. The school grew over the years, evolving into Salem Academy and College of today. Until the mid 20th century Moravian ministers served as presidents of the school.

At its third meeting on February 10, 1822, the Women’s Missionary Society of Salem called for “the beginning of a mission among the Negroes in this neighborhood.” Their determination led to the “beginning of a small congregation of colored people” on May 5, 1822, the date still observed by St. Philips Moravian Church as its anniversary. A year later Africans in the Salem neighborhood came together to erect a little log church at the foot of Church Street, which has now been reconstructed by Old Salem, Inc.

For decades Salem was under the authority of the Moravian elders in Herrnhut, Germany. Distance and disruption of communication during the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars meant that the elders in Salem exercised a great deal of autonomy, but major decisions were still submitted to Herrnhut. As church regulations gradually eroded following the American Revolution, it grew increasingly apparent that the Moravians in America needed greater independence from Herrnhut. This was completed in 1857.

In 1849 Salem Congregation sold land to the newly formed Forsyth County to build the county seat called Winston (incorporated 1859). In 1913 the village of Salem officially merged with the city of Winston to form modern Winston-Salem. The elders in Salem marked their new independence by incorporating Salem in 1856 according to North Carolina laws and establishing a secular government with a mayor in 1857.

The elders also gave greater attention to evangelism and ministry throughout Wachovia. This was interrupted by the Civil War, but picked up steam during the long tenure of Bishop Edward Rondthaler (1877-1931) after the war. Salem Congregation provided financial and personal resources to start several Sunday Schools and preaching places throughout what is now Winston-Salem. These were in effect branches of Salem Congregation, and their pastors worked closely with the Salem pastor.

In 1889, Bishop Rondthaler noted that “With each of these extensions the Church has grown stronger. Once it stood practically alone; now it is the Home Church, surrounded with branches, north, south, east, and west.” Salem Congregation continues to exist as a legal entity. It includes most of the Moravian congregations in the city of Winston-Salem, and its officers are responsible for property held in common. Members of Salem Congregation may be buried in God’s Acre. Salem Congregation elders are also responsible for the annual Sunrise Service on Easter morning and the Watchnight Service on New Year’s Eve.

Home Church shared in the growth and prosperity of Winston-Salem prior to and following World War I. Some of the leading industrialists and bankers of the city were members of Home Church, and the church could afford a number of expansions during the 20th century. The Adult Bible Class began broadcasting its lessons over radio on Palm Sunday, April 13, 1930, and is now the oldest continuous religious broadcast in the country.

The annual Easter Sunrise Service grew to be a major event in North Carolina, and it too has been broadcast since 1930. During World War II tens of thousands of soldiers heard it broadcast on the Armed Forces radio network, bringing a word of faith and hope in times of war. Today approximately 6,000 people attend each year, and the band numbers in the hundreds.

Home Church Today

Home Church has a long history of ministry to the people of Winston-Salem, particularly through organizations such as Sunnyside Ministry, the Samaritan Inn, Habitat for Humanity, Crisis Control, and direct service to the poor. Home Church members log thousands of volunteer hours in serving meals to the elderly, singing in the choirs, being “Stephen ministers,” playing in the band for funerals and worship, making candles, serving lovefeasts, teaching Sunday School, building homes for the poor, and participating actively in a wide variety of services organizations. These include Bread for the World, CROP Walk, Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministry, the Food Bank, Hospice, CHANGE, and Contact. A complete list is available.

The congregation has also been a steward of Moravian heritage. it’s the Women’s Fellowship’s annual Candle Tea in the Single Brothers House introduces thousands of visitors, especially school children, to Moravian faith and customs. In the process it raises over $10,000 a year for local charities. The congregation is a major supporter of the Moravian Archives, and some of the leading Moravian scholars are members of the church.

Special Observances

In addition to regular weekly worship, there are many special events in the liturgical year. On the first Sunday in Advent we light the first advent candle and sing the Hosanna, a special Moravian anthem sung antiphonally. Christmas Eve is a busy day with four lovefeasts and candlelight services for the public, each of which has special music. At the children’s lovefeast apple cider is served rather than the coffee used at other lovefeasts.

The end of the secular year is observed with a Watchnight Service beginning at 11:00 p.m. on December 31. It is a time to reflect on the year that has passed and to ask God’s blessing and guidance for the year that is being born. The service is interrupted by the band at midnight as reminder of the trumpet that shall sound when “we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52).

After the New Year comes the celebration of Epiphany when sages from the East paid homage to Christ. During January the Mission Band holds a special lovefeast to focus the congregation’s attention on our church’s ministry to the world.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Home Church does not normally apply ashes on the forehead of worshipers during the Ash Wednesday service, but that is practiced in some Moravian churches. Home Church and other congregations in Salem Congregation sponsor special Lenten Days of Prayer Wednesday mornings. Some Moravians choose to “give something up for Lent,” but in general the church stresses the blessing of adding to one’s devotional and service life. In recent years, we have had Holy Communion each Wednesday evening during Lent.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the most solemn week of the Christian year. In Moravian churches, the Hosanna used on First Advent is again sung in honor of Christ the Prince of Peace. Each night during Holy Week (which used to be called Passion Week), we gather in the sanctuary to read an account of the last week of Jesus’ life prepared from the four gospels. There is no sermon, but appropriate hymns are sung at various points in the readings. The Readings for Holy Week may be purchased at the Moravian Book and Gift Shop.

On Maundy Thursday we celebrate Holy Communion while remembering Jesus’ Last Supper, his struggle in Gethsemane, and his betrayal. At 2:15 p.m. on Good Friday, we hold a special service to read aloud the story of his crucifixion and burial. That evening we gather for the Great Sabbath lovefeast, in honor of the sacrifice of Christ, the joy of salvation, and the hope of the resurrection. On Saturday evening, there is a special choral presentation, often based on the “seven last words” of Christ.

Easter Sunday begins with the band traveling through the city in the early morning hours so that the “Sleepers Awake” and celebrate resurrection and rebirth. Before dawn, thousands of people, many of them not Moravian, gather outside the church building to hear the pastor proclaim “The Lord is Risen!” Those assembled profess their faith in Christ using the special Easter Morning Liturgy While nearly 500 band members play Moravian hymns antiphonally (call and response), the congregation processes to God’s Acre where the saints who went before us await the resurrection.
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Home Moravian Church Reviews
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  • Wednesday Night Fellowship suppers are A1. Home Church Chefs fashion organic, gluten-free, vegetarian meals that take us around the world and are fantastically delicious!  more »
  • If you’ve visited and toured Old Salem and learned its unique history, you will especially enjoy seeing the interior of Home Moravian Church. It is open daily with docents to explain more about the wo...  more »
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  • Interior and exterior are beautiful. I've been part of the Easter sunrise service. I usually play in band four. There are as many as six bands. The music is a both beautiful and haunting as it echos through out God's acre and the adjoining church and building's. This annual event is only part of what makes this church worth visiting. Come to a Sunday service. It'll leave you with a wonderful feeling. The congregation is large and welcoming and the church band is wonderful.
  • Very cool place to visit! What a page from the past... beautifully maintained and not a lot of ground to cover with regard to time spent out of your day. A look into the past, very cool architecture and an educational spot for any age. Enjoy walking around for free as we did, or opt for the pay for tours.

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