In the Beginning…

Moravians are different. Even peculiar—according to this World’s wisdom. And we always have been. After the martyrdom of John Hus (remembered in our July 6th Liturgy), even after protestant beliefs had ultimately achieved recognition in the Kingdom of Bohemia, the laity had achieved access to communion in both kinds, and the right to read and interpret the Bible for themselves as the sole guide for salvation; a group of Protestants nevertheless separated themselves from the mainstream of Protestants in Bohemia because they sought a still more intense, simpler, more purely Christian life in a rural setting, far from the temptations of trade and cities. In 1457 they established the Unitas Fratrum as a separate Protestant Church, and in 1467 achieved their own episcopacy.When Protestantism in Bohemia was virtually extirpated after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, a remnant of this ancient Unitas Fratrum remained. Though hunted and faced with certain death if their bibles or their meetings in the forests were discovered, they persevered, confident that the Lord would somehow preserve their little church.

In 1722 a small group of members of the ancient Unitas Fratrum found refuge on the Saxony estate of a pious nobleman, Count Ludwig Nicholas Von Zinzendorf. When the word got back to Bohemia, others escaped across the border between the Kingdom of Saxony and the Kingdom of Bohemia. By 1727 these refugees had built a settlement called Herrnhut.

Zinzendorf, a Lutheran himself, was extremely attracted to the teachings of the old Unitas Fratrum and to the earnest desire of his new tenants to live a Christian life. Together they embarked on a course that would change the world and would directly involve you and me at Calvary Church in Winston-Salem.

In 1727 in the parish church in the little Village of Berthelsdorf, where the refugees worshipped (just a short stroll from their Village of Herrnhut) a remarkable pentecost-like spiritual outflowing occurred—changing the hitherto uncertain, somewhat quarrelsome and directionless refugees into a solid brotherhood, united in love for one another and all mankind, and determined to share that Christian love with the entire world—jaded and skeptical as it may be. Within a few years Moravian (for so they were now called because of the numbers who had escaped from the Bohemian Province of Moravia) missionaries were taking the gospel to South Africa, Tibet, Russia, Greenland, South America, the Caribbean, Labrador, Egypt. They were sent out, and earned their way as they went, staying in close communication with the nerve center of the Unity at Herrnhut.

In 1752 we had already begun a settlement known as Bethlehem along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania and Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg had been instructed to come to North Carolina and see if a suitable and adequately large acreage could be located here. Meanwhile the brethren in England were negotiating with Lord Carteret, Earl of Granville, to determine the precise terms should a suitable tract be found. The idea, consistent with the ancient and also the renewed Unity’s philosophy, was to establish a community where Moravians could live a spiritual life separated from the temptations and concerns of the temporal world and also to provide a staging area for missions to the southern Indian tribes, who had yet to know of the gospel. Some 100,000 acres were ultimately purchased. 1

So it was that in 1753 twelve young men arrived to take possession of this baronial fiefdom. They would begin a temporary settlement, called “Bethabara” from the Hebrew, “House of Passage.” Our Calvary Church today stands on original land from The Earl of Granville’s grant: Since 1753 the land has been owned by the Church.

The story of how the Moravian settlements grew in Bethania, Friedberg, Friedland, Hope, Salem—is beyond the scope of this history. Suffice to say for our purpose that the little town of Salem had the first genuine water works in the nation: Bored, heart pine logs formed pipes from a major spring located in the area behind what is now the corner of Spring and Fourth Streets, all the way to cisterns on Salem Square. Since any source of water supply needs to be protected by a pristine watershed to avoid contamination, the Church “reserved” the area around the spring even after it had sold off land to form the new County Seat of Forsyth, “Winston.”

Advertisement, Winston Reservation, c. 1920

This area was the “Winston reservation.” And included the Calvary Church site. Its boundaries were from First Street on the south to Spring Street on the west, the rear lot line of Fourth Street on the north and Spruce Street on the east. 2 The County Seat of Winston grew, of course, and after the War between the States, became a major manufacturing center, rivaling the older town of Salem. Mud streets, hoards of newcomers jostling on sidewalks, covered wagons bringing tobacco and other goods to the tobacco ware-houses and to the new railway station, gave it a rough frontier appearance when contrasted with the orderly, quiet and unobtrusive town of Salem, still clustered largely around its square and with its pace set by the bell of Home Church.

The Church in Salem, true to the traditional Moravian avoidance of “poaching” on the membership of other churches, declined to expand into the newer town of Winston with its established Methodist and Baptist churches. But as more and more Moravians moved into Winston, the Home Church was presented with an obvious problem of serving its own people, who by now were faced with fairly long journeys to get to church. Also there were other souls to be reached that, for whatever reason, were not being reached by Winston churches.

Bishop Edward Rondthaler

So in 1876, a tentative first step was taken: Outdoor benches were placed in a clearing on the “Reservation” and during the summer, theological students and recent graduates from Moravian seminary, men like J.E. Hall, J. Clewell, G.F. Bahnson and Byron Spaugh conducted evangelical services.

This expedient did not prove permanent. Later, services were held in Tise’s Hall (east of the old courthouse), and still later a Sunday School, half “union” and half Moravian was held in the old public school building on the corner of present Liberty and First Streets.

The seed was thus planted for Calvary. In October 1877 Rev. Edward Rondthaler was driving his buggy accompanied by Bishop Emil DeSchweinitz through the woods of the Moravian reservation and commented “wouldn’t this be a nice place for a church—if we had one in Winston?” But while the germ had been planted, the Salem congregation was still reluctant to venture out of that community.

Meanwhile that sole Moravian congregation in the two communities, Home Church, was growing. In 1887 Brother John McCuiston reported making calls on 950 families in the Home Church Congregation. Bishop Rondthaler himself reported 624 for a total of 1,574 families who looked to Home Church for their spiritual nurture. In that year’s Memorabilia, Bishop Rondthaler noted this increase in the congregation and suggested “a new preaching place located in the very center of the (two) communities.”

  1. The deal was 98,985 acres for 500 pounds sterling down, and an annual quitrent of 148 pounds, 9 shillings and 2½ pence. An immense sum for those days.
  2. The German speaking Moravians, because of their desire to avoid involvement in politics and to live in isolated self-sufficient communities, naturally caused some suspicion among their English speaking neighbors. Fortunately, these were usually allayed when our spokesmen could appeal to the higher levels of government: In 1749 Parliament had given our Church the singular recognition of “an ancient Protestant and Episcopal Church,” thus recognizing we were not only a sister Protestant Church to the Anglican communion, but also recognizing the validity of our ordinations. This made it possible for our ministers to validly serve the Anglicans who settled nearby. For example, when Royal Governor Tryon in 1766 heard rumors that we were sending money out of the colony to Europe, and summoned Brother Ettwein to the then Royal Capitol at Brunswick, Ettwein was hosted by the Governor’s own chaplain, resolved the question with little difficulty, and reported “the English church considers ours as a sister church, an honour which hitherto it had given to none.”

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<Introduction“Old Calvary”>