Moravian Church of Lebanon
History of the Moravian Church of Lebanon
The followers of the great Bohemian Reformer, John Hus, who was burned at the stake in 1415, organized themselves into the UNITAS FRATRUM in 1457. Now called the MORAVIAN CHURCH, its name was taken from the province of Moravia (now in the Czech Republic) and it is the oldest organized Protestant Church. In the work of World Missions, the Moravians have always been recognized as pioneers. In an effort to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, missionaries were sent to the West Indies in 1732. Their desire to preach to the Native American Indians led the Moravians to Georgia in 1734 and from there to Pennsylvania in 1740.
In many aspects the early Moravians who immigrated to the Lebanon Valley were like all of the German settlers. However, they came not because they were driven from home by religious intolerance or poverty, but they left their comfortable homes and peaceful churches to take up a life of discomfort, hardship and danger because of their love for Jesus Christ. By the time John Herz came from Bethlehem to preach in a blockhouse at the Quittapahilla in 1744, Moravian missionaries were regularly evangelizing through-out the valley.
On December 19,1747, a congregation was formally organized at Hebron and within a year it became the center of missionary activity in the Lebanon Valley. Services were held in the old blockhouse on the Quittapahilla, but need for a church building was soon felt. On June 16, 1751, a two-story stone building was dedicated to serve both as a residence and church. It was located at what is now the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Moravian Street.
These Moravians were not concerned about polity; their single purpose was to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were aggressive in the evangelization of those who enjoyed little or no knowledge of the Gospel. They did not consider themselves a distinct denomination, but a society of believers within the Universal Church of Christ. Their thought was not to propagate a religion but to preach a Savior. With this attitude, the congregation failed to add significantly to its own number. This resulted in a struggle for the Hebron Congregation's survival, but the Moravians who recently had come from Lititz to reside in Lebanon inspired the Congregation, insuring its permanence.
On December 19, 1848, just 100 years after its formal organization, the congregation moved to the center of Lebanon. Within its first year a sanctuary at lOth & Spring Streets was consecrated for worship of the Lord.
On June 2, 1853, the parsonage built on the north side of the building was completed. As if to test their faith, the church building was completely destroyed by fire on June 29, 1858. However, the embers had hardly cooled when, with the congregation's undying spirit and support from Lititz and other congregations, construction of the second building was completed and consecrated on June 5, 1859.
The congregation slowly grew from fifty-four members in 1860 to nearly 100 in 1940. Since that time the membership has more than doubled. With a strong Sunday School, the congregation needed to enlarge its Christian Education facilities, and in 1981, the parsonage, which had served Moravian pastors since 1853, was converted into a Christian Education Building and offices and a new parsonage was purchased on Poplar Street.
Nearly 260 years from its beginnings, the Moravian Church of Lebanon re-located for a second time in its history to its present locating 1115 Birch Road in South Lebanon Township. The new church was built in 2005 and was dedicated and used for the first time early in 2006. The building is on one level for easy access for all. As in the original building at Hebron, the congregation gathers in the Saal for worship and fellowship activities.
In 1997 the congregation celebrated its 250th Anniversary, years in which the purpose of the Moravian Church has remained unchanged. As Christians we are called into the Body of Christ to share the 'good news' with the world and to nurture those who come into the faith. We continue looking to God for direction for 'where' and how we are to best serve in the years ahead.