The Unitas Fratrum, founded in 1457, has its origins in the Reformation of Jan Hus. Its members were scattered during the Thirty Years War in Europe and found refuge in 1722 in Herrnhut, a community established by Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760), one of the leaders of German pietism. Reacting to rationalism and formalism in the Protestant churches of his time, Zinzendorf proclaimed a "religion of the heart" based on an intimate fellowship with the Saviour as creator, sustainer and redeemer of the world. He was forced by circumstances to build a separate organization, but continued to maintain a close relationship with Lutheranism. His emphasis on the place of feeling in religion infused new life into Protestantism and profoundly influenced 19th century German theology. He was also a forerunner of the 20th century ecumenical movement. Zinzendorf travelled widely through Europe and the United States. The Moravian Community in Herrnhut was one of the first Protestant churches to start overseas missionary work, as early as 1732. This missionary work led to the establishment of the Moravian Church as a worldwide unity. The Moravian Church is one of the few churches to have an international legislative synod. The 19 individual provinces are autonomous as long as their church order does not run counter to the overarching Church Order of the Unitas Fratrum (COUF). This is determined by the Unity Synod which meets every seven years.
Today the European Continental Province (Europäisch-Festländische Brüderunität or EFBU in German) consists of congregations and missionary organizations in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Estonia. Missionary work connected with the province is done in Albania and Latvia. There are special relationships with congregations and homes of the Moravian church in the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Palestine, Surinam and Tanzania. Newsletters are circulated among members and friends of the Moravian Church. Diaconal homes offer care for the sick, disabled, mentally disturbed and elderly people. Primary and secondary schools give education to children from different backgrounds. Missionary activities are important too, especially where the proclamation of the gospel goes along with the improvement of the living conditions of the people and the struggle against all forms of discrimination and poverty.
The EFBU maintains ecumenical contacts in the all regions and helps to bring churches together. About one million copies of the Moravian daily texts are distributed in the countries of the province. Now there are translations of the daily texts in more than 50 languages worldwide. The Herrnhut archives occupy a special position in the worldwide Moravian Church as the official repository of historical documents relating to the unity of the church.
In the past four decades, developments in the Netherlands have brought new perspectives, because of the immigration of members from the Moravian Church in Surinam. Among these groups are members with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, especially Indonesian, Hindu and Marroon (descendants of runaway slaves). Most of the members of the EFBU are now in the Netherlands (about 25,000).
Since 2005 the European Continental Province of the Moravian Church and the British Province of the Moravian Church hold joint membership in the World Council of Churches, under the name "Moravian Church in Western Europe".
The Moravian Church came to Britain in the early 18th century and was recognized by act of parliament (Actum Fratrum Unitatis in Anglia, 1749) as an ancient Protestant Episcopal Church, descended from Unitas Fratrum. The church in Britain took an active part in the evangelical revival in the 18th century. Since 1970 the British province has ordained women into the ministry. Lay involvement is encouraged at every level of church life.
Moravians in Britain (as in Europe generally) did not feel called to set up a church in opposition to already existing churches as guardian of some special doctrine, but to work with existing churches. Moravian congregations were established only where there was evident need, and so the Moravian Church in this country has remained small. It is organized in five regional areas. A few of the congregations are in country villages but most are in urban areas. In recent years, the church has been strengthened by the coming of West Indian Moravians to England. Up to the mid-20th century, the main emphasis of the church was on overseas missionary work. Even today, though the former mission fields have now become independent provinces of the world Moravian Church, the relationship with them and cooperation in mission remains an important concern. The Moravian Church in Britain maintains particular relations with Moravian churches in Tanzania, India and Jamaica. The Moravian Church is ecumenical in outlook and involved in a number of local ecumenical projects including shared congregations. Currently four of the congregations are joint units with the United Reformed Church.