Moravian Church in South Africa

The history of the Moravian Church in South Africa goes back to the founding of the first Protestant Church in Bohemia (now Czech Republic) as a breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church. In 1467 they met in the first synod as the Unitas Fratrum. The thirty years of religious wars (1620-1650) almost wiped out the church. Only a "hidden seed" remained who worshipped secretly in caves and forests. The church was renewed in 1727 after finding asylum in 1722 on the estate of Count Zinzendorf, a Pietist within the Lutheran Church. Many fugitives, mostly from Moravia, came to live at Herrnhut. Zinzendorf started to minister to them and later became a bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church. From 1732 to 1737 the Moravian Church became the first Protestant church to send out missionaries.

In 1737 Georg Schmidt was sent to South Africa to convert the Khoi-Khoi. The government of the Dutch colony opposed his work. Because of his success in teaching the Khoi-Khoi and the baptism of five converts he was obliged to leave in 1744. During the fifty years after his departure the work was continued by the converts. In 1793 the mission enjoyed official recognition and a hopeful new beginning was made. The mission settlement flourished with people from different tribes joining. An educated Xhosa woman, Wilhemina, fervently desired that the missionaries would proclaim the gospel among her people, in the Eastern Cape Colony. In 1828 the Moravians extended their missionary activities. The work expanded tremendously in the Western and Eastern Cape. At a general synod at Herrnhut in 1868 it was decided to divide the work into two provinces, South Africa West & South Africa East. Language, distance and effective administration were some of the reasons mentioned. The decision had far-reaching implications for the work in South Africa.

Following the introduction of the apartheid policy and the homeland structures by the South African Nationalist government in 1948, an increased awareness developed among members that the division into two autonomous regions, predominantly developed along racial lines, was irreconcilable with the rich Moravian heritage and the biblical foundation of the church. Although the 1869 decision to divide was well-founded, the division caused deep-rooted long-term problems of alienation, separate structures, suspicion, etc. From 1969 the two boards mapped out a unity plan. In 1986 a unity commission was appointed and in 1991 the synods accepted the resolution for "one Moravian Church in South Africa", one province of the Unitas Fratrum. In 1998 a new constitution was accepted and since then the Moravian Church operates as one church with the following structures: synod, provincial board and twelve districts represented on the provincial board. Each district consists of a number of congregations. The provincial board has an executive composed of a president and two vice-presidents. The bishops fulfill a pastoral and oversight role. Synods are held every four years.