Past Reckoning: Moravian and Episcopal Histories of Race

By Richard J. Mammana Jr.

The first webinar in the Moravian-Episcopal Coordinating Committee’s series Past Reckoning: Exploring the Racial History of the Moravian and Episcopal Churches drew more than 400 registrants on January 25. Participants in the three successive Wednesday evening panels, each followed by discussion, look at three topics: the evangelization of enslaved persons, histories of racial violence, and urban social changes connected to race, all through the separate and related lenses of Moravian and Episcopal Church experiences, mainly in North America. The first 90-minute session is available online. The series is a project of the Moravian Episcopal Coordinating Committee (MECC) Racial Reconciliation Working Group.

Moravians trace their roots to the early 1400s and the Hussite Reformation of Central Europe. As a missionary movement, the group spread quickly following its adoption by Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf and propagation by German-speaking visionary preachers, educational leaders, and linguists. There are centers of Moravian life today in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Alaska, several Canadian provinces, and the Caribbean, but more than 90% of Moravians now live in Tanzania and South America. The Episcopal Church in the contiguous United States and the Moravian Church’s Northern Province and Southern Province have been in full communion since a 2011 agreement of mutuality in ministry called Finding Our Delight in the Lord. Moravians of those provinces are also in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America except in the Bahamas.

The first webinar in the series, “Evangelizing Enslaved People: Good News or Control?,” hosted by MECC co-chair the Rev. Maria Tjeltveit, examines how Christian ministry and catechesis took place against a background of both churches’ acceptance of slavery in North America and the Caribbean. Co-hosted by Tjeltveit and the Rev. Frank Crouch, retired Dean of Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, the webinar gathered the voices of three leaders in anti-racism from North Carolina: DeDreana Freeman and Cathy Rimer-Surles — both founders of Episcopalians United against Racism — and the Rev. Neil Routh, president of the Moravian Southern Province’s Provincial Elders Conference.

With support from Episcopal Church Manager for Creative Services Jeremy Tackett and lay Allentown Episcopalian Adam Bond, the webinar series offers rich opportunities for learning as Moravians and Episcopalians work together to engage with broader efforts at racial reconciliation. The webinars bring a diversity of voices to bear on complex histories of accommodation and prophetic work undertaken in separate churches that had profound geographic and social overlap before they entered into formal ecclesial relationship long after legal chattel slavery had been abolished.

The full communion text Finding Our Delight in the Lord opens with the vision of ecumenical reconciliation as a way forward from “great evils,” and the Past Reckoning has opened with an opportunity to name great evils while walking forward with careful leadership around painful topics. Webinars in February will address “The Silent Protest Parade: Responses to Racial Violence and Black Leadership in the Church” and “The Church and the City: Integration, Segregation, and White Flight” with additional panelists from Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

TLC correspondent Richard J. Mammana Jr. is the editor of the 2021 compilation Moravians and Anglicans: Ecumenical Sources (Project Canterbury). He has served as staff for the Moravian-Episcopal Coordinating Committee since 2014.


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