A Day in the Life of Early Herrnhut
“HERRNHUT WAS A HAVEN of peace, with its two hundred houses, built on a rising ground with evergreen woods on two sides, and gardens on the others, and high hills at a short distance. It was a haven of faith in a world of infidelity; of unity in a world of division.”
So A. J. Lewis described this, “one of the most remarkable experiments in the realm of Christian service Christendom has ever seen.” Count Zinzendorf and twelve elected elders served as the town council for this little “haven of faith” in southeastern Saxony. Everything—building and maintenance, street cleaning, caring for the poor and infirm, educating the children and even the necessary taxes—was under the rule of the council. A man could not marry or start a trade without consulting the elders.
True to its name—“on the watch for the Lord”—Herrnhut’s elders watched diligently over the souls in their care. Each week the leaders of the various “choirs” (see Glossary) met with Zinzendorf “to discuss their particular members.” The unmarried men lived in the Single Brethren’s House, unmarried women in the Single Sister’s House over which Anna Nitschmann served as supervisor, on a par with the other elders—quite a departure from the accepted practice of the day. Soon at Herrnhut a boarding house for children was initiated both to care for children of missionaries to foreign lands and for the education of all of the children. Zinzendorf saw all of these groupings as “the ideal method of Christian nurture”—and that was what Herrnhut was all about.
The people put in long days. Beginning at four o’clock in the summer, five o’clock in winter, the sleeping town awakened to the watchman’s song—“The clock is at five! Five virgins will be lost and five will be welcomed at the marriage!” Everyone assembled in the great hall for morning prayers and singing. At six the watchman cried: “The clock is six, and from the watch I’m free, and everyone may his own watchman be!”
After a simple meal at the home or boarding house, the day’s work began. Leading industries were the spinning of wool, linen weaving, carpentry and pottery, as well as farming and food preparation. At the same time, some were always occupied with study in preparation for missionary service. The day closed as it began—with songs and prayers.
Saturday often became a day for congregational prayer or for communicating of news from the mission fields or for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Sunday offered “a full round of worship” with early morning prayers, meetings of the various choirs, morning worship at the Berthelsdorf church at eleven o’clock (later moved to Herrnhut), an afternoon service for visitors, an evening service of singing and prayers.
In 1738 John Wesley visited “this happy place” and was so impressed by what he saw that he commented in his journal “I would gladly have spent my life here . . . Oh, when shall this Christianity cover the earth as the waters cover the sea?”
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #1 in 1982]
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