Collection 71 [February 5, 2001]
Moravian Congregation, Bristol, England; 1755-
Congregational Records; 1755-1806
4 Reels of Microfilm
Note at head of microfilm reel: No part of this microfilm may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, without written permission of the Moravian Union Incorporated, 5 Muswell Hill, London, N. 10, ENGLAND, except for brief quotations, embodied in critical articles, reviews, or theses.
The Moravian Church, more properly known as the Unity of the Brethren (Unitas fratrum), traces its heritage to the late medieval Bohemian Brethren, a movement somewhat effectively eradicated from Bohemia and Moravia by the Counter-Reformation in the early 1600s. In 1722, two families named Neisser fled from Moravia and eventually found sanctuary on the Saxony estates of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf (1700-1760). In the course of the next seven years, about three hundred Brethren also settled in Saxony, built a town called Herrnhut, and established a center for the revived Brethren church. Zinzendorf was consecrated bishop of the church in 1737. The following year, the Moravian church was carried to Great Britain chiefly through the mission work of Peter Boehler, who was also instrumental in John Wesley's spiritual pilgrimage. In 1749, the Unity of the Brethren were recognized by an act of Parliament as "an ancient Episcopal Church." Four exclusive settlements were founded, where only members of the church could buy property, etc., but the forty later congregations established in England did not incorporate this system and the original four eventually abandoned it as well.
The congregation at Bristol, on the Avon River in western England, was settled January 26, 1755. Their first pastor was one "Brother Nyberg," who served from 1755 to 1763. He was succeeded by "Brother Franker," who pastored the congregation from 1763 to 1768, when "Brother Joseph" took charge of the flock. (The later succession of pastors is not easily obtainable outside of a close and careful reading of the microfilm records.)
This account of Moravian theology and practice is provided by The New Schaff-Herzog
Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977) v. 12, p. 92:
"A missionary spirit was fostered, which sent messengers of the Gospel to all parts of the heathen
world, and found fields at home, through the so-called 'Diaspora,' on the continent of Europe,
and, through domestic mission, in Great Britain and America. In their boarding-schools
thousands of young people not connected with the Moravian Church received an excellent
Christian education; and, during the long and dreary period of rationalism, vital faith in the
essentials of the Gospel was cherished in such a manner that positive influences went forth from
these centers wholly out of proportion to the paucity of the numbers of those identified with these
settlements in the narrowest sense. At the same time there occasionally appeared a self-satisfied
spirit, which, on the one hand, looked upon the Moravians as 'a peculiar people' in a manner
unjustifiable and beyond the warrant of holy writ, and on the other took acceptance with God for
granted, as belonging of necessity to all the members of a church in which the Savior was
preeminently the central figure of theology and practical religion, and his name literally
constituted a household word. For a brief period (1745-1749), known as 'the time of sifting,' and
in a few of the settlements, a far greater evil manifested itself. Fanaticism broke out among
ministers and people. It did not lead them into gross sins, but gave rise to the most extravagant
conceptions, especially as regarded the atonement in general, and Christ's wounded side in
particular; to sensuous, puerile, and objectionable phraseology and hymns; and to religious
services of reprehensible character. For such fanaticism Zinzendorf unwittingly furnished
occasion by the fanciful and unwarranted ways in which, from his inclination to hyperbole and
paradox, he expressed the believer's joy and the love which the pardoned sinner bears to the
Savior. But, when he and his coadjutors began to realize the magnitude of the evil, they earnestly
labored to bring back the erring ones to the sober faith and reverent love taught by the Scriptures.
Such efforts were crowned with success, and the entire restoration of the church to spiritual
health formed the best answer to the many attacks made upon it at that time and for a long period
afterward, in part by earnest theologians, who taught the very same things as those the Brethren
were aiming to promote, and in part by scurrilous enemies."
Scope and Content
This collection contains three types of congregational records from the Bristol church: church diaries, choirhouse diary, and committee meetings. The first two tend to be prosey and rich in detail; the last is more terse and written in legal-sounding terms.
The diaries span a half century, from 1756 to 1806. They contain descriptions of church services, liturgies, hymns (and sometimes texts of hymns), children's services, and love feasts (usually following communion). Although sometimes written in first person and sometimes in third, it appears that the diaries were the charge of the minister. However, apparently on occasion the diaries were kept by someone other than the pastor. One feature of these records is their long, detailed obituaries of members of the congregation upon their deaths, relating their spiritual pilgrimages. Relations with other churches within and without the Moravian communion are noted, such as the reference to the Methodists accusing the Moravians of building not a church but a "mass-house." The Brethren lifestyle is clearly shown in passages about the "Single Sisters' House" and the "Choir House" (for Single Brothers) and in passages that describe the close-knit quality of Moravian brother- and sisterhood. Those within the church are often described as "awakened." There are frequent references to John Wesley and John Cennick (even as late as 1800) and references to Cennick's sister Hannah Stone up to her death in November 1758. Entries in the diaries become sparse in the 1780s; the richest entries are in the early years.
Examples of diary entries best describe the flavor of the journals. All these examples are taken from the first volume: "Jane Bettington, who went to see her relations against our Mind, return'd...." "Jane Morris, the blind S[ingle] Sis[te]r grew intolerably mad, lost her senses, & made a shocking Noise. Her selfrighteousness now appeared in its true Colours." "Many poor dry Methodists begin to feel themselves void of bloody grace." "[We] fed on the Lord's corpse and blood...."
The choirhouse diary charts the history of the Single Brothers' House, founded in 1761 shortly after Brother Caries arrived in Bristol as Pastor Nyberg's assistant, charged with organizing a single brothers' choir. He and four other men were the first tenants in the house. The diary entries parallel the Church diaries in style and content.
The Committee Meeting books detail financial and legal action taken by the congregation.
Statistics of membership are also found here. One special note of interest is the inventory of the
entire contents of the parsonage, "Brother Steinhauer being about the leave Bristol," listing
everything from major pieces of furniture down to kitchen table service. This inventory, dated
September 13, 1777, is an excellent mirror of eighteenth century British middle-class living.
The microfilm in this collection was purchased by the Archives.
No Accession number
October 8, 1982
Galen R. Wilson
NOTE: All reels are 35mm, positive copy.
Diary of Bristol Congregation
Diary of Bristol Congregation
[Diary for 1795-1800 listed as missing in an 1850 inventory of records.]
Diary of the Brethren's Congregation at Bristol
Book B, November 4, 1767 to September 11, 1780