1757 - A short, reliable report from the church of the Unitas Fratrum...
The members live, pray, and work for themselves in these houses, and raise young boys or, in the womens houses, young girls, who no longer live in the houses belonging to the institute. The underage members are called big boys or lads in the single Brothers house, and big girls or little spinsters in the single Sisters` house. Those of age are referred to as fathers, matrons, old fathers, and old mothers. In the married choirs, the women are referred to as the pregnant ladies, or the nursing ladies, and the children in their choir, the sucklings and arm children (those are the children that are still carried about in the arms of an older member.)
A speech that is especially pertinent to one of the main choirs is called a choir homily and is a hymn and a Liturgy for the choir, usually held one right after the other on a Sunday afternoon. If the text of the day pertains especially to a certain choir, then the day is known as a choir day and is simultaneously a day of memorial and a choir fest day.
The choirs are governed according to certain ground rules that have been drafted according to Gods word and according to the many experiences gathered in their own and in other Christian canonical laws. This is called the choir plan and the laborers assigned by the priests or caretakers, otherwise known as Elders, carry it out among their own sexes and degrees. The choir servants provide for order in the households, under the direction of a Diaconi or a director.
As is common in churches and chapels, the cornerstone of the choir houses are laid in ceremonies filled with prayers and chanting by all of the choirs. When it is completed, a
special feast of thanksgiving with Agapes, prayers, and words of thanks is held to inaugurate and orient the stone. Such a house must be built in a regular and simple way and it must not have any dark corners, no parlors, no meeting halls, and no dining rooms, unless they are enclosed, and they should not be lit at night. It is not so in the corridors and on the stairs, where lamps should burn the whole night through. Especially in the bedrooms, which have been blessed, lights are kept burning and a rotating watch is held in order to prevent involuntary indecorum which would cause a disturbance and invite disorder. They believe that, according to the rules of the Apostles (I Cor. 10:31. Coloss. 3:17), one must not only eat and drink in the name and succession of Jesus, but must also be able to sleep.
The care of the choir expresses itself primarily in the bands. In the beginning, the small societies that should have lifted and prevented the recognized estrangement between families and minds among the first residents of Herrnhut were called bands in the same sense as love has been called the Band of Perfection. The opponents of the term band objected to its plural, bands, because this generally refers to binding and forcing, and is so directly linked to the hated opposite. They tried to make it ridiculous by linking it to the idea of a band, or gang. Instead of this term, the groups were called by the clumsy term, associations. These associations rarely consist of more than ten individuals of the same sex and degree whom, according to the condition of their souls, separate themselves to the best of their abilities into groups of equals with thoughts to their daily activities. Those who do not possess the ability to decide for themselves are assigned by church laborers, with all of the wisdom
lent by God, to friends and trustworthy souls who, according to the newest friendship rules, meet with them daily or at select times to speak openly and amicably. A laborer is usually present at these times. The individuals have all the freedom to discover their own souls, to complain about their plights, and to expect admonition or comfort from each other.
The associations that are not divided by different states of the soul, but rather by specific internal constitutions stemming from external degrees are called the classes of the choirs.
The associations, in particular the bands, are rotated from time to time according to their inner purposes. This is done in order that no friendships which are too close or exclusive societies of souls arise from these associations while others do not remain estranged from each other, and so that the message of the testament of John 17, that they are all one, is spread until it is manifested in each person. In addition, daily visits are sometimes arranged so that the members of the choirs, and thus the Brethren within them, can gather a few times a year to thoroughly visit with each other and thus retain friendly and hearty connections among them. The women have their own meetings. In this manner, it is sometimes arranged so that a married pair and a single person read the daily applications in their respective houses. This has also been referred to as greeting the day with the name of the Savior.
The Brothers and Sisters are periodically taken aside by the laborers in their choirs for a time of
counseling. The married members are interviewed together by a husband and wife who have attained at least the degree of Diaconen. This is what they call the Speaking. The Speaking takes place before communion is celebrated, in part to rid the soul of certain things that would bring shame and stupidity upon one, and in part to prevent communion, which is held often, from simply becoming habitual. More than one of these conferences usually takes place at the same time, occasionally even in the same place. They are not to be confused with Confession, as the form, intent, and use is quite different. They do not have anything against the private Confession, which is in accordance with the Creed of Augsburg, and they are dedicated to regarding the Sigillum Confessionis as sacred and holy.
It is during the annual choir festival that members are moved from the adolescent choirs to others, where they fit according to degree and age. This is done with the blessing of the choirs. The members leave the choir houses due to the blessed call home, or when they are scattered abroad and sent to other communities, or marry. This planting of members has not happened, except in the settlements, in many years, to the detriment of the choirs, due to the fact that they wished to wait in accordance with the advice of Paul (I Cor. 7). The advice was to wait out a particularly angry persecution until the congregations were wiser and more securely united.
The matrimonial institute of the burghers that is practiced in the outside world is the same as is used in the communities of the Brethren. The entry into matrimony and its process follows the first and strongest intentions of the congregations. The members are not
forced into arranged marriages and he who says so is either completely false, supposes things for which he has no proof, or was falsely informed. It is, quite naturally, not to be suffered by the Brethren that single members of the opposite sex meet secretly, without the knowledge of their parents and friends, and discuss marriage. However, if a Brother does not insist upon having a helpmate, his parents and friends, or one of his laborers, will cause a change in his position, work, and other private and public circumstances and will take note of as many acceptable Sisters as possible. When one or another of these Sisters freely accepts the proposal after careful deliberation and in front of witnesses, and if she does not change her mind, then they will be married after a set amount of time. They will be married in a church, chapel, hall, or in the rooms of a priest, as is customary in the land where they reside. The service will be performed by a priest of their church in the name of the Holy Trinity, of God, and of his community. In Herrnhut and England the service was sometimes performed by a holy man from another church after the fashion of his own denomination. The Brethren were especially fond of services performed by a public official, as often happened in Holland, but this was only possible in places where the leaders had specifically declared it possible, after being asked three times, which within the Brethren communities, due to the circumstances, has no purpose in and of itself.
Living together and conducting a married life occurs with complete freedom, due to the ground rules that Jesus and Paul laid down for a Christian marriage. In some circumstances they are so fair and becoming and so clearly stated that they can make it easy for the soul and body of a being who is restless become useful, it can make things clearer. People who possess enough comprehension and ability, which is actually a part
of each test, are not tested in their conduct as a married couple, but they are given something special to work with. Those who suffer from a real confusion of the soul or from a crisis of love are required to attend counseling for married couples and take a part in the healing, as far as it is possible for humans to do so. The difference is that both members of the married couple speak with each other, neither side brings complaints against the other and causes adjudication to be necessary.
There are those who are born and raised among the Brethren, but who have not seen or heard the word, those who have unknowingly entered into the foulness of the world. The Brethren want to take these heathens and raise them according to the Bible, and in the ways of Jesus. They do not wish to deny them proper teaching and care, so they persevere through detours and injuries an attempt to refrain from damaging the process. These individuals are treated as if they were princes and princesses.
The Brethren consider procreation to be the holiest and most important act of the human life and they study it as a kind of practical wisdom that God created and after the likeness of Jesus heart. They consider the slightest neglect or disrespect of it a deadly sin. When the Sisters discover that they are pregnant, they tell their Elderess and don the brown dress that signifies that kind of prosperity. Even though they know that the fruit of their body, like all
others, is a sinful child which must first be born from the soul (John 3: 5.6), they still bear it in such reverence and sanctification in alteration before God (Gen. 5: 22) that, as much as possible, all barriers should be removed that hinder both mother and child from being filled with the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:41) They are brought to bear on the child through prayers, which is a respectable act that belongs in the reign of Jesus. The birth happens in the presence of a few respectable women. After a heartfelt prayer, the women instruct the mother in how to nurse the child in a respectable, careful way that is best for the mothers and the children. If they are physically not able to nurse their child, then the child is raised without it, rather than trust a strange and untested person with the task.
There are young children who cannot, for whatever reason, be cared for by their parents, for example, if one of the heathen goes out of time [dies], if they are missionaries among the heathens, or if they are posted elsewhere and must neglect themselves and their children. Sometimes they are so poor that one has to make things easier for them, or they simply cannot fulfill their biggest duty due to a lack of skills and have honestly searched for someone else to take their young children. These children are brought into the nursery* and are raised there until they reach a certain age. They are cared for by widows and young girls who are specially trained to raise the children carefully and saintly, under the supervision of a Presbyteri and his wife,
(*) So it is called in England, the room where the nurse or nanny lives with the smallest children.
a married chaplain, Medicus, and Chirugus, are there to assist the married servants, who are necessary.
Every community has a nurse in each choir house and institution, who is housed in separate sick parlors built for this purpose. There are also other people who are skilled in the art who, in addition to their regular work, also lend a hand because they have not yet been able to decide whether or not to join the ranks of the matrons who are especially signed to this task, even if they do consider the nursing skills of the matrons the best. The Medicus is paid either by the community or he takes his salary from the wealthy and takes nothing from the poor.
Aside from the physical nursing, which is attended to day and night, as well loyally and carefully as possible, there is little to no theological care for those who are sick or dying. Because there is usually nothing left to organize, to contemplate, and to regulate, and because it is assumed that they will use these days in the care of the community to live in the belief in the Son of God, and to be blessed. For this reason, they are left alone as much as their physical condition will allow it, so that they can, out of their sickness, make a Sabbath with which to worship the Lord, to speak with him, to carry their soul to meet the Savior, and to withdraw from their mind so that the fantasies which accompany many illnesses do not have the opportunity to pull their soul away from God. When the time comes for one of the community to go home [to die], the blessing of the community will be given through song and prayer, in the moment of their departure, by the parents to their children, a man to his wife, and the
choir priest to all others.
The departure of a member is announced immediately afterward in the community. The trombones play the sound of the words Wenn mein Mund wird erbleichen in Jesu Arm und Schoos [When my mouth turns pale in Jesus arms and lap] to the tune of the melody of the common church song O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. Another melody announces the choir that has lost a member. As soon as the body is washed, simply dressed, and laid in a coffin, it will be put in a public burial vault. This takes place at nightfall. A light shines through the window to announce that a body is being kept there and the body is visited and viewed by many. After several days, an Ordinato who gives a short speech for the dead takes the same body tenderly and briskly to Gods Acre. The body is accompanied by the Sisters, who wear white when the weather permits it and, because the Brethren view burial with hope for life and as part of the succession of Jesus, music is also played. The body is set into a fresh grave while the customary burial Liturgy is read. The words Bewahre uns mit der ganzen vollendeten Gemeine, insonderheit mit unserm Bruder (oder Schwester) in weiger Gemeinschaft, und lass uns dermaleins mit ihr ausruhen bey deinen Wunden! [Protect us, the whole community, but especially our Brother (or Sister) in eternal community, and allow each of us to rest in your wounds!] The congregation answers: Erhoer uns lieber Herre GOTT! [Hear us, our beloved Lord, God!] and the customary church blessings and songs are performed. The grave is covered with a stone that has been carved with the name, birthplace, place of death, and year of birth and death.