ervice returns at Sharon Moravian Church

ervice returns at Sharon Moravian Church

Image Credit: Teri Stein

Sharon Moravian Church will hold its Christmas Eve Candlelight Service for the first time since 2019. The church is located just north of the village of Tuscarawas.

Christmas Eve candlelight services have a long history in the Moravian church, dating back 275 years to a castle at Marienborn in Wetteravia, Germany.

From Moravian history it is known that on Christmas Eve 1747, Bishop John de Watteville conducted informal vigil services using the anticipation of the arrival of the Christ-child as a theme. At the service they sang numerous Christmas hymns, and the bishop asked children questions about the Christmas story.

Today the whole congregation is given candles, not just children, as it was originally celebrated. The light from the burning candles suggests the Lord’s command to “Let your light so shine.” Each candle has red ribbon at the base to remind of Jesus’ shed blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The original service in 1747 was so stirring that the next year in 1748 a similar Christmas Eve service was held in Herrnhut, Germany. When the lighted candles are raised during the closing hymn of the service, worshippers are reminded of the light Jesus brought to the world.

“It’s a traditional service in the Moravian Church right across the Moravian world. It’s very important,” Pastor Lloyd Gooden of Sharon Moravian said.

Gooden is originally from Jamaica, where he was raised in the Moravian faith.

“One of the highlights of the Christmas Eve service is a singing of ‘Morning Star (O Cheering Sight).’ ‘Morning Star’ is a hymn in the Moravian hymnal with a young child traditionally singing the solo and the entire congregation responding with an echo. It is just amazing,” Gooden said.

The Christmas Eve Candlelight Service will be held at 7 p.m. this year. The church also will host a Christmas Day service at 10:30 a.m.

The first record of a candlelight service held in what would become the United States was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1756.

Christmas Eve services at Sharon Moravian would date back to 1810, when Brother George G. Mueller began holding services once a month at the home of John Ulrich, just south of Tuscarawas. Then on New Year’s Day in 1815, the congregation began meeting at the home of George Blickensderfer, north of the current site of Sharon Moravian, with brother Abraham Luckenloch, a missionary from Goshen, conducting the service.

In 1817, a 26-by-32-foot log church was built. On May 29, 1856, the cornerstone was laid for the current church with an addition added in 1957.

Another important symbol for the celebration of Christmas in the Moravian Church is the Moravian Star. It is displayed from the first Sunday in Advent — the fourth Sunday before Christmas — until the Festival of Epiphany on Jan. 6.

A traditional Moravian Star has 26 points. The first star was made in the Moravian settlement at Niesky, Germany in about 1850 as a reminder of the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. It also represents Jesus as “the root and offspring of David and the bright and morning star” in Revelation 22:16 and another Old Testament prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “a star shall come out of Jacob.”

While Christmas is an important season, the members participate year round in activities to help others in the community including holding a fundraiser dinner for the Indian Valley Middle School shoe voucher program. Some of the funds also go to provide extra underclothing and socks for the students in need.

The church also provides support to a food pantry and contributed funds to Ukraine charities and hurricane relief in Florida.

“Through the Moravian Church Board of World Missions, we contribute to different charities. We do reach out as much as possible. We raise funds for Share-A-Christmas also,” Gooden said.

The church also has a choir and Sunday school beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. A preschool operated by the Educational Service Center with Indian Valley Schools also is located in the building.

The Moravian religion first came to the Ohio Territory on May 3, 1772, with Moravian missionary David Zeisberger and a group of Christian Delaware Indians who had adopted the religion. There are still six Moravian churches in Tuscarawas County.

Other local Moravian churches include Dover First Moravian Church in downtown Dover, Schoenbrunn Community on East High Avenue in New Philadelphia, Fry’s Valley Moravian Church, the John Heckewelder Memorial Moravian Church of Gnadenhutten and the First Moravian Church in Uhrichsville.