A prayer meeting that lasted 100 years
On this day 295 years ago, one of the greatest revivals began when the Moravian community of Herrnhut in Saxony was overwhelmed and filled with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at its communion service.
On the morning of 13 August 1727, the community of 300 people heard a sermon about the cross and the lamb of God, and as they prepared to take communion, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them.” It was such a powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit that many referred to it as “a Moravian Pentecost.”
Exactly what happened that Wednesday morning, none of the participants was able to fully describe. But one said they left the church at midday “hardly knowing whether they belonged to earth or had already gone to Heaven.” It was said that the sense of the nearness of Christ was so strong in everyone present that it was felt simultaneously by two members of their community working 30km away.
Two weeks later, on August 27, 1727, a 24-hour prayer ministry was started, which lasted 100 years. Initially 24 men and 24 women were involved, with one person committing to pray one hour every day. The number of those praying grew to 77, praying in rotations every day. The children, like the adults, had similar hourly intercessions.
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They left the church at midday “hardly knowing whether they belonged to earth or had already gone to Heaven.”
This was the first Protestant church body to begin missionary work. In the 25 years after the outpouring of the Spirit on the congregation, the Moravian missionaries carried the gospel to nearly every country in Europe and to many Indigenous tribes in North and South America, Asia, and Africa.
This was many years before William Carey, known as the “Father of Modern Missions,” departed for his missions ministry in India in 1793.
The 100 missionaries who went out from this village community in the 25 years from 1727 to 1752 were more than the whole Evangelical church had done in two centuries. By 1791, 65 years after the prayer vigil began, the small Moravian community had sent 300 missionaries to the ends of the earth. What makes this even more remarkable is that the congregation from Herrnhut never exceeded 300 people.
However, it was an unlikely place for a revival. The community were religious refugees from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia (in modern-day Czech). For several generations, the Moravian refugees had been seeking a place of escape from intense persecution by the Catholic Church. Many Moravians had died for their faith, and others had been imprisoned and tortured.
The community … struggled with dissension, bitterness, and fighting over doctrinal differences.
When they came to Saxony, in eastern Germany, they were welcomed warmly by Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf, who had bought the estate of Berthelsdorf, with the intention of making it a place for the preaching of the gospel.
Zinzendorf invited the refugees to build a new village about 3km southwest of Berthelsdorf, which they named Herrnhut (Herrn Hut means “the Lord’s watchful care,” or “the Lord’s protection.”).
From 1722 to 1727, this small community in Herrnhut grew to 220 people, including 87 children, living in 30 homes. But the first five years at Herrnhut were unhappy ones, riven with dissension and bickering almost to the point of destruction. The community, being made up of Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Schwenkfelders, and Moravians, struggled with dissension, bitterness, and fighting over doctrinal differences.
By early 1727, when it appeared that the community might destroy itself, Zinzendorf stepped in. By May, he had drawn up a set of rules that everyone in Herrnhut was required to sign. Then over that summer, he visited people in their homes, and many conferences and prayer meetings were held.
So when they came to church on 13 August, they all came in a spirit of penitence, dissatisfied with themselves. They had stopped judging each other and become convicted of their lack of worth in the sight of God. So they were ready to receive the gift of reconciliation and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.