“Br. H. Schulz preached today in the schoolhouse at Greter’s about 5 miles from Salem,” the Salem Diary noted on February 13, 1842. The schoolhouse was called Philadelphia, which the Bethania Diary on June 12, 1842, called “New Philadelphia.”
It’s a wonder it developed into anything more than a Sunday school, because Moravian leaders in Europe at the time were still discouraging church expansion in America. The last two churches organized in Wachovia were Hope and Friedland, both in 1780.
But this bunch was different. Most of them were already Moravians; they just lived too far from their own churches to attend regularly. So it made sense that they were ministered to, and that finally on July 26, 1846, the New Philadelphia congregation was officially organized with the members — including Sr. Mary Magdalena Miller — signing the Brotherly Agreement.
Some Wachovia land was selected “between the new and old Shallowford roads” in 1849, but the first “little church in the midst of the forest” was not built until 1851 when it was dedicated that November 1. And there the congregation sat through the Civil War and Reconstruction.
But once New Philadelphia got going it has never stopped. When the Sunday school movement blossomed in the late 19th century, it took its part by helping the beginning of Bethesda Moravian Church. New Philadelphia itself was growing, and on July 24, 1921, dedicated its second sanctuary. An outreach in the 1950’s led to the beginning of Messiah Moravian Church. Again church growth meant a new sanctuary, which was consecrated on September 8, 1963.
Meanwhile, new Sunday school facilities were constructed in the 1930’s, the 1950’s, and twice in the 1980’s. Following on the heels of its 150th anniversary in 1996, New Philadelphia entered the 21st century by breaking ground for a large family life center.
All the building and outreach seems suitable for a “little church in the midst of the forest” that today is the second largest congregation of the Southern Province.