Glossary of Moravian Terms

If you are new to researching in the records of Moravians, you may frequently encounter terms you don’t recognize or that are used differently in the Moravian context. Some of the terms are terms that may seem clear in German, but we have translated them for you because they appear so frequently. We have compiled some of them below to help guide you as you search our collections. Many of these explanations have been adapted from the glossary provided by the Bethlehem Digital History project:


  • Brother (Bruder – German) – Male communicant member of the Moravian Church
  • Brudergemeine – German; Unity of the Brethren; refers to the worldwide Moravian Church, sometimes called “the Unity”
  • Choir – Segment of the congregation constituted of all the individuals of similar age groups or sharing the same sex or marital status. A congregation could include Choirs of children, little boys, little girls, older boys, older girls, single brethren, single sisters, married people, widowers, and widows
  • Choir Helper – Person in a Choir to whom the spiritual life of the Choir is entrusted
  • Diener – Servant in German; in the eighteenth century, one who held a special office or carried out a specified responsibility with the Moravian community; after the eighteenth century, refers to one who serves the Lovefeast meal
  • Gemeine – Community in German; in the eighteenth century, it could refer to a congregation, a communal settlement, the worldwide Moravian organization, and/or the spiritual fellowship of Moravian brothers and sisters
  • Helper (Helfer/in or Pfleger/in – German) – A church official, usually responsible for the spiritual life of the congregation or one of its Choirs, often the ordained pastor or one of his assistants. When the Helpers meet as a deliberative body, it is termed the Helfer Conferenz, and the head pastor presided as primus inter pares
  • Nitschmann, Anna (1715-1760) – Born in Kunewald in Moravia, the former shepherdess became an influential leader in the Moravian Church. At the age of 15, she was made the Eldress of all the women in Herrnhut. She married Count Zinzendorf in 1757.
  • Sister (Schwester – German) – Female communicant member of the Moravian Church
  • Vorsteher – German, overseer or supervisor
  • Zinzendorf, Nicholas Ludwig von (1700-1760) – German Lutheran nobleman. Zinzendorf received refugee members of the Bohemian Brethren in 1722, allowed them to build a settlement on his land, reorganized them into a society for world mission and spiritual renewal, and eventually became a bishop of the Renewed Moravian Church. Count Zinzendorf resided in Pennsylvania from late 1741 until early 1743. On December 24, 1741, he gave the new Moravian settlement of Bethlehem its name.


  • Berthelsdorf – Town in Germany and the home village of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf located three miles from Herrnhut.
  • Bethabara – The first Moravian settlement in North Carolina, established in 1763, now a part of Winston-Salem
  • Bethanien or Bethania – The second oldest Moravian settlement in North Carolina, established in 1759
  • Gemeinhaus – Community or congregation house in German; in a Moravian communal settlement, the Gemeinhaus usually included a large room for gathering and worship (the Saal), rooms for administrative use, living quarter for church officials, rooms for visitors, and space for educational use
  • God’s Acre – Term based on St. Paul’s figure of speech in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 and often used throughout Germany for a graveyard
  • Herrnhut – Town in Upper Lusatia region of Saxony in southeastern Germany. In 1772 Count Zinzendorf allowed Moravian refugees to settle at Herrnhut and because the first of a series of settlement congregations. As the Moravian Church took on a denominational structure, Herrnhut became the headquarters.
  • Lititz – Town in Pennsylvania (Lancaster County) that served as a center for Moravian itinerant preachers
  • Nazareth – Originally purchased by George Whitefield and later sold to the Moravians, this 5,000 acre tract was located ten miles north of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • Saal – Place in which the congregation or one of its Choirs met for worship
  • Wachau/Wachovia – Named for one of Count Zinzendorf’s estates, this large tract of land was purchased by the Moravians from John Carteret, Earl of Granville, in 1753; the settlements of Bethabara and Bethania were built on this land


  • Daily Texts – A manual meant to assist congregations or individual member in their daily devotions. The Moravian Church has published it annually since 1731. In the earliest years its format varied considerably. From 1760 on, the watchwords (Losungen) and the doctrinal texts (Lehrtexte) have been distinguished by the way in which they were selected. Since 1788, the watchword has been drawn by lot from the Old Testament. The Doctrinal Text is not drawn by lot but rather is selected from the New Testament to underscore or expand the thought contained in the watchword.
  • Diaconie – From the Greek word “diakoni” meaning service and refers to the financial organization of the church as a whole or of a congregation or Choir, with special reference to any business carried on in that name
  • Lebenslauf – German word used for Memoir; an (auto)biographical account of the life of a member of the Congregation, which originally gave special attention to spiritual struggle and progress. In the case of autobiographical Memoirs, the Choir Helper was responsible for describing the final illness and deathbed scene.
  • Lovefeast – A service instituted by the Moravian Church in 1727 that has come to represent the New Testament agape and serves both as a social gathering and as a happy religious service. A Lovefeast could be observed by groups within the church fellowship or by Choirs or be the entire congregation. The Lovefeast is known for including Lovefeast buns and coffee.
  • Ode – A series of appropriate hymn stanza selected and arranged for a Singstunde, Lovefeast, or other special service
  • Synod – Highest legislative body in the Moravian Church, composed of clergy and lay delegates from the congregations
  • Unitas Fratrum – Latin, The Unity of the Brethren, the official name of the Moravian Church