The First Moravian Church of Dover is a Protestant congregation that was established in 1842 at 319 N. Walnut Street. Currently we offer two Sunday morning services to meet the needs of our parishioners. Additional church and community activities are planned throughout the year to enhance the worship experience. These activities are designed to fit into our liturgical year which begins with Advent and continues through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy (or Passion) Week, Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Trinity.
Our denomination also celebrates the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. Our Communion is open to all who have confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We have Baptism services for both infants and adults. In addition, we observe the rites of Confirmation, Marriage, and Ordination. All of the above are a means of affirming the Christian faith and of dedicating oneself to a way of life consistent with that faith.
Moravians also celebrate a Lovefeast Service. In this time of fellowship, the congregation shares a simple meal of a sweet bun or cookie and beverage. This service is usually held in the observance of a special event. Since this is not a sacrament, everyone may participate.
With the whole of Christendom, we share faith in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We believe and confess that God has revealed himself once and for all in his Son, Jesus Christ; that our Lord has redeemed us with the whole of humanity by His death and resurrection; and that there is no salvation apart from Him. We believe that He is present with us in the Word and the Sacrament; that He directs and unites us through His Spirit and thus forms us into a church.” – From “The Ground of the Unity”, which outlines the denomination’s doctrines
Count Zinzendorf encouraged followers to practice the beliefs of the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren) established in 1457. According to Gregory the Patriarch, who is considered the founder of Unitas Fratrum, what made a Christian was neither doctrine nor what he or she believed, but that a person lived his life according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. He described Moravians as people who have decided, once and for all, to be guided only by the gospel and example of Jesus Christ and his holy apostles in gentleness, humility, patience, and love for their enemies.
Following the teachings of Bishop John Amos Comenius, Moravians have always been dedicated to education. They were among the first in America to take the education of women seriously. A seminary for girls was begun in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1742.
Moravians believe in the power of prayer, that faith is expressed through worship, and that all Christians have an obligation to serve the world’s needs. We believe in the importance of worship through music and missions. Our hymns express our beliefs and we sing the theology of the Bible. It is often said that if you want to know what the Moravians believe, look to our hymnal.
Reformer, Jan Hus, (1369-1415) took the first steps that led to the formation of the Moravian Church. A Professor of Philosophy at the University of Prague, Hus led a protest movement against many practices of the Roman Catholic clergy, was accused of heresy, and burned at the stake. Others took up his cause.
One of those persons was Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf. A Pietist, he gave refuge to persecuted Hussites from Moravia and Bohemia. In 1720, they built the village of Herrnhut which became the administrative center for the Moravian church. Their goals were to promote Christianity and work in the mission field.
As the years progressed, the people began to experience unrest which eventually led to who should be named the Chief Elder, or head of the church. The Chief Elder and the Chief Eldress were primarily responsible for the spiritual welfare of the church which by now had grown from the little community in Germany to an international fellowship. This fellowship stretched from Greenland to South America.
The story is told that, during a meeting in London, the leaders of the church were trying to elect a new Chief Elder. Leonard Dober, one of the first missionaries to the slaves in the Caribbean, had been serving in this post for several years with the help of Anna Nitchmann, the Chief Eldress. He was tired, and the job was wearing him out. People were also starting to complain about how he was doing things, so he officially asked to lay down his office.
In those days, Moravians made important decisions by using a lot system. The purpose of the lot was to let Jesus have a direct voice in decisions of the church. The Elders would discuss a problem, propose a solution, pray for divine guidance, and finally pull a slip of paper from a box. If it said “yes”, they would go forward with the decision. If it said “no”, they tried to find another solution. Sometimes the lot said “wait”. This meant they should try again at another time.
On September 16, 1741, The Elders asked the Lord if Leonard Dober could step down from his post. The answer was “yes”. Many names were submitted to be his replacement, but each person was rejected by the lot. They grew worried, so they took time to pray and read the Bible. The verses that were read all talked about Jesus’ role as the Great Shepherd and Lord of the Church. Finally, the small group of Elders asked, “Does this signify that the Saviour would himself undertake the office?” To their surprise, the lot agreed and in good Moravian fashion, they sang a hymn, “We kiss thee with great tenderness, you Elder of the congregation”. Jesus Christ had officially accepted the office of Chief Elder.
The Elders didn’t announce the decision until November 13th of that year. This is the date on which we celebrate the decision to make Jesus the Chief Elder of the church. It became customary to leave a chair empty at Elders’ meetings. This was to remind them that Jesus was there in Spirit.
In 1735, Moravians started to migrate to America. Their goal was to preach the Gospel to the Indians. They first settled in Georgia then slowly made their way north to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania would later become the center of our Northern Province.
David Zeisberger was a key figure in this endeavor. Born in Moravia in 1721, Brother Zeisberger joined the Church of the Unity of the Brethren (the Moravian Church). He came to America to be a missionary to the Lenape or Delaware Indian tribes. He and the other missionaries encountered much strife in Pennsylvania, so they moved west into Ohio. In 1772, Zeisberger established the first Ohio settlement on land gifted to him by the Delaware Indians. It became known as Schoenbrunn. Here the first school and meetinghouse (church) in Ohio were built.
Zeisberger served as an apostle to the Indians in the area. He introduced them to the Bible, hymns, and general educational materials. This continued until the Revolutionary War began. The war brought with it much distrust which caused many of the Native Americans to join the British. As suspicions grew, the Christian Indians moved south to join the settlement at Gnadenhutten. It was here, in 1782, that 100 of the Indian converts were massacred by the American Militia because it was believed that they were British sympathizers. Years later, in 1798, Zeisberger tried to establish new villages in the area. It proved to be impossible to maintain exclusive communities, so the work eventually ceased. In 1808, after 62 years in missionary service, Zeisberger passed away. He was buried in Goshen, Ohio, which was the site of his last residence.
By 1840, a number of Pennsylvania Moravian families had settled in the area. It was at this time that the Rev. Herman Tietze began riding to Canal Dover from Gnadenhutten to hold monthly services for many Moravian families living here. These services, conducted both in German and English, were held either in the home of John Kreiter or in St. John’s Lutheran Church. Later Brother Tietze shared his duties here with the Rev. Sylvester Wolle. This continued until the Rev. Lewis Kampmann took over the full-time position, earning one hundred dollars per year plus board and washing. Under his guidance, a confirmation service was held November 12, 1842. At this time, the people decided to seek formal formation as a congregation. This was granted on December 27, 1842. This became our official organizational date even though services, including communion, had been held for three years prior to this.
Our charter members were John and Maria Kreiter, Jacob and Louisa Blickensderfer, Christian and Maria Ellenberger, Francis and Elizabeth Huebner, William and Anna Miksch, George and Maria Rickert, Israel and Maria Ricksecker, George and Mathilda Wassman, Sarah Walton, and Levi Enck. Many of their descendants still attend the church today.
In 1843, it was decided that a church and attached parsonage would be erected. The cornerstone was laid August 17, 1848. A copper box placed inside that contained a history of the origin of the congregation, a Bible, hymnbooks, a catechism, and copies of church and local newspapers. Mention was made in the church diary of the choir singing several chorales at this service. On May 12, 1844, the anniversary of the signing of the Brotherly Agreement in Herrnhut, Germany, the new church building was dedicated as the first church of the United Brethren at Canal Dover, Ohio. This became the date that our congregation would celebrate its anniversary, even though the official organizational date was in December 1842. There were twenty-five communicant members at this time.
On December 31, 1843, a set of resolutions was adopted, which provided for voting privileges for the male communicant members, established a fund for the purchase of a communion set, required married brethren to contribute one pound of candles monthly, and agreed that the minister should receive any remaining Lovefeast cakes. It also provided for church seats, which were fastened to the floor, and two stoves.
In 1847, a Sunday School was organized with seventeen scholars and four teachers. The Rev. Lewis Kampmann served as the superintendent. Time was devoted to one half hour of German reading, one half hour of singing, and one-half hour of religious instruction. By the end of that year, there were a total of ninety-one members. Since that time, Sunday School has continued to be an important part of our worship experience. Many devoted teachers and superintendents, as well as officers and musicians, have given generously of time and talent to this department of the church.
By 1852, the Minister’s Aid Society was established with an initial contribution of $50 from Miss Caroline Bleck. Its purpose was to raise funds to support a minister for the congregation. Membership dues were $1.00 a year. Over the years its funds have grown to over $82,000. The Society’s trustees meet once a year to determine how much will be contributed to the church for various needs.
Among the ideas embraced by the early Moravians was the Choir System. This practice, prevalent in the German speaking congregations, divided the membership into groups. These groups were married men and widowers; single men and boys; married women and widows; single women and girls. This system was applied to many areas of life including seating at church and burial in the cemetery. In 1859, a decision was made to no longer use the Choir System for seating. Families were finally able to sit together.
As part of the Choir System, the women were also required to wear Haubes which were small lace head coverings. These head coverings had a ribbon attached that indicated their status in the church: red for young girls; pink for single confirmed girls; blue for married women; white for widows. Today the Haubes are only used for special occasions such as Lovefeasts or our Christmas Eve Candle Light Service.
A graveyard related to the congregation from 1848 until 1869 when it was sold to the city and became part of the Fourth Street Cemetery. While the section is still identifiable, the characteristic flat grave markers have long been covered by grass. The graves were in the traditional four sections: married men and widowers, married women and widows, single men and boys, and single women and girls. Several of the charter members were interred there. Proceeds from the sale of the cemetery went to the Minister’s Aid Society.
Buildings housing the church, as well as new ways to worship, have never stopped growing and changing. In 1898, monthly missionary prayer meetings with an average attendance of thirty and a Sunday School with attendance of seventy-five were reported. At this time, the attached six-room parsonage was razed, a new eight-room one built, and the church building was moved twenty feet to the east. The pastor reported in 1904 that, after six and a half years, the parsonage was still without bathroom fixtures. In 1908, the bathroom was FINALLY completed! By this time, the membership had grown to 225.
With the completion of the parsonage’s bathroom, the joint board turned its attention to the church building. Noticing that changes were needed, they sent out ballots in 1908 to determine if the congregation was in a favor of a new building. Having received many favorable responses, they decided to take the question to the next church council meeting. On May 5, 1909, it was unanimously decided to build a new church. The plan called for the current building, which would be the new Sunday School wing, to be moved to the rear of the lot. The new building would then be built on the site of the old structure. The church was opened for worship on June 12, 1910.
Attention was then turned to the Sunday School area. A tier of classrooms was added as was a chapel area. New chairs and furnishings also purchased. This work was completed in 1912.
Diary entries have proven to be a great source of information. It was written, that in 1914, the church was debt free. This year also saw the formal dedication of the building. Later, in 1916, the entries started listing the name of the city as Dover rather than Canal Dover.
1918 was a difficult year for our congregation. With WWI raging, eight young men were in military service and an influenza epidemic gripped the nation. Because of the epidemic, a decision was made to close the church from October to mid-December. Diary entries indicated that this was a wise decision, as no deaths were reported from within the church family. Comparing this to the experiences of other congregations in the Northern Province, Dover was blessed.
1922 saw the beginning of a Sunday School in a former Welsh Congregational Church on the south side of the city. Known as Second Moravian Sunday School, it was taught by Mrs. John Gray and served those on the south side of the river, including the children from the Children’s Home located nearby on Factory Street (Tuscarawas Avenue). By 1923 average attendance had grown to sixty-five. At this time the property was purchased from the Welsh Congregational Union for $500. In 1925, Rev. Joseph E. Weinland started occasionally preaching services there. By this time the Sunday School enrollment had reached 135.
While serving our congregation, Brother Weinland pursued another of his interests. With the cooperation of the Ohio Historical Society and the Tuscarawas County Historical Society, he succeeded in locating the site of the original Indian Mission Village at Schoenbrunn. Dr. Max Shaweker, a Pathologist and member of the congregation, assisted in the forensic identification of the bodies found in the burial ground. The village was again established as a location of importance in the area. In 1927, the school house was reconstructed and opened to the public. The following year saw the meetinghouse rebuilt and dedicated by Bishop John Taylor Hamilton as a Moravian place of worship.
In 1926, Sunday School enrollment had reached 286. The facility was enlarged by adding rooms on the north and east sides of the old building. With the exception of the stained-glass windows, the last identifiable signs of the first church building had disappeared. However, in 1991, when the building was demolished, a few of the old features could still be seen. These included some windows, an original beam, and some siding. One of the small stained-glass windows was saved and incorporated into one of the windows in the new lobby.
A congregational newsletter appeared for the first time in 1937. The same year a Sunday School orchestra, directed by Eugene Lightell, was formed. They would play as people arrived to attend the Sunday School’s opening program. Boy Scout Troop 99 was organized in 1943. It produced many Eagle Scouts and future congregational leaders during the 45 years it was active. In 1944, at the beginning of the pastorate of Rev. Roy H. Grams, regular weekly bulletins were put into use.
At the end of WWII, musical vespers were introduced, Vacation Bible School was reintroduced, and plans were started for some needed building renovations. After reorientation of the sanctuary and major renovations throughout the building, dedication of the renewed facility was held in 1950. The total cost of the project was $120,000. Much of the work was done by members, with Calvin Brewer as head carpenter, Frank “Frankie” Weible, as electrician, and Homer Brewer as head plumber. It may be noted here that “Frankie” Weible was known to be rather eccentric, as was his wiring. During the 1991 renovation of the sanctuary, some of his wiring baffled the electricians who worked on it, and they were told that it was some of “Frankie’s” handiwork.
1951 will long be remembered as the year of the Warther carving and hosting the Provincial Synod. Easter Sunday saw a large carving of the Moravian Church seal in the front of the sanctuary. It was carved by local Master Carver, Ernest “Mooney” Warther, at a cost of $21.45. The red and white oak seal has provided a beautiful focal point for worship and is a cherished part of the congregational identity. During the 1991 renovations, it was removed to the Warther Museum where it was restored by Mooney’s son Dave, and returned to grace at the front of the sanctuary once again.
Moravian Seal Carving
Rev. Roy Grams, Ernest “Mooney” Warther, and James Phillips
The twenty-seventh Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church was held in Dover from August 28 through September 4, 1951. Meetings were held in the sanctuary and meals were served in the social hall. Hosting such a huge gathering challenged the local Moravian churches to provide for the housing and feeding of the ninety delegates in attendance.
A significant change in the life of our congregation came in 1985 when it became evident that South Moravian Church needed help. From July 1, 1985, until 1988, the Dover First pastor served as the minister in charge of the South congregation with assistance from several local Moravian pastors. Finally, in 1988, it was evident that continuation was not possible, and after a long and difficult process, the two Dover Moravian congregations merged. The South Church property reverted to Dover First and, according to the deed, was sold to another young congregation and remains a church to this day. The proceeds of that sale were added to the building fund.
Between the 1950s and 1990s, the church continued to grow. This growth could be seen in the additional renovations that took place, the addition of a parking lot, and the purchase of a parsonage on Grant Street in the Reeves Heights area of Dover. In 1990 another building project was undertaken. This renovation provided new classrooms, additional office space, and a new fellowship hall. The additions were dedicated in 1992.
On January 1, 1992, celebration of the 150th anniversary of the congregation began with the reading of the Old Testament text from the day of our organization. Bishop Warren A. Sautebin joined us and led the congregation in a January Week of Prayer. The focus of this event was abiding with God. The Rev. Karl Bregenzer was the keynote speaker at a congregational dinner. Following the dinner, each family was given a copy of the updated Church History.
Our facilities continued to expand. In 1996, the parsonage on Grant Street was sold and a new one purchased on Pinedale Street in the north end of Dover. On September 26, 2002, three properties across from the church on Walnut Street and Reporter Court (Strawberry Alley) were donated to the church by Linda McGonigal Earley. These three houses were eventually razed to provide for an additional parking lot. During the years between 2003 and 2005, the brick exterior of the church underwent a major restoration. Recently, the property across the street from the church was purchased from Linda McGonigal Earley. The building was renovated and leased in 2016 to a local beautician for use as a beauty salon.
Acknowledgement – From the 175th Anniversary Documentation with thanks to Miss Regina Lenz, The Rev. Dr. Albert H. Frank, Ms. Lee Elliott, Mrs. Karen Baker.