Moravian Open Door
Beginning in 1968, the Coffee Pot drop-in shelter at First Moravian Church at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 30th Street served as many as 200 of New York City’s homeless citizens each day. Each evening, clients were transported to temporary overnight shelters. There was a pressing need for more permanent housing for these homeless individuals. In 1984, a small committee of Moravians with a vision (and little else), through the support of the Eastern District of the Moravian Church, incorporated Moravian Open Door. Through countless hours of volunteer work, they obtained an abandoned NY State-owned building and funding (from the state, city, church, and private donations) to completely rehabilitate it.
Moravian Open Door dedicated its newly renovated facility, Moravianhouse, at 347 East 18th St. in Manhattan on November 7, 1987. Among the political leaders present was David Dinkins, the Manhattan Borough President who would later serve as Mayor of New York (1990-93). Mario Cuomo, then Governor of the State of New York, had sent a citation commending the Moravian Church’s Eastern District for its commitment to provide “permanent housing for 42 elderly, homeless people” in the building “funded with a grant from the State Homeless Housing and Assistance Program and with contributions from member churches and individuals.” Most of the first residents of Moravian Open Door had been clients at the Coffee Pot.
Until 1995, Moravian Open Door received financial assistance from New York City’s Department of Social Services, Human Resources Administration in addition to donations from Moravian Churches, their members, and other Moravian entities. By a decision of the Board of Directors, government funding was terminated, and today Moravian Open Door depends solely on private donations by individuals, foundations, and Moravian Church support. Its mission is to provide transitional housing and supportive services to help homeless individuals help themselves, with the goal of each client moving to affordable housing and a fully independent life.
The booklet Moravians in the City: Offering Hope for 25 years. Moravian Open Door 1987-2012 by Rev. Dr. David A. Schattschneider gives a much fuller version of the history of Moravian Open Door and can be downloaded here.
The Moravian Church
The Moravian Church (officially, the Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of the Brethren) is one of the oldest Protestant churches in the world, with its origins in Bohemia and Moravia. It was organized in 1457 by the followers of the Czech reformer John Hus, who was tried for heresy at the Council of Constance and burned at the stake in 1415. Using a hymnal and catechism of its own, the church promoted the Scriptures and provided the people of Bohemia and Moravia with the Bible in their own language. The 16th and 17th centuries saw years of bitter persecution and war when the church was essentially driven underground. The prime leader of the Unitas Fratrum in those trying years was Bishop John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), who became world-renowned for his progressive views of education.
The eighteenth century saw the renewal of the Moravian Church through the patronage of Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a pietist nobleman in Saxony, Germany. Moravians fleeing persecution in Bohemia and Moravia found refuge on Zinzendorf’s estate in 1722 and built the community of Herrnhut. There they were encouraged to take the gospel to far places to those who had not heard the good news. In 1732, the first missionaries were sent to the West Indies to minister to the slaves, and a few years after that, Moravians came to colonial America to establish communities and send missionaries to Native Americans. By the late 18th century, there were several established settlements in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.
The church established a number of educational institutions in America: Salem Academy and College, Moravian College and Theological Seminary, and preparatory schools in Lititz (Linden Hall) and Bethlehem (Moravian Academy). The Moravians brought with them a rich tradition of music, making instruments, and composing and performing vocal and instrumental music. The Moravian Music Foundation preserves and promotes this heritage that continues today.
Always ecumenically minded, the Moravians were among the first members of the National and World Council of Churches. Today there are more than one million members of the Moravian Church in the world. Reflecting the church’s mission history, most members live in eastern Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, and South Africa. In the US, there are Moravian Churches in NY, PA, NJ, MD, NC, GA, FL, IL, OH, IN, WI, MI, MN, ND, CA, DC, VA, AK, and also in Canada.
The motto of the Moravian Church is
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.