On January 1, 1815, a group of Moravians in what is now New Philadelphia, Ohio, gathered together for the first service as a new congregation. They worshiped together in a second-floor room of the home of Brother and Sister George Blickensderfer, officially dedicating the Sharon Moravian Congregation. These brothers and sisters who gathered together dedicated their lives to the service and the fulfillment of Christ’s word and mission on this earth.
The growing congregation soon moved past the second-floor room of the Blickensderfer home to a small church building that became the frame of the building which now stands on the land given to the Moravians by Brother John G. Cunow of Bethlehem. Brother Cunow gave the Moravians this land to grow the congregation and expand Christ’s message of Christian service in the area.
Two hundred years later, the Sharon Moravian Congregation continues to worship on the same land where they began. Brothers and sisters come together on Sunday mornings to worship and praise the name of our Lord and Savior.
In 2014, members of the Sharon Congregation decided that we needed to commemorate the bicentennial of the church by holding special events. In January, the congregation began its yearlong celebration by gathering together on New Year’s Eve for Communion, a pork and sauerkraut dinner and an evening of games and festivities. At midnight, those gathered together took turns ringing the church bell 200 times to “ring in” the next 200 years of service. The celebration continued throughout January with a Reaffirmation of Faith worship service, a history Sunday and a birthday bash following worship—complete with cake!
The 200 for 200 Campaign
The celebration has not just been about recounting the past 200 years of service, but also encouraging the members to reach out into the community to expand our service circles. Out of this want to be a part of the community, the idea for the 200 for 200 campaign was born.
We split 2015 into four quarters, and Elders selected four local and global ministries. The idea was to have the congregation members and the community pair with each other in order to collect 200 items for these causes. The four causes were: January–March: The Twin City Christian Service Center in Uhrichsville, Ohio; April–June: The Tuscarawas County Humane Society; July–September: Operation Christmas Child Boxes and October–December: The Community Hospice House in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
It was quickly apparent that the congregation members were standing behind these causes as donations started pouring into the church! In just a few weeks, Sharon Moravian Church and its friends were able to collect over 400 items for the Christian Service Center! The donations included everything from pasta and canned beans and meats, to boxes of cereal and paper products. The Twin City Christian Service Center made a special request for boxed baked good mixes, and the congregation answered that call joyfully. At the end of March, the items were packed into 27 boxes and delivered to the grateful coordinators of the service center.
Soon after the boxes were delivered, a dog kennel took its place at the front of the sanctuary at Sharon, and the next drive was well underway. Cans of dog and cat food, kitty litter, toys and bowls all began to fill the kennel as the members answered the call again to serve all of God’s creatures—even those who have four legs and fur. A group of women at Sharon, known as the Monday Quilters, began to put together blankets from donated material in order to keep God’s furry creatures warm and comfortable.
The support even flowed into a worship service! On May 31, during the 10:30 worship service, the congregation gathered with each other in the fellowship hall—but they weren’t alone! Members brought their dogs on leashes, and pictures of their cats, and even one brave turkey, in order to be blessed in a special worship service. The joy and smiles of the congregation members were seen throughout the entire fellowship hall as those gathered laughed, giggled and presented their four legged family members to all those around them and declared their continued support all of God’s creation.
On June 15, the Adventure Group—youth in grades 6–12, who dedicate a week of their summer vacation to ministry causes—delivered all the donations to the Tuscarawas Humane Society and helped this local ministry in its task of finding homes for dogs and cats in the area.
The next 200 for 200 drive began in July as the members brought items to fill Operation Christmas Child boxes. The new donations will be placed under a Christmas tree in the front of the church as we strive to send 100 boxes to a global cause. Pens, pencils, hair ties, socks and of course, toys, will fill the red and green boxes and be prepared to be sent off around the world to bring joy to the faces of people who need some Christmas cheer. In early July, the congregation held a Christmas in July celebration complete with carols and lessons we may only hear once a year at the birth of our Savior.
Never too old
Who said that 200 is too old to continue to do service in the world? Not us! We have continued to find new ways to reach into the community and support those who need God’s love.
The Sharon Moravian Church is excited to see what the next 200 years have in store for us as faithful followers of Christ’s mission in the world. We continue to celebrate the fact that Christ has led us through the past 200 years of life in this world and that we will continue to find new ways to faithfully follow the Lamb. This yearlong celebration will conclude on November 1 during the 10:30 worship service as we celebrate all the past and present saints as well as the ongoing mission of the congregation.
The Rev. Rebecca Sisley is pastor of Sharon Moravian Church in New Philadelphia, Ohio. Photos share some of the community service Sharon members are performing for the 200th anniversary.