August 13th, 1727, is a day many of us are familiar with. It is considered the day on which the Renewed Moravian Church was formed and is a cause for celebration! Often, however, at least in my own experience, we do not talk about the ramifications of signing the Brotherly Agreement on that day. Similarly, we do not often discuss what began just two weeks afterwards.
The act of emigrating to Herrnhut in Saxony, where Count Zinzendorf held his estate, perpetrated by a group of exiles from Moravia led by Christian David, was illegal. Having left their feudal and church obligations behind in their homeland could have easily resulted in them being deported as illegal aliens. As we know, though, Zinzendorf did not deport these people and instead, after much prayer and deliberation, made a covenant with them—something we celebrate to this day.
Upon hearing news of the signing of the Brotherly Agreement, officials in the Saxony capital Dresden threatened to dissolve the Herrnhut community on the grounds that the covenant was a new profession of faith in opposition to the state Lutheran Church, and therefore illegal. In response, this newly formed group of Christians, claiming to be a new religious community within the state Church, began what we know as a prayer watch.
Each hour of the day was divided between 24 men and 24 women who agreed to pray continuously during their assigned hour for Herrnhut during this time of crisis. This 24-hour prayer watch proved so beneficial that it was continued for nearly three decades after this initial assembly on August 27th, 1727. It has been revived many times since then and lives on to some degree today.
When I began as the student pastor of Emmaus Moravian Church in the fall of 2019, the congregation’s pastor, Brian Dixon, had begun something similar. A small gathering of congregation members met at a local diner every weekday morning at 6:15 to pray together for their families, their congregation, and the world.
Not surprisingly, when lockdowns began due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this gathering was no longer viable. One Thursday evening back in March 2020, however, I thought to myself, “What prevents us from continuing our prayer watch?” Just a few minutes later, I asked Pastor Brian the same question over the phone, and our resounding answer was: “nothing!”
Praying on Zoom
The following Monday morning at 8:15, a few of us gathered to pray together through Zoom, and have been meeting every weekday since, save for a few holidays. Personally, my weekday mornings would not be the same without praying with my siblings in Christ in this way. The fellowship, enrichment and sharing of thanksgiving and concerns has been beyond meaningful to the members of our prayer watch, not to mention the extra encouragement the pandemic has created a need for that this group provides. But don’t let me speak for everyone in the group; I share their thoughts here:
Ticia and Larry Herald: “We love being a part of Morning Prayer Group. Sharing song, scripture and prayers of concern and thanksgiving with loving, caring, and compassionate friends sets the right tone for our day. And the wonderful feeling of being together, even though we are distant, means a lot.”
Carolyn Carter: “Participating in Daily Morning Prayer gives me strength, peace, hope and fulfillment of stewardship values. As a retired registered nurse at the escalation of a pandemic, I asked God to lead me to a place where I could make a difference in the lives of those suffering and caregiving. Uninspired by the morning news and talk shows, I signed on to our Zoom Daily Morning Prayer Group led by Pastor Dixon. Each weekday, I am inspired by the commitment of our group in fellowship, compassion and love. I sense the power of the Holy Spirit as we uplift close friends, family and the world into God’s loving care. Perhaps what was unexpected is fulfillment of my 2019 stewardship promise to pursue more study of scripture. This occurs as we are nurtured by insightful discussions of the text by our pastor, student pastor and participants. In all this I share a favorite Watchword from years past: ‘For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.’ Psalm 63:7”
Gretchen Moyer: “I attend prayer group to be able to pray as a group and share thoughts and feelings with others. I receive so much from prayer group…it helps ease being isolated and alone, it helps me see others have the same experience. I hope to bring to prayer group what I receive…support, prayer and love.”
Cathie Ingram: “My experience with the prayer group has taken me to a sense of peace and comfort. Life is difficult regardless of who you are, everyone has something that they struggle with. I have been looking for a way to start my day with a sense of peace and comfort for just a few minutes before I pull the covers back and put my feet on the ground. For years, I have tried silent meditation, prayers for help to just get through my day or to give me wisdom and guidance as both good and difficult experiences occur throughout my day. Some days these private exercises brought me comfort but for most days it didn’t take long before I was feeling defeated.
“What has really helped over the past several months is the prayer group. It gives me the camaraderie of a small group of people willing to share their day-to-day blessings along with their struggles, I’m not alone out there. The group talks and thinks not only about the Emmaus Moravian congregation but also people of our community and the world; the difficulties that exist in our lives. There are always spiritual blessings that someone can relate to during our 30-minute sessions to remind us that God is always with us. The Holy Spirit enters our worlds every day and we are all reminded of this connection within our discussions. There is always something in the liturgy prayers and the biblical passages that relates to my daily struggles/blessings of the day or the week.”
A commitment to prayer
“A group of praying folks from the Emmaus congregation has met to keep Morning Watch every weekday morning since the fall of 2019,” explains Pastor Brian. “For a time, we gathered around a table at a local diner and became part of the rise-and-shine community there. Prayers and coffee, hits from the 80s played softly over sacred liturgy and literature, all brought and held together by the comfort and speaking of the Spirit.
“As you have read here-—and as Charlie and I have the privilege of seeing each week—something wonderful happens when we share a commitment to prayer. We glimpse the larger conversation that we are always in the middle of with God. We learn from and are blessed by the language and rhythms of each other’s prayers. Our fellowship in Christ and with one another is enriched and deepened. This should not surprise Moravians, given the history and tradition we celebrate. And Christians over the centuries have kept prayer watches, the daily office, divine hours, etc. in a beautiful and creative variety of ways.
“We encourage exploring an ongoing prayer watch wherever you may be at whatever time of day works for your group, in person and in community (as the situation with COVID safely allows) or via online networking tools. Any number of resources for readings, devotions, liturgy, etc. can provide structure and opportunities for shared leadership: the Moravian Daily Texts and Book of Worship, commonprayer.net, Divine Hours breviaries by Phyllis Tickle, and the Book of Common Prayer are all good places to begin. Start small, stick to it, keep it simple, and you just might be surprised to see where prayer will take you!”
Charlie McDonald attends Moravian Theological Seminary and serves as student pastor at Emmaus Moravian Church in Pennsylvania.