A Watchword to guide our year

The New Year’s Eve Watchnight Service — a tradition in many Moravian churches — is an opportunity to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new one. Often times, an important part of that service is the drawing of a Bible verse from the upcoming year’s Daily Texts to serve as “watchword” for the next 12 months.

The Interprovincial Board of Communication (IBOC) assembles a selection of verses from each year’s Daily Texts so congregations can create cards to draw watchwords for their churches and for individual members. I still keep cards from past services — I recently came across one from several years ago in my guitar case that speaks to me to this day.

This year, I decided to go beyond the personal watchword. Since we assemble the verses each year, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a watchword drawn for the IBOC? So in January, I asked my pastor to draw one for our ministry.

Our watchword for 2023 is from the Daily Texts for Wednesday, Sept. 27: “In God’s hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.” I’ve spent some time thinking about how this verse, from Psalm 95, offers inspiration for the work of the IBOC in the coming year.

Our work seeks to share the story of the Moravian Church in America, and helps others to do the same. The watchword for the year highlights the lengths we can go — the world in God’s hands — to spread the word of our church.

That verse also inspires us to take a broader view of the Moravian Unity. While our focus is mainly on the Northern and Southern Provinces here in North America, it’s important for us to keep in mind that our provinces represent just a small part of the Worldwide Unity.

And looking at more of the Psalm around the fourth verse, it refocuses what we’re in this for in the first place: to praise God: “O come, let us sing to the Lord, let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all Gods. In his hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.” (Psalm 94:1-4)

The idea of a watchword to accompany one through their day (or in this case, year) came from the renewal of the Moravian Church in Herrnhut, Germany, in the 1720s. Settlers in the Herrnhut community on Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf’s estate came together for morning and evening devotions each day. On May 3, 1728, during the evening service, the count gave the congregation a “watchword” for the next day to accompany them through the whole day. Thereafter, a member of the congregation went to each of the 32 houses in Herrnhut to bring them the watchword for the day. This tradition grew to the Moravian Daily Texts we know today.

It’s not just on the an individual or congregational level that watchwords are drawn. Each year, the Provincial Board of the European Continental Province chooses watchwords for each Province, Mission Area and Unity Undertaking.

The Northern Province 2023 watchword is from August 20: God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). The Southern Province 2023 watchword is from April 13: “Lord, in your great mercies, you did not make an end of your people or forsake them.” (Nehemiah 9:31).

How do these verses speak to you as a member of either province? Do they offer inspiration and a focus for your faith? The annual watchwords can offer guidance for the year, but remember: the Daily Texts offers a “daily message from God that is new every morning.” As for us, I’ll be working our watchword into our work throughout the year.

I hope you enjoy this issue of the Moravian Magazine. You may notice some minor changes in the look of the issue (we are exploring new typefaces and other design updates), and we have additional changes coming in 2023 that we hope you’ll find make this publication more relevant, useful and informative.


Mike Riess