History of the Moravian Easter Sunrise Service



The Sunrise Service of the Moravians in Winston-Salem is an old service, rich in deep spiritual significance. It originated in Herrnhut, Saxony, a village which had been established in 1722 on the estate of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf by a band of religious refugees, descendants of the Ancient Unitas Fratrum. On Easter Sunday in 1732, before dawn, a group of earnest young men met by special appointment on “God’s Acre” to sing appropriate hymns and to meditate upon the great fact of Christ’s death and resurrection. To these young men, as they stood among the simply marked graves, singing their songs of hope and faith, watching the rising sun drive darkness from the hills and valleys, there came a deeper appreciation of the resurrection truth than they had ever before experienced. With this simple beginning, the holding of a sunrise service on Easter morning became an annual feature in the worship services of the Moravian Church wherever it has established itself.

In Winston-Salem, this service, with little variation from the traditional and liturgical form, has been held since 1772 under the auspices of the Salem Congregation Churches. It is in no sense one of spectacular appeal or pageantry, but is held as a service of true worship, centering attention on the great underlying fact of the Christian Faith, THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST, through which God placed a seal of approval on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and established the truth of the claims of our religion. The service offers each one who attends an opportunity to renew a faith in the Risen Christ, in “the communion of saints,” in “the forgiveness of sins,” and in “the life everlasting.”


The site for the graveyard was selected April 21, 1766; the avenue bordering the graveyard was laid out in the year 1770; and the first body, that of John Birkhead, one of the eight men who first came to the settlement, was interred June 7, 1771.

The Moravians still call their graveyard by that significant and ancient name used by their ancestors – “God’s Acre”. It is a “field” in which the bodies of loved ones are sown in faith as “physical bodies,” in due time to be raised as “spiritual bodies.”

A feature of God’s Acre is the recumbent stones, symbolizing the Moravian belief in the democracy of death and making it impossible to distinguish between the graves of the rich and poor. The burial of members according to “choirs” or station in life (married men, married women, single men, single women, etc.) rather than by families, is another distinguishing feature, carrying out the departmental system which was introduced into the Moravian Church over two hundred years ago by Count Zinzendorf.


Music was from the beginning assigned a prominent place in the Moravian Church, both for its cultural value and as an aid in the expression and development of the religious life. Congregational singing is made a feature of its services, and the Band is used to helpful advantage in the outdoor services, on festival occasions, and in the Moravian funeral service. Particular emphasis has been placed on the development of the Band, which had a small beginning with six members over two hundred years ago. It has grown from that small beginning to more than five hundred members. About two o’clock on Easter morning, all the Moravian musicians who play in the Band assemble in groups to go throughout the city playing chorales, partly to remind all listeners of the Resurrection, and partly to awaken people for the Sunrise Service. The first choral played by each group is “Sleepers, Wake!”


Since 1930 the Easter Sunrise Service of The Moravian Church has been broadcast yearly by WSJS, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Moravian Church expresses appreciation to WSJS for making possible an extensive witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Comments from persons attending the service or listening to it by radio will be appreciated. Send to The Moravian Church, 459 South Church Street, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27101.


While grateful for an honorable past, the Moravian Church is conscious of its present obligation and opportunity, and desires earnestly to fulfill its further mission. Accordingly, the church calls upon every person to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved,” to unite with a church of choice, and to enter into definite Christian witness and service for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. In the Risen Christ is the hope of the world!