Salem Congregation – A Brief History

Belo Dog 002Salem was planned as the administrative center of Wachovia, the 100,000 acres of land in North Carolina the Moravian Church purchased in 1753. Count Zinzendorf selected the name, Salem, Shalom – meaning Peace. The site was chosen on February 14, 1765. The Gemein Haus, the congregation meeting house, was consecrated on the day that Salem Church, now called Home Moravian Church, was organized as a congregation, on November 13, 1771.

A part of the plan was that Salem would be a Moravian “settlement congregation,” where the residents of the community were expected to be members in good standing of the church as well. There was no civil government of mayor and board of aldermen, as we are accustomed to today. Rather, the church attended to all the affairs of the town. Salem’s Congregation Council first met on April 12, 1772, and its order of business was to elect the Board of Supervisors, which organized on April 13, 1772. The Elders Conference shepherded the spiritual or inward affairs of the community, and the Board of Trustees tended to the material and financial matters or outward affairs. All major decisions, from grading of streets to arranging a marriage, were the concern of the Salem Congregation boards. The Elders Conference and the Board of Trustees worked in close harmony together. This mutual cooperation is the pattern today of their successor organizations, the Central Board of Elders and Central Board of Trustees of Salem Congregation.

Because Salem Congregation was not yet incorporated, it could not hold title to the land. Rather, title was held in trust by a church official known as the “Proprietor.” In 1856 the settlement congregation concept came to an end. With the change in governance of the town, a reorganization of the church boards was called for. In 1874, Salem Congregation was incorporated as “Congregation of United Brethren of Salem and Its Vicinity” and could hold title to its property.

The rise of Sunday schools and the work of Salem Congregation members led to the formation of a number of other Moravian churches. As the Sunday schools achieved independent church status within the Southern Province, it became necessary to reorganize the umbrella organization of Salem Congregation. The state charter of incorporation was amended in 1909 and the Rules and Regulations were revised. The Boards of Elders and Trustees were renamed the Central Board of Elders and Central Board of Trustees. Member churches of Salem Congregation now had their own organizations.

With the addition of more churches as members of Salem Congregation and the consequent increase of individual members, the concept of a congregation council grew unwieldy. Yet another substantive organizational change was called for, the latest one to date. Both the Charter and Rules and Regulations were amended in 1981. The cumbersome name of “Congregation of United Brethren of Salem and Its Vicinity” now gave way to simply “Salem Congregation.” Individual members were now represented through the Central Elders and Central Trustees elected at congregation councils of the member churches.

Today, Salem Congregation consists of 13 member Moravian churches: Ardmore, Bethesda, Calvary, Christ, Fairview, Fries Memorial, Home, Konnoak Hills, Messiah, Immanuel New Eden, Pine Chapel, St. Philips and Trinity. It serves a vital role in the ministry of the Moravian Church through its union services, including the Watchnight Service, Great Sabbath Service of Music, Easter Sunrise Service, and Anniversary Lovefeast. It has stewardship of the properties entrusted to it. Most of the old Salem Town Lot has been sold, but Salem Congregation still holds title to Salem Square, the Brothers House, old and new Boys Schools, the Community Store, old St. Phillips Church, the Archives House, and “God’s Acre” Salem Moravian Graveyard. In addition it holds title in trust to the land on which its member churches are located, including the old Salem church, now known for well more than a century as Home Moravian Church.

Excerpts from history written by Richard W. Starbuck