Introduction to the Moravian Church
The Moravian Church was established in Bohemia in 1457 and known as Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren. In 1467 they obtained consecration by the Waldensian Bishop Stephen, withdrew from the Church of Rome and established their own Episcopal Orders, becoming the first independent Protestant Church.
The Unitas Fratrum continued to expand until the mid-1600s when it was believed that the church had been wiped out following the Counter Reformation and Thirty Years War. However, a small number remained in the remote villages of Moravia. In 1722 refugees from Moravia settled on Count Zinzendorf's land in Saxony, near the present day border with Poland. The settlement was named Herrnhut and from here members of the congregation were sent as far afield as the West Indies and North America.
During the 1730s members of the Moravian Church passed through England on their way to spread the word across the globe. They were welcomed by some evangelical Church of England clergy, including John Wesley. The Moravian preacher, Peter Boehler became Wesley's mentor. It is said that Wesley's experience at a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London spurred him on and led to the establishment of the Methodist Church.
In 1742 the Aldersgate Street Society moved to Fetter Lane and established the first recognised Moravian Congregation. From there the Church spread across the country, including at Risely and Pertenhall in Bedfordshire.
Francis Oakley, or Okely, a founder of the Moravian Church in Bedford, c.1760s [Z50/141/1]
Work in Bedford commenced in 1738 under the London Congregation until they were officially recognised as a separate unit in 1745. Jacob Rogers was the first labourer (minister) and services were carried out in a converted barn behind the home of Francis Okely. On 14 June 1751 the foundation stone for the first church on a site in St Peter’s Street was laid and extensive building was to happen over the coming years.
In 1893 the St Peter’s Street congregation undertook a mission in the Queens Park area of Bedford. The hall, located on Howard Avenue, was opened for worship in 1895 and the congregation formed two years later.
The Moravian Church Archives are currently held at Moravian Church House, Muswell Hill, London.
Bedfordshire Moravian records can be found by searching our online catalogue, and include references MO, X302, Z245, Z521 and Z724.