York Town Square

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Moravian Christmases past, present and to come: Beautiful First Moravian Church in York, Part 12

This stained glass window at York, Pa.’s, First Moravian Church, one of 31 designed by noted York County artist J. Horace Rudy, oversees the sanctuary at Christmas time. This is another in a series on those windows. Also of interest: All Rudy stained-glass window posts from the start and York native Steve Zirnkilton’s ‘Law & Order’ voice known to the world and York County enthusiasts could find historical event, site to visit every day.

Terrence Downs, who has provided yorktownsquare.com readers with so much insight into First Moravian Church’s magnificent windows, has provided a special Christmas installment… .

Moravian congregation worships at Christmas.

“Thy glad beams, Thou Morning Star – cheer the nations near and far. Thee we own, Lord alone – Man’s great Saviour, God’s dear Son.” Lyrics originated by Johann Scheffler in 1657, rewritten by and with tune by Rev. F. F. Hagen in 1836.

As one hears this special hymn – a staple of Moravian Churches worldwide, it rekindles memories of youth, of family, and the most venerable of Moravian Celebrations: the Candlelight Service and Lovefeast held each Christmas Eve. Credit of this hymn is owed to former York Pastor Francis Florentine Hagen – serving from 1854 through 1861, the hymn tune written in 1837.
Hagen’s tune interfaced with Johann Scheffler’s words written 180 years prior help to climax Joseph Mohr’s “Silent Night” within many Moravian Churches, which York First is no exception! The basis of the service emanates from Colonial times when Moravian settlers advanced westward to York from Lancaster and Bethlehem. York Church held candlelight services in the mid-1700’s with the unique Moravian Lovefeast: a simple meal of bun & beverage has provided the reminder of the “Agape Meal” which binds us all as Brethren when we partake. The quintessential occasion holds much significance in York, being forerunner to local Christmas Eve Vigils held from the time of York First Church being established in 1752.
The mood was changed in 1910 with the renovation of the facility, and the Sanctuary holds a stirring emotion within itself for those attending, participating to the lilting Moravian tunes and traditional carols sung during the distribution of Lovefeast – served by Dieners in Moravian attire. This “tradition” holds importance to the announcement of the Messiah, yet in this most intimate setting on North Duke Street heralds a warm, special feel by the format of the Service. In this setting, the stately arched Rudy windows are diffused by warm candle light from beeswax tapers, and the glow of the Promise of our risen Christ over the altar. This all set within the digs of bucolic tranquility – infused with harmonic strains of organ and voice make for Yuletide memories.
Christmas Eve Vigils were, from the year ending World War II conducted as two identical services to meet the demand of nearly 600 participants, and for a time was broadcast over radio station WORK, which many Senior Yorkers recall. Both the Dieners and choirs, along with the Pastor would perform these 2 services. Today a singular Vigil Worship program and special Putz showing time allows those who yearn for the special welcome for the Savior, warming the hearts of young and many reflective of memorable Moravian Christmases past and to come.
Also of interest:
Window in memorial to Beauchamp H. Smith: Beautiful First Moravian Church in York, Part 10.
Window in memorial to S. Morgan Smith, Part 5.
First Moravian’s website with service times and opportunities for viewing the Putz.
– The York Daily Record/Sunday News profiles First Moravian’s pastor.
All York Town Square posts from the start. (Key word search by using “find” on browser.) Or search Google. For example: search yorktownsquare first moravian.
Previous posts on First Moravian or its historic windows.