History of God's Acre

On June 16, 1830, the men of Goshen had met to prepare the log church and school for the dedication service which was to be held the next day. When they took a noontime break, one of the men decided to go hunting for a piece of venison for Sunday's meal. It wasn't long until the others heard the report of his gun and he soon called them to see the area where he had downed a large buck. This man had called them to an area that would later become God's Acre. He felt that the gentle hill near the river would provide the best place for the graveyard. (Legend says that the place was selected because the deer was as heavy as a dead man and it took eight men to carry it back to the church. They felt that the location was best since that was as far as eight men could carry a body.)

The early Moravians felt that people should work and worship with those most like themselves. This system of dividing people into groups was called the Choir System. During worship services the congregation sat in choirs, and it was only natural that the congregation would be buried in choirs. The old part of the Moravian Cemetery, known as God's Acre, is divided into eight choirs: one for young boys, young girls, unmarried men, unmarried women, married men, married women, widowers, and widows. When a person died, he or she was buried in the next available plot in his choir. All the tombstones in God's Acre were to be flat. The Moravians believed that everyone is equal in death. The flat stones would not allow anyone to be above another. That system makes it easy for us today to find when there were epidemics or other serious problems in the community. An example of this is the graves of the four Reed brothers who died during a Scarlet Fever epidemic. It is said that it was necessary to build a new spring wagon large enough to carry all four caskets to the cemetery for burial at the same time. These four graves lie among those of many other children who died very near that time, supposedly from the same disease.

In early spring of 1833 the men met at the site and cut logs and then rolled them off the site to establish an area for the cemetery. The plan was to return later and plot the cemetery into choirs for burial, but in June a small child, William Reich died and his grave was the first entered in the graveyard. When the choirs were plotted later, it was realized that the Reich grave was not actually located in the young boys choir.

Since the 1830's, Hope Moravians gather in God's Acre, weather permitting, for the Easter Sunrise Service. This custom originated in Herrnhut, Germany, in 1732 when young men greeted dawn in a burial place, as disciples did in Matthew 28.