St. Philips’s Moravian Church celebrated its 193rd birthday on Sunday, May 3, at its current house of worship on Bon Air Avenue. On Sunday, congregants and visitors were served Moravian tea and bread, and listen to jazz in honor of the church’s historic beginning as a house of worship for enslaved Africans.
Historians have documented that St. Philips was the focal point for enslaved Africans in early Salem. It is the oldest black Moravian congregation and oldest surviving African-American Church in North Carolina. Archaeologists have traced the church’s history to 1822 when “Thirty Negroes gathered to lay up the logs for the church for Negroes,” according to Winston-Salem: A History written by Frank Tursi.
Enslaved blacks learned to read and write at the the structure in Old Salem. The church was known as the “Negro congregation” or the Colored Salem Moravian Church before being renamed St. Philips. There are some historical artifacts that suggested it was named for Philip the Evangelist, who baptized an Ethiopian. In 1950, the building was relocated to in Happy Hills before settling in to its current location on Bon Air Avenue.
In 1989, a group of representatives from the Moravian Church, St. Philip’s and Old Salem Inc. fought to restore the original St. Philips’ site, They received funding from private and government sources to repair the old structure, which had deteriorated over the years, and eventually had the building added to the National Register of Historic Places.