While Synod is a time for legislating and governing, it is also a unique opportunity to take a look into the future of the Province. Synods harness the gathered creativity, experience, faith and ideas of delegates who only come together once every four years to discern a vision for the future.
At the Southern Province Synod this spring, delegates split their time between plenary sessions—that is, doing the business of synod, passing resolutions, discussing issues, electing board members, etc.—and working in teams called “Pilgrimage Groups.” This group work resulted in a broad vision for the future for the Southern Province.
As part of its restructuring process in 2009, the Southern Province introduced eight Characteristics for a Healthy Congregation. These include cooperation, growth, leadership, ministry, mission, relationship with Christ (both personally and corporately), stewardship and worship.
The 24 Pilgrimage Groups at Synod were organized around these eight characteristics, with three teams focused on each. Over the course of Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Synod, the groups considered where and how the Chief Elder has been and is leading us, using the “lens” of the assigned characteristic. In four different sessions, the groups looked at where the church has been, where it is now, where God is calling the church, and what we agree on for our future.
Following each one of these discerning sessions, the three groups assigned to each characteristic came together in a “Characteristic Group” to share insights and agree on two-to-three proposals for the entire Synod related to the assigned characteristic.
While synods have been using discernment models since 1998, this particular model was designed to help ensure every delegate had an opportunity to offer specific input toward collective goals and directives in the province.
The four-step process
First, the Pilgrimage Groups looked at where the church has been, sharing stories of what they’ve experienced related to the characteristic they were working on.
In the next session, the groups considered current trends and discerned ideas and themes of what’s happening in congregations and the overall church today, with the goal of developing a consensus picture of “where we are now.”
The next session focused on exploring the future by answering the question, “Where Is God Calling Us?” The Pilgrimage Groups brainstormed what the church would look like in 2022 (two Synods from this one) and how Moravians would sustain congregational health. This session led to some very creative ideas and hopes for the future of the Church.
In the final session, the teams combined the work of the previous three sessions to bring specific goals and statements about their assigned characteristic of a healthy congregation to the floor of Synod for all to hear.
What came out of this work weren’t specific programs, policies or actions. Instead, the groups presented ideas and themes that could serve as the basis for planning, objective setting and opportunities for growth for the coming four years.
Watching these groups work illustrated the energy, ideas and commitment delegates brought to the Southern Province Synod. Creative ideas, open discussions, a respect for reality, a hopefulness for the future and a willingness to listen to each other and the leading of the Holy Spirit made each of these sessions a positive experience.
Presenting a future
On the final morning of Synod the groups presented their work to the entire Synod. As they did, several common themes emerged:
• How all of our efforts in the church are to be Christ-centered and people-focused
• The importance of understanding and sharing our Moravian identity and our stories of faith—and educating our members on what it means to be Moravian
• The importance of understanding, leveraging and using technology to enhance mission, ministry, communication, learning, leadership and worship
• A need for greater flexibility in exploring and implementing varied expressions
• An openness to change and a willingness to let go of things that aren’t working
• An emphasis on mission, both local and global—a need to move into our communities and better understand their needs, and for RCCs and congregations to be involved in mission that’s both local and global
• A recognition for empowering and including laity in church leadership, and developing leadership programs to build up those leaders
• An ongoing need to look for opportunities to think “outside” the church building, with an openness to different forms of ministry to bring people to Jesus
• Understanding, embracing and dealing with change
• An ongoing recognition of the abundance of resources (time, talent and treasure) within the Moravian church, and utilizing and sharing those gifts, instead of approaching things from an outlook of scarcity
There were many more thoughts and ideas expressed during the presentations. As each group presented their work, the more it became apparent that the Southern Province has a lot to look forward to.
The work of the Pilgrimage Groups was collected at Synod and will be used by the PEC and other provincial ministries in developing objectives and plans for the future. This listing is by no means exhaustive—in fact, this is simply a summary. For a more in-depth look at the work of these groups, and to review their ideas, visit www.mcsp.org.