On a beautiful weekend in May, delegates from Canadian District congregations and guests from across the Northern Province came together at Camp Van-Es for the 2016 Canadian District Synod. Based on the theme “You Yourselves Are the Letters” (from 2 Corinthians 3), delegates met to discuss happenings in the Canadian District, learn more about community mission and develop plans for the future of the Moravian Church in Canada.
Camp Van-Es provided an ideal setting for Synod. Since six of the eight congregations of the Canadian District are in the Edmonton area, many delegates weren’t required to travel far to get to Synod. Those from further away stayed in the recently constructed Unity Lodge or in other accommodations on-site (a few delegates even brought their campers!). Harmony Center served as the main plenary space, cabins doubled as break-out meeting rooms, Morningstar Hall hosted all meals and the chapel was used for worship.
Keynote encourages fresh expressions
The Rev. Nick Trussell, priest in mission for the Anglican diocese in Edmonton and associate priest at Christ Church in Edmonton, joined the Canadian District Moravians as the Synod’s keynote speaker.
During his sessions, Rev. Trussell guided delegates through ways to think about mission in their communities and how to find “fresh expressions of church” in their congregational lives and as a district. Sharing anecdotes of work done by his team in Edmonton and outlining a common framework for mission on a congregational level, Rev. Trussell posed a series of questions to help delegates consider work they are doing in their own neighborhoods. He invited delegates to learn the mission needs of each community, how those community needs can be met, how congregations can “feed and nourish” their neighborhoods, and how congregations see God at work with and through them.
During his talks, Trussell also posed several questions—”What does God do all day…really?” and “What would Jesus do all day…really?”—as ways to consider congregational mission. He encouraged delegates to be a part of what Jesus was in the world and get to know the people in their neighborhoods, as those in our community are the ones who we are called to serve.
In his closing session, Rev. Trussell shared his view of what “fresh expressions of church” look like: forms of church that listen to people, find ways to understand and enter the culture of a community, serve those outside the reach of existing church structures, make discipleship a priority, and intentionally form “church.”
The work of Synod
Synod delegates spent the bulk of their time studying the work of the Canadian District and proposing ways to improve, enhance and enliven that work. Guided by Synod Chair Rick Santee, the five “discussion groups” of the Canadian Synod—Fresh Ministry Expressions, District Community, Mission, Van-Es and Finance—each presented resolutions that supported ongoing work, proposed new opportunities or provided guidance for the governance of the District.
The Fresh Ministry Expressions team reviewed and accepted the reports presented to Synod by task forces dealing with: healthier congregations (Northern Province), part-time clergy, deacon supervision and spiritual formation; encouraged all congregations to avail themselves of the resources identified by the Spiritual Formation Task Force for directed spiritual growth; and proposed the creation of a District-wide Fresh Expression of Ministry Cooperative. This new cooperative, composed of representatives from each congregation in the District, will work together in partnership to discern and empower new expressions of ministry that God is revealing to them.
The District Community Focus Group presented resolutions that encourage congregations to actively engage one another in sharing their creative and unique approaches to being a church that fosters enthusiastic engagement in our faith journey; proposed the establishment of a District Community Team to develop District-wide programming and events each year; reviewed the reports of the Canadian Moravian Historical Society and encouraged its Board of Directors to examine and modify its structure and organization to best fulfill its mission; and charged the Board of Elders of the Canadian Disctrict (BECD) to assign a task force to assess the viability of the development of an adult living complex in Canada (similar to those in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina) and provide its recommendations to the 2020 Canadian District Synod.
The Mission Focus Group brought resolutions expressing gratitude to the Board of World Mission; encouraging the Canadian Moravian Mission Society to continue their work in mission and increase their communication and connection with local churches; and encouraging congregations and the Mission Society to explore developing a relationship with the growing Moravian presence in Peru and considering future support of the Peruvian mission.
The Van-Es Focus Group focused their efforts on the camp. The group brought resolutions that affirmed the Summer Camp Executive Director role for Van-Es; encouraged the Van-Es Board to examine capital projects, including cabin replacement, solar power/solar heating for the pool, recreational activities for kids, camp sites, expansion of Unity Lodge and the creation of a Prayer Cabin and a Family Cabin; and recommended the use of metal roofs and fire-resistant materials in all new construction (Ed. note: The tragic Ft. McMurray wildfires were occurring 275 miles north of Edmonton during the week of Synod). The Van-Es group also encouraged refreshing and enhancing current trail and natural areas and working with Beaver Hills Initiative, a consortium of 20 member organizations working to protect the area where the camp is located, to develop educational materials for use at Camp Van-Es.
The Finance Committee brought a number of governance and budget-related resolutions to Synod. One resolution directs the BECD to appoint a task force to review and take appropriate actions of governance and financial relationships between BECD Moravian entities, while another requested the BECD, in partnership with the Northern Province PEC, review and address a part of the Book of Order that affects the Canadian District. The Synod also approved the 2017 operating budget and changes required by the pension plan for Canadian District Clergy.
Learning about Canadian Moravians
Throughout the weekend, delegates also learned about the work of the broader church. Representatives from the Moravian Music Foundation, Ministries Foundation, Board of World Mission and other agencies brought greetings and shared information. The Rev. Rick Beck discussed work by the Spiritual Direction Task Force while the Rev. Eileen Edwards updated attendees on Common Ground in Edmonton. The Rev. Christine Nelson shared information from Moravian Theological Seminary, and delegates heard updates about the Northern Province’s Identity, Purpose and Organization (IPO) task force.
The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller, president of the Northern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference, brought greetings from the PEC, discussed several issues the PEC and BECD had addressed together during the past several years and took the opportunity to highlight the work of outgoing BECD President Bryan Peacock and thank him for his service.
Being the Letters
Synod delegates had several opportunities to live into the Synod’s theme, “You yourselves are the letters.”
In one activity, greeting cards were distributed to all Synod delegates and guests, with instructions to write a letter sharing a hope and prayer from the 2016 Synod. These were then collected and distributed to each participant, providing an inspiration for ongoing ministry and a promise of God’s love. (Ed. Note: The letter I received expressed “hope and prayers that God continues to be present in all we do,” and prayers that “the next four years are a time when the Canadian District will discover new ministries throughout the district for service to those in need in each of the church’s locations.”)
Committees also worked together to write letters from Synod to the churches of the Canadian District. The letters reflect on the work and ministry of the District during the previous four years and encourage congregations in their future ministry. Each was formatted based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, with a greeting (“To the saints who are in the Moravian ChurchÖ”); a section in which they shared thanks (“I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers”); a remembrance (“So then remember…”); an encouragement for the future (“Therefore…”); and a closing blessing, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
The full content of these letters in available on Moravian.org; here, we share each letters’ remembrances and encouragement:
“So then, remember to share ideas between congregations, build relationships, remembering that everyone’s hard work is and has been done for the glory of God.
“Therefore, we encourage the church to share God’s love from the heart, continue to be unique and to continue to share ideas and prayers.” — District Community Focus Group
“So then remember, whereas we are in search of new ways of living as followers of Christ which will endure beyond our current structures, we seek the ways that God may be calling us into Fresh Expressions of Ministry. We recognize that spiritual grounding is essential to our growth in faith and to our ability to invite others on the journey of faith. We recognize that God is always doing a new thing and we desire to partner with God in this work. We recognize that a strength of the Moravian Church was and is that we are a people who walk with others. We seek new ways to do this in addition to our current worship expressions.
“Therefore, we encourage the church and district leadership to support the formation of a Fresh Expression of Ministry Cooperative for the purpose of discerning the new ways God is calling us to engage in ministry, and recognizing that we are stronger together. We encourage our congregations to fear not and to be bold and dance out in faith. We anticipate great joy at our next gathering as we celebrate the exciting new ways we have answered Christ’s call.” —Fresh Ministry Expression Group
“So then remember, the Van-Es Camp Board and all those who were involved in bringing the Unity Center to a successful conclusion; the Camp Board, Camp Van-Es staff and shared faith and trust among members of the Moravian faith who make Camp Van-Es the wonderful place it is; and the summer camp committee and the many individuals who,through their participation, make the camp experience so embracing for those who attend.
“Therefore, we encourage the church to be involved in camp through their time, talent and resources; pray for all of those who will be involved in camp directly or indirectly; and reach out to those who are not currently in relationship or connected to Camp Van-Es.” —Van-Es Focus Group
“So then remember, the Moravian Church has a long history of active involvement in mission work both locally and globally. We value intergenerational collaboration in mission, cross-congregational cooperation and regular communication of mission needs and opportunities. God calls us to love one another and walks with us in serving the church.
“Therefore, we encourage the church to…Seek nearby opportunities to consider short-term and longer-term mission work that meets the needs of others; Pay attention to mission opportunities in our own communities ; Identify and encourage key individuals with passion for mission in each congregation ñ be that person; be the change; Give permission to end projects gracefully; Specifically mentor youth to experience personal involvement in improving conditions and relationships with others; to go and do; Encourage the VanEs program providers to offer opportunities for mission experiences at camp; Re-establish, through the Canadian Moravian Mission Society (CMMS), greater coordination with and communication between stakeholders within the Moravian Church with regard to mission projects and opportunities; Continue to support initiatives of the BWM and CMMS; and we call on the District to prayerfully support the mission of the Church.” —Mission Focus Group
Each of these letters was shared at the closing worship of Synod on Sunday. Edmonton-area congregation members were invited to attend the communion service in the Van-Es chapel. During that service, the newly elected leadership team for the Canadian District were also installed (see the June issue of the Moravian for news of the newly-elected BECD and other leadership roles.) n
Article and photos by Mike Riess, IBOC. The next Canadian District Synod will occur in 2020.