A relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Moravian Church in America, Northern and Southern Provinces.
In early summer 2015, I was looking through the filing cabinets at Fries Memorial Moravian Church and came across a copy of the original booklet from the first formal worship and holy communion in celebration of the full communion partnership between The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Moravian Church in America. This communion service was held Thursday, January 27, 2000 at Augsburg Lutheran Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Wow,” I thought, “that’s been 15 years!” I was anxious to share this with my brothers and sisters serving on the Lutheran-Moravian Coordinating Committee, who would be gathering for their annual meeting at Laurel Ridge Camp and Conference Center in just a few short weeks.
Using financial support from the Hine Fund of Augusburg Lutheran Church, conversations that would lead to the formalization of our agreement, Following our Shepherd to Full Communion, began in the 1990s. In 1999, the full communion agreement was presented at the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA in Denver by the Rev. Ron Rinn, pastor of Augusburg Lutheran Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. Brother Rinn started that presentation with the statement: “having ecumenical conversations with Moravians is like looking at a friend’s family photos and seeing some of your second cousins.” The Moravian Church, both the Northern Province and the Southern Province, approved the decision to enter more formally into full communion with the ELCA at their respective synods in 1998.
To help our denominations live into this new agreement, a Lutheran-Moravian Coordinating Committee (LMCC) was formed with both Lutheran and Moravian representatives. The committee is made up of one staff person and three appointed people from each denomination. One of the first fruits of the newly formed LMCC was a program written by the Rev. Patricia Garner called “Sustaining our Shepherds,” which provided a weekly gathering for clergy, from both denominations, to meet together to encourage, pray with, be in fellowship with and study with one another, giving pastors an opportunity to take a breath and take care of their spiritual needs.
“Working on the LMCC for ten years was a wonderful blessing,” says Sister Garner. “Not only did I learn a great deal about the theology and structure of the ELCA, but I also had the opportunity to get to know many wonderful Lutheran brothers and sisters, many of whom remain good friends. The Moravian Church benefited greatly from this relationship in the early years and continues to reap benefits today. It was a privilege to serve on the LMCC.”
Echoing some of Sister Garner’s thoughts, Kathryn M. Lorhe, ELCA Executive of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relations said, “It has been a privilege and a joy to be part of a growing love for one another as sisters and brothers in Christ, and a growing desire to follow our Shepherd together as we journey in full communion.”
The full communion agreement has been primarily about relationship-building: building bridges in the midst of disaster, helping each other in the exchange of clergy and some more innovative approaches to ministry that would not have been possible without this agreement.
One example is the arrangement made between Water of Life Lutheran Church and Covenant Moravian Church in Wilmington, N.C., where the Lutheran congregation rents worship and office space from Covenant Moravian and together both congregations are served by the Rev. Rachel Connelly, an ELCA pastor.
“I have seen the Lutheran-Moravian partnership open lines of communication that led the way to deeper relationships and subsequently prompted leaders to put aside uncertainty about doing ministry together. The results have been joyous and impressive,” said the Rev. Samuel R. Zeiser, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod and a member of the coordinating committee.
The LMCC currently meets annually, rotating host denominations for face-to-face meetings, and also engages in a number of conference calls throughout the year. Our last meeting was held in July 2015, generously hosted by the Moravian Church in America, Southern Province.
Our future plans for faithfully following our shepherd into the next 15 years and beyond is to take a look at what and where joint ministry is already happening and where it could be happening. There is so much unrealized potential for joint ministry between the two denominations.
We also recognize that during these 15 years of joyous union that many have graduated from seminary and stepped into leadership roles, so we are looking at ways to help educate them about our agreement and direct them to documents and resources that could be helpful for them as they foster relationships with Moravian Churches or Lutheran Churches in communities where they serve jointly.
I believe our Moravian forbearers (and dare I say ELCA forbearers) would be pleased to see the results of the LMCC’s work over the past 15 years and would anticipate with great joy the work that we look forward to in the years ahead. Information about the ongoing work of the LMCC can be found at www.LutheranMoravian.wordpress.com or on Facebook by searching Lutheran Moravian Coordinating Committee. ■