Every four years in Provinces of the Moravian Church in North America, a little bit of history is made. Future generations look back on those every four-year occurrences — Synods — and see the movement of the Holy Spirit and the growth and changing of the Church. And looking back on the Synod of 2014, future Moravians will see major changes and incremental efforts that will impact the Moravian Church Northern Province for years to come.
On June 19-23, more than 250 registered delegates converged on Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. for the 42nd Synod of the Moravian Church Northern Province. Under the theme, “We Covenant with Hand and Heart,” the province joined together to learn, discern, worship, decide, legislate, make policy and chart the way forward for the next four years.
Gathering from far away
Delegates came from all corners of the Province, which spreads from New York City to Southern California and from Maryland to Alberta, Canada.
Delegates included pastors, district board members, members of church agencies and lay members elected by their congregations. In addition to their pastor, each congregation had one delegate per 250 members.
As delegates arrived and registered, old friendships were rekindled and seminary classmates reunited. At the same time, delegates had plenty of opportunities to meet new people and learn from one another about different parts of the Moravian Church.
To get organized, committee leaders met to prepare, while new delegates were briefed on how Synod works, what to expect and how to present and discuss items in plenary sessions. Synod officially convened at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 19.
Much to accomplish
There was a lot to accomplish at this Synod. Synod is the main legislative body of the Northern Province, in which key decisions, actions and proposals are hammered out to guide the church for the coming four years.
Delegates participated on one of a dozen committees, including Adult and Older Adult Ministry; Care and Nurture Of Clergy; Church and Society; Finance; Healthy Congregations; Identity, Purpose and Organization; Lay Leadership; Local and Global Missions; Ministry to Youth and Young Adults; Relationships with Others; Spiritual Formation; and Stewardship.
The bulk of the first two days of Synod was spent in committee time. In classrooms and meeting areas across the Moravian campus, delegates met, discussed topics in their committee’s purview, developed resolutions and prepared them for the floor of Synod.
Committee time is where much of the work of Synod happens. The committees, each with up to 25 members, discuss the needs of the church, review proposals that were submitted prior to Synod, or generate legislation for consideration by the whole of Synod. Delegates have the opportunity to select which committee they’d prefer to work with when they register; however, some topics fill quicker than others. Regardless, each committee member brought experience, expertise and insight to their work.
As legislation begins to form at the committee level, the produced reports are written to a very specific format. They include a series of “Whereas” statements that provide the background and reasoning behind the legislation and the “Resolved” statements which indicate what action the committee wishes Synod to take.
As Synod progressed, the work of the committees came to the Synod floor. Here, resolutions were presented, considered and voted upon by the whole Synod. Each committee sent at least two reports to the whole Synod — some sent more than 10. The 2014 Synod began considering resolutions on Friday evening and continued through the final session Monday evening.
Committee members introduce resolutions in one plenary session. Synod rules stipulate that resolutions are then voted upon in subsequent sessions to give delegates an opportunity to consider what each report seeks to accomplish. Rick Santee, the Provincial Chancellor, served as chairman of the 2014 Synod. As chair, Rick oversaw the presentation of resolutions and guided their movement through the Synod process. He also ruled on procedural matters of Synod, assisted by Graham Kerslake, vice chair and Gary Harke, parliamentarian. Jill Westbrook served as Synod secretary, assisted by Marie Couts. Bishop Wayne Burkette from the Southern Province served as Synod chaplain.
Ed note: For more on the resolutions presented at Synod see the article on page 18.
In addition to legislation, Synods also determine who fills the leadership posts for the denomination. Elections for the Provincial Elders’ Conference and the directors and board members for the churches’ many agencies and ministries occur at Synod.
This year, Synod re-elected PEC President Betsy Miller to a second four-year term. Lay members of the Provincial Elders Conference — Judy Kaaua from Minnesota, Tom Zimmer from Michigan, Wilton Grannum from New York and Jill Westbrook from Ohio — were also re-elected.
Delegates also elected 13 Moravians to serve with Moravian Academy, Linden Hall, Moravian Theological Seminary, the Larger Life Foundation and the Provincial Women’s Board. Two were elected to represent the Northern Province at the 2016 Unity Synod in Jamaica — Staci Marrese-Wheeler from Wisconsin and Michael Johnson from New York.
Throughout Synod, delegates heard from representatives of affiliated church agencies and ministries, including the Northern Province Archives, Board of World Mission, Moravian Music Foundation, Moravian Ministries Foundation in America, Interprovincial Board of Communication, Moravian Theological Seminary, Moravian College, Moravian Open Door and more.
In her opening remarks to the 2014 Synod of the Moravian Church, Northern Province, Betsy Miller offered “Glimpses of God” at work in the Moravian Church Northern Province. She highlighted efforts throughout the province in the areas of identity, healthy congregations, care and nurture of clergy, finance & administration and relationships with others.
Craig Atwood shared his work on the essentials of the Moravian Church. Craig, who is the Charles D. Couch Associate Professor of Moravian Theology and Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary and director for the Center for Moravian Studies, discussed Moravian theology in terms of essentials, ministerials and incidentals in an hour-long presentation to Synod. The Moravian Theological Seminary also produced a special edition of The Hinge discussing biblical interpretation, which was made available to all Synod delegates.
The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, Methodist Church and The Unity of the Brethren in Texas all sent representatives to the 2014 Synod. James Winkler, general secretary and president of the National Council of Churches; Jørgen Bøytler, Unity Business Administrator; David Guthrie, president of the Moravian Church Southern Province and Neva Rae Fox (representing Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori) addressed delegates during Synod.
Worship and prayer
Delegates also worshiped together throughout Synod. From the opening Cup of Covenant celebration on Thursday night through the Holy Communion Service on Monday morning, delegates prayed, sang and praised God together.
Sunday’s worship featured members of Central Moravian Church and included a sermon by Bishop Hopeton Clennon. Monday’s communion service was led by Bishop Doug Kleintop with a sermon by Bishop Chris Giesler. Bishop Blair Couch offered a remembrance of pastors and spouses who entered the more immediate presence of the Lord and Bishop Kay Ward led the blessing and installation of the newly-elected Provincial Elders’ Conference.
On the lighter side, Tracy and Rhonda Robinson led prayers in both English and Spanish in the style of Esperanza for Bethlehem, the emerging ministry on the Southside of Bethlehem. Maggie Wellert led a rousing rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” during the service to bless and distribute prayer shawls. Christie Melby-Gibbons led a liturgy on how “love makes us one,” encouraging delegates to wrap their shawls around others and demonstrated the “man-hug.” Other worship leaders included Laura Gordon and Rick Beck.
And throughout Synod, delegates sang treasured Moravian Hymns and learned a few new ones, too.
A tough Synod
Many will acknowledge this was a difficult Synod. There was much work to complete — more than 70 reports were reviewed and acted upon by delegates (see page 18), requiring days that ran from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Synod also resulted in heartache and doubt for some. It was a difficult time for delegates listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance on the question of ordaining gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships. (see story on page 21.) While some delegates were pleased with the outcome, others were shaken in their perspective and love of their church. Those in attendance recognized that the decisions made during the 2014 Synod will have an impact on the Province and the wider church.
But there is also hope that this Synod will demonstrate a willingness to stay together. In the July issue of District Developments, Dave Bennett, Eastern District President, shared this: “As the synod came to its end, I reached out to one who I knew would have been disappointed by the final discernments of the synod. He is a brother in Christ and I wanted to acknowledge both his sincere feelings of faith and sadness. As I did so I was taken back and humbled by his response. His words changed me…informed me…inspired me. He said, ‘We will be ok. I watched people of good faith and pure hearts make a difficult decision with respect and love. I will live with the decision not because of what it is, but because of how it was made.’ There it was again…that moment owned by Jesus Christ who revealed the sacred gift of our fellowship…and other things mattered less.”
As delegates left on Monday and Tuesday for home, they were charged with sharing what occurred during this Synod. In one of their approved Synod resolutions, the Lay Leadership Development Committee challenged lay participants attending Synod “to return to their home congregations with inspiration to use their gifts and enliven, empower and embolden their congregations in living the Good News.”
From the July/August 2014 Moravian Magazine