I sat at the table with the delegation from the Unity: Rev. Dr. Jørgen Bøytler, Unity Business Administrator; Nicaraguan Bishop John Wilson out of Miami; and Nicaraguan Superintendent Rev. Cora Antonio. Also at the table sat members of the Honduras Province provincial board. And later that day, we would meet with the Honduras Mission Province Board.
The two churches had split in the late 1990s when a charismatic revival took hold of the province. The charismatic, or renewal faction, was the group officially in leadership at the time. The more traditional group withdrew from the province.
The Honduras Province board explained to us that before our arrival they had already met with the board of the Honduras Mission Province and they had agreed to establish an annual day of prayer and an annual anniversary celebration of the founding of the Moravian Church in Honduras on November 18th that both churches would attend. They had agreed that their bishops would work together and would both be present at important events such as consecrations and ordinations.
There was a goal for participation by members of both groups at conferences and church dedications. They also said that they would respect each other despite their differing worship styles. They were willing to share pastors with each other. We heard the same thing when we met with the Honduras Mission Province board later that same day.
I was grateful to hear these decisions. I had seen movement toward these two churches working more together when we met as a Unity delegation with them in July of 2012 to discuss regulations of the Unity and differences between the then “traditional” group (Honduras Mission Province)and the “renewal” group, (the Honduras Province).
It was after the July 2012 meeting that the traditional group was officially recognized by the Unity as a Mission Province. And when I was with them this past May they rejoiced in celebrating their first official synod and electing their first bishop, the Rt. Rev. Sandoval Martinez. They had been an unnamed, disassociated entity, and now they are seen in the eyes of the world as Moravians in their own right.
The Honduras Province had also made steps under then President Isai Granwell to plan more activities with the traditional group. At their synod this past May they, too, elected a bishop, the Rt. Rev. Evelio Romero. When these two bishops were consecrated, members of both churches participated in the services and both new bishops were present. The new presidents of the Mission Province (Rev. Cristobal Smith) and the Honduras Province (Rev. Harlan Macklin) were very clear in saying that these new bishops were Unity bishops, not simply bishops of a Mission Province or a Province.
But I also had heard concerns expressed by pastors on both sides expressing doubt about the potential for full unification of these two churches. So I was ready and grateful to hear that they were at least taking steps to work more together.
I did not expect to hear the words that came from both provincial boards that the ultimate goal of the reconciliation process is the re-unification of their two churches. They hope to share one synod in the future!
Both said that after 17 years of separation, it was time to reconcile. Bro. Cristobal emphasized the prayer of our Lord in John 17 that calls for unity. And another reminded us that in John 13:34-35 we are called to love one another; this is the foundation of our Unity.
And when we met with the pastors themselves to share these thoughts, the general response was affirmation. One noted that in the past leaders had been negative, but now they are positive. Another said that reconciliation needs to come from the heart. Another called for humility and to live out reconciliation in all that they do. One commented that the congregations are waiting to hear this and that they need to be serious about it. It should not just be talk, but needs to be lived out in action. Bishop Sandoval closed the time with the pastors saying, “Let’s not wait!” Bishop Evelio later told me that with these meetings a chain had been broken, and perhaps the hardest one.
My heart rejoices in these events. I was a representative from the Western District to the Board of World Mission during the time when these two churches separated. It was a painful time and many wounds have continued through the years. Yet in meeting with each group one sees the faithfulness and the commitment to the gospel and the desire to serve in ministry. The movement toward Unity can only strengthen their witness and testimony.
The road will not be easy and all recognize that. Yet there is a fresh Spirit moving in the Moravian churches in Honduras—a Spirit calling the church back to Unity. We rejoice that the leadership of both the Mission Province and the Province have heard this call and are committed to follow it. May this Spirit give them wisdom, patience, courage and understanding as they walk this road together.
Rev. Judy Ganz is executive director of the Moravian Board of World Mission.
From the March 2014 Moravian Magazine