Emerging ministries. Adaptive change in church structure and education. Resource sharing. Young adult and youth involvement. Focus on God’s Essentials. Bi-vocational ministry. Reintroducing Jesus to the disillusioned.
At February’s 2017 Inter-Synodal Gathering, Southern Province Moravians generated and discussed more than two dozen topics in an effort to answer the question, “What will it take to reclaim our missional energy today?” And the result was renewed energy, excitement for the future and the beginnings of topics to be addressed at the 2018 Southern Province Synod.
“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
The 2017 Inter-Synodal Gathering, themed “Living the Essentials Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” brought together pastors and members from nearly all 55 Southern Province congregations, along with provincial program representatives and staff. Held at New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, the event attracted more than 200 interested Moravians to learn about the past, discuss the present and look to the future of the Moravian Church Southern Province.
Organizers developed inspiring worship to open and close the gathering. Worship included a new liturgy on the essentials, many songs written by contemporary Moravians, a multilingual reading of scripture and meaningful sermons.
The Rev. Dr. Craig Atwood delivered the keynote address highlighting the “yesterday” of the Moravian Church. His talk “Moravian Congregations: A Historical Perspective,” covered the founding of the Unity of the Brethren in Bohemia in the 15th century, traced how Moravian congregations spread and grew and highlighted how the Church changed – and declined – following World War II. In his closing, he challenged the modern Moravian Church to create worshiping communities that transcend current institutional boundaries.
“In the Moravian Church, a true Christian community is defined by the essentials: Faith in God as the Creator, Redeemer and one who makes us holy; love for God and our neighbors; and hope in this life and confidence that we will be with Christ,” said Craig. “How we organize our congregations and province is incidental, not essential.”
For the “Today” part of the “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” theme, the Rev. David Guthrie, president of the Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference, shared his insights on the state of Moravian Congregations in the Southern Province.
David’s review of the membership and financial health of Southern Province congregations described their current reality – many congregations are seeing shrinking attendance and financial strength. He also put his statistics into context—these declines aren’t unique to the Moravian Church.
But as he wrapped up his discussion of the “state of the church,” he asked, “Does this reality have an impact on our congregations and our Province? Yes. Should we pay attention to these trends? Yes. But do these things define us? No.”
He pointed to several bright spots—for example, 65 percent of Southern Province churches have reasonably stable to good finances, that more than half of churches had stable or growing average worship attendances in 2013-2015, and nearly 1200 people confirmed their faith, were baptized as adults or reaffirmed their faith in the four years 2011-15.
“Sixty years ago, writing about the Spirit of the Moravian Church, Bishop Shawe of the British Province said, ‘It was when our Church was small – much smaller than today – that it was most enterprising,’” said David. “Our focusing on spiritual growth, community and mission can happen effectively regardless of whether there are two or three, or 200 or 300 gathered in His name. Today, you and I are called by Christ to a life of deepening faith, love and hope; forming and offering authentic community; and transformational service in the name of Christ to a world in need of God’s love.”
To help highlight other aspects of the church today and tomorrow, other presenters offered talks on a range of topics from rethinking mission, church reconciliation, working in community and living as Moravians today. These were presented as “Imagine Talks”-—a series of five-minute presentations sharing experiences and visions of the church.
Frances Beasley, a member of Home Moravian Church, shared “Brave Hearts: Courageous Living as Generation Moravian.” In her talk, Frances discussed how Moravians of every age constitute “Generation Moravian” and that everyone should be courageous in their outreach. As she concluded, she posed the question, “Who will we be when we’re living examples of faith, hope and love?”
Ministerial candidate Angelica Regalado spoke on “Men Making a Difference,” sharing the stories of two very different men – The Rev. Armando Rusindo, the leader of the Moravian Church in Cuba, and Winston-Salem resident Joe Jarvis. In her presentation, she shared how the two are working together to help grow the Moravian Church in Cuba and have a greater impact on its people.
Sarah Durham, a member of Home Moravian Church, shared what its like to be a young adult Moravian. In her words, being a young adult Moravian is “lonely;” as in many Moravian congregations, there are few, if any, post-college, pre-family young adults in her congregation. She also highlighted ideas on inviting and encouraging these young adults to be part of the church, which could very much use their vitality, passion and dedication to move forward.
The Rev. Russ May challenged participants to consider societal reconciliation as a core pillar of church life. Instead of trying to be “hip” or “huge,” the church should be relevant as a place of reconciliation. He provided a number of examples of congregations around the country who were doing amazing things by doing the hard work living in holy relationships with others different from themselves. Russ is a founder of Anthony’s Plot, an intentional faith community combining residency, community development and outreach in Winston-Salem’s Sunnyside neighborhood.
And Rusty Rushing, provincial acolyte and student pastor with Peace Moravian Church in Charlotte, N.C., discussed how changes in his congregation had helped them reimagine what it means to be a missional church and taking church to the people. He offered several possible ideas for fresh expressions of church that meet people where they are: a recovery church for recovering addicts, a “travel church” for those involved in Sunday sports, or even a “spoke-n word” church for cyclists.
Ideas for tomorrow
Following the presentations, the group assembled in an effort to generate ideas and options that answered the question, “What will it take to reclaim our missional energy today?”
Using a process called “Open Space Technology” led by the Board of Cooperative Ministries’ director Ruth Cole Burcaw, the participants assembled in a large circle in the New Philadelphia Fellowship Hall. After a description of what would occur, participants had the opportunity to propose ideas and discussion topics to be taken up by discussion groups.
Participants wrote their ideas on large sheets of easel pad paper, announced them to the group, then brought those ideas to a team who categorized and organized them into sessions. More than 30 different topics were suggested for additional discussion.
Once the ideas were collected, participants indicated which topics they’d like to discuss. Using a voting system that utilized their mobile phone’s texting function, each participant chose a topic for each of the three sessions; the results were used to determine which rooms at New Philadelphia would host each conversation.
The conversations lasted about an hour. Following each, the participants provided the gathering’s organizers with a summary of what was discussed and the core “takeaway.” Some of the topics discussed included:
- Adaptive change in church structure and education
- Bivocational (two-jobs) minsters as an option for churches with shrinking resources and new ways to visualize a broader definition of “church”
- Focus on creating disciples for Christ first and Moravians second; bringing back those who left the church; seeking out people in need of Christ and re-introducing Jesus to the disillusioned
- Ways to address inclusion and diversity in the church and congregations
- Options for ministering and assisting immigrants and refugees; foster and orphaned children; underprivileged mothers; and the poorest and neediest
- Ways to shift from conflict resolution to community building
- Encouragement of emerging ministries and creating new visions of church like starting a Moravian school or a community café
- Ideas for inviting young adults to be leaders in congregations and the province and increasing opportunities for youth to have an authentic role in the church
- Ways to enhance worship and liturgy, spiritual renewal, missional efforts and igniting a burning love for Jesus in our communities.
The highly participatory group process allowed people to be heard, to define the issues facing them and to take action. Southern Province Moravians organized around ways they can “live the Essentials” to create a bold future for God’s church. Several of those in attendance at the Inter-Synodal event are already working together to make a difference on some of the topics discussed.
At the end of the day, participants prioritized topics they hope will inform forthcoming conversations and decisions, as well as programming for Synod, scheduled for April 19-22, 2018.
Presentations and summary materials from the 2017 Inter-Synodal Gathering will be available on http://MSCPEvent.wordpress.com by the end of March. We encourage you to view these materials to learn more.
Article by Mike Riess, IBOC. Photos by Mike and Andrew David Cox.