“Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise.”
With Psalm 84:4 as its theme and inspiration, the Eastern District of the Moravian Church, Northern Province came together in June for work and worship at the 2012 Eastern District Synod in Bethlehem, Pa.
The Eastern District Synod, which convenes every four years, brings together delegates from more than 50 Moravian congregations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Washington, D.C. and Ontario, Canada. More than 230 delegates attended, including District clergy and lay members from each congregation. A number of ecumenical partners from the Episcopal Church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church USA and other denominations were also on hand as guests.
While Synods focus on the work required to move the District through the coming four years, these gatherings also offer a unique opportunity for Moravian Christians from areas as diverse as metropolitan New York to rural Pennsylvania and Ohio to meet, renew and share. The first two purposes of a District Synod (as written in the Northern Province Book of Order) include “confirming and renewing Christian love and fellowship;” and “stimulating and strengthening the work of the Lord.”
Throughout the 2012 Synod, delegates worshiped together, shared meals, enjoyed music from many different traditions, renewed friendships, made new acquaintances and formed new partnerships that have the potential to strengthen the work of the Moravian Church.
A different Synod
“The 2012 Synod Visioning Team made a number of changes that Synod evaluations later revealed had a significant impact upon the engagement of synod delegates, not only with each other, but also with God,” said Eastern District Executive Board president the Rev. David Bennett.
“Through District sponsorship, more delegates were able to participate in the Synod experience and more voices were brought to the table in 2012,” continued Dave. “‘The table’ also looked different. Instead of having the plenary tables in rows facing the Synod officers, the plenary sessions were set up ‘in the round,’ with Synod officers being a part of a circle and which offered a cross as the central focal point.
“Finally, all Synod delegates were seated by lot, which meant that when “prayer bands” (small group prayer and discussion groups) were utilized each day, new spiritual partnerships were formed that are being continued long after Synod was adjourned. These elements in particular have been held up in the synod evaluations as creating a ‘holy ground’ which Christ used to touch the lives of delegates and to mold the ministry of the Eastern District,” said Dave.
The work of Synod
The 2012 Eastern District Synod affirmed the positive work happening in this part of the Moravian Church, while at the same time addressing issues and concerns. The work of Synod—discussions, elections, legislation, committee work, and resolutions—established work that will continue for the next four years.
This Synod used a process called “Discerning Circles” to facilitate discussions on key issues within the Eastern District. The five Discerning Circles (fondly referred to by Synod Chairman Rick Santee as “Dircles”) established to assist the work of the 2012 Eastern District Synod included “In-reach/Out-reach” (dealing with communication, mission development, worship ministry and more); Spiritual Formation; Christian Leadership Development; Complimentary Youth Ministry; and Stewardship.
This year’s process offered a more focused approach to synod dialogue. Each Discerning Circle determined what was important under its “ministry umbrella” and then selected what it felt was worth further deliberation and possible advancement to the Synod plenary. Legislation and other Synod action based on the work of the Discerning Circles was acted upon by the entire Synod.
Key resolutions addressed topics like fostering communication and best practice sharing; Spiritual Life Ministry and enhanced opportunities for learning and revitalization; building and sharing resources for Biblical literacy, Christian education and spiritual formation; evangelism and lay leadership.
Additional legislation was passed calling for resources for care for pastors; awareness of career paths in ordained ministry and work of the Seminary; establishment of an Eastern District director of youth and young adult ministries and a continued effort to reach young people in the church; creation of a District Services Ministries Fund; encouragement of stewardship and training; and ongoing work on budgets and funding methodology.(Ed. note: full text of the adopted resolutions is available at http://www.mcnp.org/edeb/legislation2012.htm)
In addition to the work of the Discerning Circles and the actions passed by Synod, delegates participated in several important discussions focused on preparations for the Northern Province Synod of 2014.
Led by members of the Human Sexuality Task Force, delegates had an opportunity to continue the Holy Conversations on the topic begun in 2011. These discussions were also held at the 2012 Western District and Canadian District Synods earlier this spring.
Delegates also spent time hearing from—and responding to—the committee working on Northern Province restructuring. Following a presentation by Restructuring Team member the Rev. Maggie Wellert, delegates worked together in their prayer bands to answer questions surrounding the restructure effort and provided their feedback for future use.
“It was clear to the Synod Visioning Team that this Synod would be extraordinary, especially given the Holy Conversations on human sexuality and the dialogues related to Provincial restructure which were to take place,” said Dave. “By reviewing the purpose of a District Synod—that it is not meant to be a ‘mini-Provincial Synod’—the Visioning Team worked to ensure these important conversations were offered a healthy environment for thoughtful and prayerful dialogue. A concerted effort was made to create an environment whereby ministry dialogue could take place and where ministry partnerships could be formed.”
Throughout the three-day event, more than 30 Moravians were elected to the many boards and commissions that help move the mission and ministry of the Eastern District forward.
Rev. Bennett was elected to a second four-year term as president of the Eastern District Executive Board, the administrative governing body for the District (see accompanying story on page 9).
In addition, members of the Stewardship Commission, Christian Education Commission, Church and Society Commission, Evangelism Commission, the Lay Ministry Commission, Urban Ministries Commission and board members for Hope Conference & Renewal Center, Moravian Manor, Moravian Hall Square, Moravian Manor and the Board of World Mission were elected during Synod. Visit www.moravian.org for the complete list of those elected.
As Synod came to a close with the celebration of Holy Communion, the worship bands were invited to come forward and partake together. As they shared in the sacred experience of the Bread and Cup, formality was overtaken by authentic expression as bands embraced and shared in prayer together.
“It was an amazing thing to see the miracle of Christ’s presence make strangers into kin in faith,” said Dave in a recent issue of District Developments, the Eastern District newsletter. “As I watched this moment take place and as I witnessed the re-forming of our Eastern District Synod by the hand of Christ, I began to realize how much we have underestimated the importance of gathering simply to explore Scripture…to talk….to pray….to differ…to laugh….to find common ground….and even at times to cry together. Isn’t it interesting that with everything else that happened at the 2012 Eastern District Synod, the most important thing seemed to be the authentic Christian fellowship which was shared simply because four people gathered into a ‘worship band.’
“I am thankful to the Synod Visioning Team, and most especially Brother John Wallace for in the midst of an all too complicated day, that “whenever two or more gather,” Christ will be there….and the simplicity of our fellowship can make an enormous difference.”