The 16th Interprovincial Bishops’ Conference brought ten Moravian bishops from the Southern and Northern Provinces to Mt. Morris Camp and Conference Center near Wautoma, Wis. for fellowship, worship, prayer and conversation on issues and concerns facing our two provinces.
Attending were the Rt. Revs. Blair Couch, Kay Ward, Graham Rights, Chris Giesler, Lane Sapp, Doug Kleintop, Sam Gray, Hopeton Clennon, Wayne Burkette and Paul Graf. Three bishops—the Rt. Revs. Edwin Sawyer, John Wilson and Jay Hughes, unable to attend due to health issues—were held in prayer and later sent a copy of the agenda and minutes.
Issues considered and discussed during this year’s conference included clarifying practices in ordination and consecration services; professional and contextual dress by clergy; a review of ordination vows; and a video presentation by the Rev. Dr. Jørgen Bøytler, Unity business administrator, on the state of the worldwide Moravian Unity. Brother Bøytler provided an insightful overview that the Bishops found helpful. The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller, president of the Northern Province PEC, also joined the bishops for a brief time as representative of the host province.
It is significant to note that in the conversations during this conference, no votes were taken; rather, the group arrived at consensus on all matters, either for clarification of rituals and practices or making recommendation to the Provincial Elders’ Conferences, South and North.
Role of a Moravian bishop
The bishops in attendance expressed a general feeling that there are some misperceptions throughout the church about the office of bishop within the Northern and Southern Provinces.
Elected by the delegates at Provincial Synods, our bishops serve as “pastors to pastors” (and their families), prayer intercessors and spiritual guides to the denomination and when commissioned, officiate at ordinations and consecrations. It is not unusual for the PECs to consult with bishops on matters of doctrine, faith and church order. Also, at the request of the PEC, a bishop may be asked to counsel with a pastor or congregation, represent the Moravian Church at the consecration of a bishop in one of our partner denominations or serve ex-officio on interdenominational committees or working groups.
Moravian bishops in the two provinces hold no administrative responsibility or authority, and while expenses are covered in carrying out the duties of a bishop, this is not a salaried position. In fact, our bishops typically serve as congregational pastors or with church agencies before retirement. For example, Bishops Clennon, Giesler and Sapp all serve congregations; Bishops Kleintop and Couch recently retired from congregational service; and Bishop Gray works for the Board of World Mission.
Discussion on the Bible
Perhaps some of the most substantive discussion came in considering a response to those who say that the Moravian Church no longer believes that the Bible is an essential. If the question is whether or not the Bible is essential to salvation, the answer is “no.” Salvation is in Christ alone. If the question is whether or not the Bible is essential to having a fuller understanding of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, the answer is “yes” because the Bible is the primary testimony to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
“As Moravians, proclaiming Christ and Him crucified as our confession of faith, and believing that the triune God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only source of our life and salvation, we do not believe that Jesus points us to Scripture so that we can find the answers there, but rather that the Scriptures point us to Jesus so that we can find the answers in him.” (Guiding Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture in a Moravian Context,” by the Faith and Order Commission)
A spiritual retreat
Hosting for the Interprovincial Bishops’ Conferences, held every four years, rotates between the provinces. The bishops selected Mt. Morris for this year’s conference, which provided a relaxing, contemplative location for their meeting.
As the conference was drawing to a close, one bishop commented, “this felt more like a spiritual retreat than a conference.” The bishops left the conference having experienced spiritual refreshment and renewal which was a significant blessing. ■
The Rt. Rev. Paul Graf of Wisconsin and The Rt. Rev. D. Wayne Burkette of North Carolina supplied this article.