When the Moravian Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) joined in a full communion relationship in 1999, both denominations saw opportunities to work together. In February, two Wilmington, N.C. churches joined in a Joint Ministry Worship Celebration that sealed a unique relationship between two congregations—and the two denominations.
At the celebration, the Rev. Rachel Connelly, an ELCA pastor and leader of Water of Life Lutheran Church, was installed as the pastor of the Covenant Moravian congregation, too. With this installation, both congregations will share a pastor, the Covenant Moravian building and many aspects of their ministries. However, although Moravians and Lutherans share some similarities in their faith traditions and organize their church year using the same Common Lectionary, the two congregations will hold separate worship services.
A growing relationship
The relationship between Water of Life and Covenant Moravian has been growing for more than five years. Water of Life began renting space at Covenant Moravian for worship and ministry in the fall of 2008.
During the first few years of working with Covenant, Pastor Rachel worked closely with Convenant Moravian’s pastor, the Rev. Tracy Pryor. The two pastors and congregations shared together in Lenten services, youth ministries, and Vacation Bible School. Rachel had also served as the ELCA Church Council liaison to the Moravian Church in North America, and Tracy has served as Co-Chair of the Lutheran-Moravian Coordinating Committee.
In January 2012, Pastor Rachel became the interim pastor at Covenant when Tracy was called to serve Schoenbrunn Moravian Church in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
The Covenant Moravian Board and Water of Life Lutheran Leadership Team have been meeting together every other month since August 2013 to share in conversations of asset-mapping and shared ministry. The two boards became united in their thoughts that the congregations could do more together than apart and sought to enter into a Joint Ministry Covenant to broaden the scope of their mission.
The Joint Ministry Covenant provides opportunity for the two congregations to grow their youth and family ministry, extend their missional outreach, accelerate staff development plans, and expand music programs.
The Joint Ministry Covenant proposed to call Pastor Rachel to serve as pastor to the two congregations and proposed that the congregations keep their separate identities, boards and denominational associations. The Covenant was voted on unanimously by both churches.
Celebrating Joint Ministry
“We had a wonderful, Spirit-led day of Joint Ministry Worship Celebration and my installation as Pastor to Covenant Moravian Church on Sunday, Feb. 16th,” says Pastor Rachel. “The sanctuary was filled to overflowing with 187 in attendance including an eighteen-piece brass band from Raleigh Moravian Church.”
The Reverend Ronald A. Rinn (ELCA) led the Baptismal Renewal and shared comments about the history and conversation that led to the Moravian/Lutheran Full-communion agreement, Following our Shepherd in 1999.
The Rev. David Guthrie, president of the Southern Province Provincial Elders Conference, preached and installed Pastor Rachel. The Rev. Bill Milholland of Reconciliation Lutheran Church, Wilmington presided at communion, while the Rev. Judith Justice, a Moravian pastor who is retired and lives in Ocean Isle Beach, was the reader during worship.
At the catered meal following worship, greetings were brought from a number of ELCA and Moravian pastors, including Rachel’s father, the Rev. James Connelly. Members of the Southern Province PEC were also present. Covenant Moravian Board vice chair Charles Baldwin, and Water of Life Leadership Team president Sandy Collette also shared a welcome and comments about the excitement that has been a part of this new Joint Ministry Venture.
During the celebration, an offering of nearly $1000 was collected to support the Backpack Buddy program which is a new Joint Ministry Outreach that provides weekend meals for children at Bellamy Elementary who are considered nutritionally fragile.
The Rev. Rachel Connelly is pastor of the Covenant Moravian and Water of Life Lutheran congregations.
From the April 2014 Moravian Magazine