Southern Province approves full communion with United Methodist Church

The 2018 Synod of the Moravian Church Southern Province approved a relationship of full communion with the United Methodist Church (UMC) on Friday, April 20.

The full communion agreement, which was initially approved by the UMC at their General Conference in Portland, Ore., in May 2016, recognizes each other’s ministries, and encourages witness and mission work together. The agreement still requires approval of the Moravian Church Northern Province, which will take up the measure at its 2018 Synod in June.

The full communion agreement resulted from several years work by the Moravian-United Methodist Dialogue Team. The team was co-chaired by the Rev. Gary Harke of the Moravian Church and New England Area Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the UMC. Other members of the team included the Rev. Dr. M. Lynnette Delbridge and the Rt. Rev. J. Christian Giesler representing the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces), and Prof. Dr. Ulrike Schuler and the Rev. Dr. Robert Williams representing the UMC.

“We are delighted that our long friendship and relationship with the United Methodist Church is now official through this agreement,” said David Guthrie, president of the Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference. “The heritage of our two churches has been woven together since each began. We also have in common being world-wide denominations. This step deepens and enriches those connections, and is just the beginning of cooperation in witness, mission and service in Christ’s name. As Moravians, ‘we welcome every step that brings us nearer the goal of unity in Him.’ (Moravian Covenant for Christian Living).”

“I feel we are at home together,” said Bishop Michael Watson, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Church. “We are in the family of Christ, and being together in that family is simply magnificent. Methodists and Moravians have been brothers and sisters in Christ since the earliest days of the Methodist movement.

“It is so very natural for us to join with you in offering the right hand of fellowship, signifying our oneness in Jesus Christ and our desire to live with each other in peace, faith, love, hope and ministries of witness in service and worship. We seek to share together the common basic Christian beliefs and the guiding principle, ‘In essentials, unity; In nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love.’ We hold true to that in the United Methodist Church, too.”

Bishop Devadhar, who co-chaired the dialogue with the Rev. Gary Harke of the Moravian Church, lauded the long-time connection between the two churches when the UMC approved the full communion agreement in 2016. “The Wesley brothers had a lot to learn from the Moravian brothers and sisters and I hope and pray that we will rekindle that spirit as we go forward,” he said.

At the Southern Province Synod, Bishop Devadhar added, “Thank you for endorsing and supporting our common agreement. It was such a joy to co-chair the committee and to have talked about our journey together. We praise God that this moment has taken place.”

Following his remarks, Rev. Guthrie presented Bishop Watson with a Moravian Book of Worship and a brass Moravian Star. Continuing to highlight his connection with the Moravians, Bishop Watson commented, “I also have a big white lighted star on my front porch that I got in Herrnhut!” In addition, Bishop Watson shared his ongoing experience with the Moravian Daily Texts.

To be in full communion with our United Methodist brothers and sisters means that we mutually recognize and value the diverse gifts present in each church; respect each other as part of the body of Christ in the world today; commit each church to cooperate in common ministries of evangelism, witness and service; recognize the validity of each other’s sacramental life and ministerial orders, allowing for the transfer of membership and the orderly exchange of clergy (subject to the regulations of church order and practice of each church); and commit each church to continue to work for the visible unity of the church, recognizing that this relationship of full communion is but a step toward the unity to which we are called.

The full communion agreement will be referred to the 2018 Northern Province Synod for approval in June. Once that approval is reached, the agreement will be final.

In photo: The Rev. David Guthrie presents a brass Moravian Star to UMC Bishop Michael Watson as UMC Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar looks on.