In mid-April, Moravians from across the Southern Province will meet on a mountaintop in western North Carolina to discern and make decisions about the future of their church.
The 2018 Synod of the Moravian Church Southern Province will be held April 19-22 at Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, N.C. For the Moravian Church Southern Province, the upcoming Synod provides an opportunity to serve the Lord here on earth and meet a challenging future with courage.
This year’s theme, “Living the Essentials with Courage for the Future,” invites Synod delegates to embody the guiding principles and essentials of our faith to help guide the future of the Moravian Church.
“‘Courage for the Future’ is a phrase that’s been part of the Southern Province for more than a century,” explains the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber, associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and chaplain at Moravian Theological Seminary, and a member of the Synod Planning Committee. “God does have a future for us, but it’s up to us to move with open ears, open hearts and open minds to follow in a way that God is calling us.”
Highest decision-making body
In Moravian polity, synods represent the highest decision-making body of each province and have tremendous responsibility in the life of the Moravian Church. Southern Province Synod delegates will help decide how the Province “lives the essentials” and explore how Synod might take action in ways that reinforce Moravian identity and values.
During the four-day event, delegates elect provincial leadership for the coming four years, including the Provincial Elders’ Conference, members of provincial and interprovincial boards and agencies and, in some years, bishops of the Moravian Unity.
Synods also establish direction and priority for provincial ministries and encourage activities on the congregational level. They help answer questions and set guidelines on key topics and issues facing the province. They provide a platform for new ideas for strengthening the church and the faith of its members.
In addition to the legislative and decision-making duties of Synod, these gatherings also provide a rare opportunity to bring together clergy and lay persons from all areas of the province, including its agencies and leadership, to talk about ministry together. Synod gathers the collective wisdom and experience of the entire province to work with each other and discern what God is calling us to do now.
The event also offers a chance for Moravians to worship and pray together, and to seek God’s guidance and direction for the church. “Synod offers an opportunity for the church to reflect on itself, see where God is leading and where he has led us so far, and to discern where God is leading us for the future,” says the Rt. Rev. D. Wayne Burkette. “It’s a time for looking back, evaluating what we have done well and where we need to improve, and then look forward to the future.”
Delegates to Synod
All pastors under call are delegates to Synod, and every congregation sends one lay delegate for every 125 adult communicant members. Small congregations are entitled to one delegate in addition to the pastor, while each fellowship is represented by an advisory delegate. Provincial boards and agencies are also represented, as are retired pastors and certified, full-time directors of Christian Education. Non-voting, or advisory delegates, representing our various interprovincial agencies, ecumenical partners and emerging ministries also attend.
A delegate is not a “representative” of his or her congregation; he or she is not someone instructed to vote a certain way by the congregation or leadership. The Southern Province Book of Order states that a delegate, “must not lose sight of the interests of the Province and of the Unity as a whole,” even as they consider the perspective of their home congregation.
Delegates elected from congregations are sent with prayers and the guidance of the Spirit to use their gifts and maturity to engage in matters at Synod of their own conviction and to discern the direction God desires for the entire Moravian Church Southern Province.
Synod delegates serve on one of six program committees: Spiritual Growth, Community, Mission, Leadership, Partnership, or Stewardship. Committees have further divided into smaller working groups, and have met several times prior to Synod to discuss, discern and prepare proposals and reports for Synod to consider.
In February 2017, pastors and members from nearly all of Southern Province congregations, along with provincial program representatives and staff, came together at the Inter-Synodal Gathering to discuss ways to reclaim the church’s “missional energy.” This meeting generated a broad range of ideas and offered a basis for topics to be covered at the 2018 Synod.
Then in September, delegates gathered for a pre-synod meeting for orientation and to begin refining the topics and areas of discussion for Synod. Groups have been working since then to study issues and develop proposals to bring to Synod for action.
Many proposals will be shared with delegates prior to Synod. During the actual Synod time, these committees will continue to discuss these proposals and ideas or develop new ones, and prepare them for presentation to the entire voting body.
Delegates are expected to further prepare for Synod by familiarizing themselves with the processes and parliamentary procedures of the event; reviewing the reports and information from boards and agencies; becoming knowledgeable about nominees for elected offices; preparing for four intensive days of work for the future of the church; and praying before and during Synod for God’s leading and direction for the Province. On Sunday, April 15, Southern Province congregations are invited to celebrate a Liturgy for Commissioning Synod Participants.
“Spiritual preparation is at the heart of what we are called to do and be as Synod delegates,” wrote the Rev. Scott Venable, a member of the planning committee, in a special 2018 Synod Devotional. “Lifting the Synod and all the participants up in prayer before God is vital to our preparation. Prayer, meditation and reflection is essential to discerning the leading of our Lord and Savior, who is Head and Chief Elder of our Moravian Church. In a very real way, serving as a delegate to Synod is our calling…[and] we believe that God’s Spirit will be present with us as we worship, work, pray and fellowship together.”
At Synod, delegates will participate in daily worship and devotions, work in committees and working groups, and gather in plenary sessions with all delegates for discussions and votes. Elections and votes on resolutions will be handled electronically to help speed the process. The four days are intense – there is a lot to accomplish in a short period of time – but plenty of opportunity for prayer, singing, and catching up with Moravians from other parts of the province is built into the schedule.
The 2018 Southern Province Synod will be the culmination of nearly two years of planning and development by the Provincial Elders’ Conference and the Synod Planning Committee. These teams have been working to ensure all of the logistics, communication, discernment and prayer necessary to bring together Moravians from across the Southern Province are completed, and that the people and processes are in place for a successful governing session.
More information about the upcoming Synod, including videos describing what Synod is, how it works and how to prepare, along with communication materials for congregations and a devotional study developed for Synod delegates and those supporting them, are available at the Southern Province website, www.mcsp.org. In addition, The Interprovincial Board of Communication and Board of Cooperative Ministries will be covering the 2018 Synod and will report on key events and decisions.