Orders of the Moravian Ministry

pastor singing

Moravians have preserved the historic three orders of church: deacon, presbyter (priest), and bishop. These do not form a hierarchy; and the bishops by virtue of their offices have no dioceses or administrative authority. That is vested in the provincial elders’ conferences and the district boards.

Deacons are ordained by bishops, almost always after obtaining a degree in theology and after qualifying before a committee of review. They must have a call to pastoral or other Christian service before ordination takes place. They have full privileges to preach, administer the sacraments, and do the pastoral and administrative work described in their calls. The latter are issued by the Provincial Elders Conference “in the name of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.”

After a probationary period of three to five years, deacons are consecrated presbyters of the church by a bishop. This demonstrates the approval of the local congregation or agency served, that of the district board (where applicable), and that of the church at large. For a presbyter, no additional functions beyond that of a deacon are usually involved.

Ministers transferring from another denomination to the Moravian Church are accepted as deacons. They can become presbyters only through consecration by a Moravian bishop.

Bishops in the Moravian Church are a symbol of the continuity of the Unitas Fratrum. Their line has been unbroken from 1467. Elected for life, they perform all ordinations and ministerial consecrations, and are primarily spiritual leaders of the church. They are counselors and pastors of pastors. They offer intercession for the entire Unity and are bishops wherever they travel or reside. The American Northern Province in 1998 moved forward in a new direction by electing the first female bishop of the Unity, the Rt. Rev. Kay Ward. Since that time, several other female bishops have been elected in various provinces.

The Unity Synod of 1967 established the office of acolytes for lay servants who exercise a “particular responsibility in the Congregation or Province.” The duties may include “assisting the pastor in pastoral duties” and “assisting in serving the elements of the Holy Communion…” Acolytes, or Acolouths as the German word, may be elected by the Boards of Elders and Trustees of a congregation, but their reception must be authorized by the Provincial Elders’ Conference. The office applies only in the congregation making the selection and is not transferable if the acolyte moves to another congregation.

From the all about the Moravians: History, Beliefs, and Practices of a Worldwide Church (2008) and Customs and Practices of the Moravian Church (2003) books.