Northern Province Synod legislation leads church forward

workshop with discussion

The 2018 Synod of the Moravian Church Northern Province tackled a wide range of topics facing the church today. Delegates brought more than 60 pieces of legislation to the Synod floor for discussion and deliberation, and approved nearly all of them.

This legislation was the work of 13 committees, who reviewed and revised memorials submitted prior to Synod and crafted new legislation during their time together. The committees handled topics including church and society, congregational leadership, emerging ministries, finance, healthcare and retirement benefits for clergy, healthier congregations, identity/purpose/organization, lay leadership development, missional engagement on both local and global levels, relationships with others, spiritual formation and stewardship. In addition to developing legislation, these committees also reviewed and accepted the reports of many of the agencies that work with the Northern Province.

To help understand the breadth and scope of the work done at Synod, we’ve prepared this summary of the significant pieces of legislation passed by this highest governing body of the Moravian Church Northern Province. To review the full resolutions, click here.

The Rev. Rowan Simmons from Toronto, Ontario, presents a report to the Synod.

Congregational Leadership and Health

The 2018 Synod passed a number of resolutions designed to strengthen congregational leadership and the health of our churches.

Synod approved a new set of guidelines for congregations and pastors serving together in part-time ministry. As some of our churches can no longer afford a full-time pastor, these guidelines help establish best practices and expectations of part-time clergy. A task force, appointed by the Provincial Elders’ Conference (PEC) following the 2014 Synod, developed the guidelines, which are available here.

In conjunction with the guidelines for part-time ministry, Synod also approved the establishment of a Congregational Training Fund, enabling lay leaders in congregations with part-time pastors to seek training through the Crossroads Program at Moravian Theological Seminary and other sources. Additionally, Synod directed the PEC to set up a Scholarship Fund to assist part-time pastors in acquiring skills and training for finding additional employment outside the church to supplement their part-time pastor pay. Synod also encouraged each district and congregation to place a line-item in their local budgets, or identify other funding, to encourage and financially assist their lay members to participate in the Crossroads Program.

To bolster leadership training within congregations, Synod established a Provincial Lay Leadership Training Team of six people – two from each district – to be trained in a variety of lay leadership skills, including Joint Board training, conflict resolution, identification of spiritual gifts, etc. Those team members would then be available to serve congregations by invitation or with the direction of their district board.

Synod approved a resolution directing the PEC to consider using licensed ministers as an opportunity to address the challenge of staffing congregations and identified the Crossroads Program as suitable training for this role. In addition, synod directed the PEC to grant the privilege of administering the sacraments to licensed ministers. Note that this resolution does not change the established path to ordination nor the requirements to become a full pastor in the Moravian Church.

Synod also approved a resolution to establish a unified, province-wide stewardship effort. To bring this about, the PEC will encourage the establishment of district Stewardship of Life Ministry teams (similar to one already established in the Eastern District), which will work together and with the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America to share resources, identify and share best practices, plan events, etc. Additionally, the Synod proposal asked the PEC to assess stewardship resources available to the Province, and create a central resource and partnerships to share resources and best practices.

Synod also approved the ongoing work of the Northern Province Healthier Congregations Task Force, approving funding for it to continue its efforts to support congregations, share valuable resources and serve to foster a culture of health and vitalitity within Moravian congregations, fellowships and emerging ministries.

Delegates join in conversation during the closing session of Synod.

Clergy-Focused Legislation

As Synods are the highest governing body of the Moravian Church Northern Province, they often decide changes in how the church functions with its pastors. In this vein, the 2018 Synod addressed clergy benefits, housing policies, credentialing, expectations and more.

In its first revision since 2002, Synod voted to increase the minimum housing allowance (for pastors who own or rent their own home) and the minimum annual equity allowance (for pastors living in parsonages). This move was designed to ensure pastors continued to receive fair compensation in consideration of the rising cost of housing.

Synod also made changes to how the Province will calculate years of experience in its guidelines for minimum salary for pastors serving under call. Prior to this action, pastors serving part-time only received credit toward salary ranges based on the percentage of their call, keeping pastors who serve part-time in lower salary ranges throughout the rest of their careers. With the 2018 Synod change, “Years of Service” for salary purposes will be calculated by the number of years a pastor has served under call or appointment, whether part- or full-time, as well as years a pastor has served under call or appointment in another Moravian province or recognized denomination.

Benefits for clergy were also discussed and revised during the 2018 Synod. The Northern Province will change its pension program from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan. This change replaces the traditional pension plan (defined benefit) with a denominationally managed 403(b) plan in which pastors can manage their retirement investments based on risk tolerance. (A 403(b) is similar in function to a 401(k), but for non-profit institutions). To manage the plan, the Northern Province is partnering with Portico Services, a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a full communion partner.

In addition, the Synod directed the PEC and Human Resources and Benefits Commission (HRBC) to urgently consider an increase in the base pension benefit to current pension recipients while maintaining fiscal soundness of the plan for the long term.

The 2018 Synod also reaffirmed the Clergy Assistance Fund, which makes financial assistance available to Moravian clergy who find themselves in emergency situations and who need assistance providing for food, shelter and/or safety. This fund was established based on legislation at the 2010 Synod.

On other topics dealing with Moravian clergy, the 2018 Synod voted to encourage the Provincial Elders’ Conference to:

  • work with the Southern Province PEC to review and seek input on process and policies outlined in the Reception of Ordained Personnel from Other Provinces of the Unity;
  • continue the work of the Deacon Supervision Task Force, which helps to mentor and supervise pastors in the early years of their ministries and prepare them for consecration as presbyters; and
  • appoint a task force to review the policies and guidelines that govern the use and care of church parsonages, outlining the responsibilities of both congregations and pastors.

Synod delegates also voted to change the Northern Province Book of Order’s section on Standards of Responsible Behavior for Ordained Ministers of the Moravian Church to better define appropriate behavior when it comes to gifts. The revisions advise that “…ordained ministers are careful to avoid even the appearance of using their office to influence or impact parishioners with regard to receiving gifts or personal favors or preferential consideration in the course of daily life or business.” All Book of Order changes require Synod approval.

Delegates Nick Noel and David Venditta present a proposal from the Church and Society committee.

Local and Global Missions

With the Moravian Church’s missional heritage, it’s no surprise that the Northern Province Synod would deliver a broad range of mission-focused initiatives on both the local and global level.

Following up on a resolution passed by the Southern Province’s 2018 Synod, the Northern Province Synod approved the institution of an annual Moravian Day of Service to begin in 2019. The PECs of both provinces will work with the Board of World Mission to designate a mission day in which Moravians across both provinces will be invited to serve in congregations or regional groupings on that day. Planning for this event will begin shortly; more information will be shared as details are arranged.

Synod also approved a resolution encouraging local congregations to engage in ministry outside the confines of their church buildings. In the resolution, congregations are encouraged to develop a cluster of three or more Moravian congregations or full communion partners or Canadian counterparts to collaborate on mission opportunities, while clergy members are also encouraged to locate and participate in their community ministerial groups to do the same.

Churches were further encouraged to seek ways to show hospitality to neighbors by opening their buildings as spaces for ministries and community partnerships. This resolution requested that the PEC expand grant opportunities for congregations to defray building and maintenance costs to cultivate ministries of hospitality.

In their final report, the Committee on Local Mission Engagement encouraged all congregations to explore their resources and passions, then identify needs in their communities where those resources and passions could be best put to use and develop ministries that can help address those needs.

In looking at global mission opportunities, Synod passed resolutions affirming the Northern Province’s role as supervising province for the mission area of Peru, and inviting members, congregations, districts and agencies to consider adopting a ministry in Peru based on opportunities defined by the Board of World Mission.

Synod likewise encouraged all congregations to annually designate a “Global Mission Sunday” to focus on opportunities to get involved in global mission endeavors. The Province will work with the Board of World Mission to provide support and materials for this yearly event.

Melida Hodgson served as vice-chair of the 2018 Synod.

Emerging Ministries and new work

There are many ways to “be the church” that go beyond the traditional congregation. New and emerging ministries-—those expressions of our Christian faith that address community needs—represent opportunities to expand the church’s work in new ways and places. Some examples of current emerging ministries in the Northern Province include Esperanza for Bethlehem in Pennsylvania; Common Ground Community Café in Sherwood Park, Alberta and Tricklebee Café in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The 2018 Synod explored what “Emerging Ministry” means in a Northern Province context. One resolution defined emerging ministry as a “Moravian-led endeavor that is recognized by the Provincial Elders’ Conference, but is not directly affiliated with any one particular Moravian congregation and stands as a new endeavor.” That same resolution called on the PEC to establish an Emerging Ministries Committee, advisory to the PEC, to identify, initiate, implement and oversee new ministries, ranging from church plants to various need-focused ministry endeavors. Synod also called upon the PEC to expand the definition of “the Church” and its various Moravian expressions and requested that the PEC revisit the timetable guiding provincial financial support for emerging ministries.

In recognition that a new pastor or seminarian may feel called to serve in a new or emerging ministry, Synod directed the PEC to consider call for ordination to a new or an existing emerging ministry as equal to the call to congregational ministry, based on the current criteria for ordination. This will allow ordination candidates to be considered for a call to a new or emerging ministry, or help develop a specific ministry plan into which they could be called.

Synod opened the door to the possible establishment of an Interprovincial Commission on Music and Worship, based on the work of the New Worship Resource Study Committee, who shared their findings in late 2017. The Synod directed the PEC to place the topic on the agenda for its fall meeting with the Southern Province PEC. This new commission would be dedicated primarily to worship and music in the Moravian Church, and include a representative from the Moravian Music Foundation and representatives from each Province.

The 2018 Synod also supported ongoing efforts to develop spiritual companioning groups in local congregations by directing the PEC to name a qualified individual to work with congregations to establish spiritual companioning groups and seek scholarship resources for the training of laity and clergy in the field of spiritual direction.

The Rev. Nigel Powell and the liturgical dance team from United Moravian in New York City.

Relationships with Others

The Northern Province continued its long tradition of ecumenical activity with several resolutions dealing with relationships with other faiths and faith traditions.

First, the 2018 Synod approved a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church. This agreement, which was approved by the United Methodists in 2016 and by the Southern Province Synod in April, now brings the Moravian Church in America and the UMC into full communion. (see story on page 14). The Moravian Church is also in full communion with the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.).

Second, Synod recognized a congregation in Downey, California, as a joint ministry of the Episcopal and Moravian Churches. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church opened its doors to welcome Moravians from the Moravian Church of Downey, which closed in 2017. St. Mark’s has since integrated Moravian liturgies, lovefeast and other forms of Moravian practice into its worship and has even changed the its name to St. Mark’s Church: A Congregation Celebrating the Episcopal and Moravian Traditions. Furthermore, Synod asked the PEC to find ways to facilitate and advance the mutual ministry of St. Mark’s. (Watch for an in-depth story on this new partnership in an upcoming issue of The Moravian.)

Third, Synod joined the Southern Province in endorsing the statement, “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” from the Unity Mission Conference, which had also been endorsed by the Southern Province at their Synod in April.

Following the approval of the full communion agreement with the Unite Methodist Church, the Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller presents UMC Bishop Michael Watson the Moravian Daily Texts for his date of birth.

Synod Resolutions on Social Issues

The 2018 Synod addressed a number of social issues facing our country and communities today.
The Synod addressed immigration with a resolution that calls for the church to stand for the humane treatment of those crossing our borders and for the reuniting of families who have been separated at the border.

The synod addressed the issue of violence by rejecting violence as a problem-solving method, calling for providing congregations with appropriate tools on non-violence and restorative justice and encouraging the church and its congregations to call on civil authorities to reduce violence. The resolution also addressed concerns over gun violence, but did not call for significant action in this area.

Synod also made statements affirming the dignity and rights of women and girls, committing to confront and eliminate discrimination and encouraging a continued ministry of healing and empowerment. The resolution also called on members to become informed about gender inequality and work in every aspect of life to eliminate institutional, systemic, and personal gender bias.

In a separate resolution, Synod called for raising awareness of violence against women, encouraging congregations to seek ways to assist victims of domestic abuse and other forms of violence. The resolution also called for training of pastors and others in identifying abuse and how to handle cases of abuse in their congregations, and directs the PEC to implement mandates found in the Church Order of the Unitas Fratrum dealing with gender violence. Additionally, the legislation encouraged clergy and congregations to invite individuals to expand the images of God they use beyond those that are male, as these can be barriers to those seeking comfort within the church who have been abused by men.

Synod affirmed the position of the Moravian Church regarding racism—“In the very core of Moravian understanding of humanity, the God-given equality of all people is fundamental”—and condemned, in the strongest terms, racism and discrimination in all its forms. This legislation also reaffirmed “A Statement on Racism and the Church” approved by the 1998 Synods of the Southern and Northern Provinces; called for resources on anti-racism training; and encourages all members to work in every aspect of life to eliminate institutional, systemic and personal racism.

2018 Synod legislation affirmed the dignity and rights of persons of all gender identities; reaffirmed the Province’s open welcome to all people by specifically recognizing that persons of all gender identities are also under God’s care and can be members of our church because they are children of God and seek to know God’s grace which is freely given to all people who have faith in God. The Province also supports and affirms all gender identities by allowing them to celebrate their lives as individuals, couples and families within the bounds of the church and under the grace that our Creator imparts to all.

Moreover, Synod commended the use of the most recent edition of Resolutions on Social Issues (available online) for use in congregations for direction, study, prayer, discussion and action. This document outlines the positions the Northern Province has taken on a broad range of social issues during past Synods.

Justin Rabbach and Bishop Paul Graf sing during Synod’s closing worship service.

Financial Matters

In addition to approving the provincial budget for the upcoming year (an important function of each Northern Province Synod), the 2018 Synod approved several other pieces of financially-focused legislation.

Along with the budget approval, the Finance Committee of the 2018 Synod provided an open letter to the Moravian Church, encouraging all congregations to consider faith gifts—amounts a congregation chooses to give the Province operating budget above and beyond their calculated common ministries commitment—as a way to support the future programming of the Province.

Synod voted to approve the continuation of the Northern Province Finance Committee as an advisory group to the PEC through the next intersynodal period. This committee assists the PEC in financial matters and provides detailed analysis and management to enhance the work of the PEC.

Synod also discussed further re-evaluation of how the amounts congregations pay to the Province for Common Ministries are calculated; directs the PEC to review the amounts paid for services to the provincial finance office by districts and agencies that rely on the office for their accounting services; and approved changes in the Larger Life Foundation’s distributions to various entities.

Following the five-day, 2018 Northern Province Synod, delegates can look back on an impressive amount of work that will help guide the Northern Province into its next four years and beyond.

To read the full resolutions from the 2018 Synod, visit

Synod articles and photos by Mike Riess, IBOC.