Conference brings North American Moravian bishops together…and closer to each other

Every four years the bishops of both the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church are invited to gather for a retreat. Setting a date, finding a location and then making travel plans is what brings us together, but it is the time spent in fellowship, prayer, worship, and deliberation that brings us closer together as brothers and sisters in Christ and as servants of the Church.

From August 26 to 30, 2019, we gathered at Laurel Ridge, the Moravian Camp and Conference Center nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Different from our past gatherings we decided to spend the entire first day of our retreat in a time of group spiritual direction rather than to jump right into the busyness of business. We were grateful to have the Rev. Dr. Jane Williams (retired professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Moravian Theological Seminary) to guide us through the day. Under the theme of “Living in the Wilderness” her sessions were titled: “Looking for the Path,” “Finding Water in the Wilderness,” “I Will Make a Way,” and “You are My Witnesses.” These were powerful moments that allowed us to focus on our personal spiritual journey and how that impacts the ministry that we share. We ended this first day with each one of us being anointed with oil, and with the laying on of hands receiving a blessing. From our distant corners of the North American continent we were brought close in heart by the grace of God.

On our second day, with our hearts still warmed, we began our discussion sessions. We were privileged to be able to spend several hours with the Rev. David Guthrie, President of the Provincial Elders’ Conference in the Southern Province. He brought us up to date on matters of importance not only in the Southern Province but also the wider Moravian Unity. These updates are invaluable as we seek to provide counsel on vital issues, but more importantly it helps us to know how to pray for them.

As our retreat unfolded several issues became the focus for our deliberations and prayers. We are increasingly concerned about the propensity for division among the members and congregations of our provinces. This seems to be following a pattern that we see pervasive in our society today. It is our hope and prayer that we in the Moravian Church can remain in community and committed to mission even while we might look at matters of theology or politics differently. We are very much aware that the pastors of our congregations are feeling stressed in this increasingly polarized environment. As a result, we composed and sent a pastoral letter to our pastors assuring them of our desire to be a resource for them, and our commitment to hold them in our fervent prayers.

One paragraph contained in the letter to pastors can also be characterized as our prayer for the entire church. It reads:

We pray that the divisiveness in our society has not hindered the ministry of your congregation in serving Jesus Christ in your community and supporting the ministry of the larger church around the world. We pray that each of us will continue to heed the teachings and follow the example of our Chief Elder, Jesus Christ, and live as disciples in faith, love, and hope.

Bishops bless Dr. Jane Williams, who facilitated their discussions during their retreat.

We also talked about the shortage of pastors that we are experiencing right now and pledged ourselves to work with our respective PEC’s to find ways of enabling our members to hear and respond to the call of God to ordained ministry in the church. We encourage anyone who feels called to serve the church to begin by having a conversation with their pastor who can help to begin the process of discernment that might include conversations with a bishop and/or a member of the PEC. We recognize that there are many ways in which one can serve the church and ordained ministry is but one of them. Helping individuals to discern this call is part of what we do as bishops.

These are but a small representation of our discussions, prayers, fellowship, and times of worship. We spent many hours in conversation about the various aspects of fulfilling our primary roles as bishops in the church which are to be a pastor to our pastors, to be a resource to our Provinces in spiritual and doctrinal matters, to pray for the Moravian Unity and its mission, and to represent the church in the act of ordination.

As a result of these days of being together we have been brought closer to each other as friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, and servants of the Moravian Church. It is our deepest desire and prayer to see that we as Moravians can be an example for the world in modeling genuine community, unconditional love, and concern for our neighbors near and far. We truly celebrate that our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him. N

Thanks to the Rt. Rev. Chris Gielser and our Moravian bishops for this review. Photos by the Rt. Rev. Hopeton Clennon. In the photo above (l-to-r) the Rt. Revs. Sam Gray, Kay Ward, Lane Sapp, Blair Couch, Paul Graf, Carol Foltz, 
Graham Rights, Chris Giesler, Tom Shelton, Doug Kleintop, Hopeton Clennon and Wayne Burkette.