Districts turn to online tools to hold postponed 2020 synods

Every four years, the three districts of the Moravian Church Northern Province each gather to handle the “business” of the church. While the Western, Canadian and Eastern Districts planned to meet in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made those gatherings impossible.

This spring, after a year’s postponement, the districts will turn to online options to conduct these district Synods in a virtual way that meets the requirements set out in the Northern Province Book of Order. Nearly 300 people from across the districts will attend one of the three synods.

Synods in 2021

The Western District will meet April 22-24; the Canadian District meets May 19; and the Eastern District meets June 24-25. Using the online conferencing system Zoom and a dedicated meeting platform called Lumi, synod delegates will be able to do many of the same activities they would if they were actually together, like voting, asking questions and speaking from the floor. Provincial IT Manager Mark Santore is overseeing the technology to make these synods possible.

Synod chair Rick Santee, who has presided over district synods for many years, will continue to lead the Eastern and Western District meetings, but this time it will be from in front of a computer screen in the Moravian Church Center in Bethlehem.  Graham Kerslake will remotely chair the Canadian special synod.

“We were hoping to have, then reschedule, this synod in 2020; Covid-19 prevented that from happening,” says Bruce Nelson, president of the Western District Executive Board. “In 2021, we were hoping to be able to meet in person for this synod, but out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to conduct this synod completely online.”

“Due to the limitations of a virtual format, each synod’s agenda will be focused on two major actions: synod elections and passing budgets,” explains Dave Bennett, president of the Eastern District.  “Legislation will not be voted on during these synods; it will be given to the District Executive Boards to be considered in the inter-synodal period between now and the Synods of 2024.”

A time to learn

Synods are typically a time for clergy and lay leaders from congregations across the districts to gather, discuss and learn from each other, and that aspect of Synod will continue even in the virtual space. 

Each Synod will feature video messages from district and provincial agencies along with “state-of-the-church” presentations by leaders.  These presentations and messages offer an opportunity for delegates to learn more about the exciting work happening throughout the church, understand the challenges facing agencies and congregations, and get ideas for enhancing their congregational work.

The Rev. Dr. Heather Vacek, currently vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Pittburgh Theological Seminary and soon-to-be dean of Moravian Theological Seminary (see story on page 5), is the keynote speaker for the Western District Synod.  Heather will offer several presentations over the course of the weekend on the Synod’s theme, “Being the Church: Holy Spirit Empowered.”

A special feature of the Eastern District Synod, themed “Into the World: this is the challenge of our mission…” will be a keynote address by author, speaker and professional musician David LaMotte.  In addition to a career as a touring musician who has released 12 albums, David has delivered keynotes and workshops all over the world.  He has also published three books; his most recent, “Worldchanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness,” is being used a textbook in universities in the U.S. and Australia.

And even though the “two or three gathering in [his] name” will be doing so through computer screens, these synods will also feature times for prayer and worship.

Getting ready

Delegates will have opportunities to prepare for the new way of doing synod in pre-synod meetings.  In the Eastern District, those meetings will include technology training, information on the schedule and what to expect during these new synods, and information on the 2022 budget challenges facing each synod. Western District delegates will have technology orientation sessions a week prior to Synod.

“In preparation for the special synod in Canada,” says Greg Weir, president of the Canadian District Executive Board, “we have purposefully scheduled a set of three District Dialogue meetings to connect with one another and talk about an over-arching purpose that connects work plans for congregations, the district and four key entities: The Canadian Moravian Mission Society, Van-Es Camp and Conference Centre, The Canadian Moravian Historical Society and the Canadian Moravian Foundation.”

Given the technical requirements and limited focus of the synods, only registered delegates will be able to speak on the synod floor and vote.  However, guests will be able to view portions of synod via Zoom, and details of elections will be shared following the events.

News from the synods will be shared in The Moravian and on Moravian.org.