In Mark 6:31, Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” The bishops residing in the Northern and Southern Provinces heard that same invitation as they gathered not in a deserted place, but on the campus of Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the 18th Interprovincial Bishops’ Conference in August.
Our time together began at Moravian Theological Seminary where Dr. Bryon Grigsby, president of Moravian University, and the Rev. Dr. Heather Vacek, Dean of Moravian Theological Seminary welcomed us for dinner, and provided information on happenings at both the Seminary and the University.
Pastors of local Moravian churches provided leadership for worship throughout our conference. Our first evening concluded with the Rev. Brian Dixon, pastor of Emmaus Moravian, leading us in the celebration of Holy Communion.
Breakfast and lunch each day was hosted at Central Moravian Church and served by members of the congregation under the direction of Rose Werner. We enjoyed a variety of homemade items, with both healthy and not-so-healthy choices available. Dinners were hosted by Bethlehem Area Moravians at Moravian Village in Bethlehem and Heritage Village in Nazareth where we received a tour of Morningstar Senior Living.
On Wednesday, our morning and afternoon worship was led by the Rev. Dan Miller, pastor of Edgeboro Moravian (Bethlehem) and the Rev. Sue Koenig, pastor of First Moravian (Easton)Easton. We spent the day in spiritual formation and renewal as a time for us to be nourished. Dr. Micah Sadigh, a member of Central Moravian Church and a professor at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., led us in “Falling in Love with God (again!)” and Marcella Kraybill-Greggo, director of Spirituality Programs at Moravian Theological Seminary, in “Wisdom’s Way of Knowing, Loving and Serving.”
We spent time meditating on scriptures such as: “Call unto me and I will answer you.” “Fear not for I am with you; I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine!” “Rest in my love.” “Love one another as I have loved you.”
We also received the name of one of our bishop colleagues for whom we were asked to pray, throughout the day, and in the months ahead. And we were reminded of what is most important as we seek to be servants in the church; by remembering God’s message through Hosea 6:6, “I do not want your sacrifices, I want you to love me; I do not want your offerings, I want you to know me.”
The Rev. Tammie Rinker, pastor of Westside (Bethlehem) and the Rev. Christine Johnson, pastor of College Hill (Bethlehem) led our worship on Thursday. That morning, the Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller, President of the Northern Province Provincial Elders’s Conference, discussed current issues including pastoral leadership, recruitment, church decline, emerging ministries, care and nurture of pastors in the ongoing Covid pandemic, and the need to be open to new possible ministries. We also met with Mike Riess, executive director of the Interprovincial Board of Communication, who shared updates on the ministry of the IBOC.
Later in the day we met with Charlene Donchez Mowers, who provided a presentation on Historic Bethlehem becoming part of a multi-cultural World Heritage site. Bethlehem, Gracehill (UK), and Herrnhut (Germany) are seeking to join Christiansfeld (Denmark) as a combined World Heritage site featuring Moravian church settlements in Europe and North America.
Friday worship was led by the Rev. Derek French, pastor of Nazareth and the Rev. Jodie Lean Harney, pastor of Mountainview (Hellertown). We spent time with the Rev. Jennika Borger, chaplain of Moravian University and Moravian Theological Seminary to discuss new ways of involving bishops with our seminary students. Most of our day was spent discussing a variety of topics related to ministry in the Moravian Church as we look to the future. Our day concluded with dinner at Hotel Bethlehem and a Cup of Covenant Service led by the Rev. Linda Wisser, pastor of East Hills (Bethlehem).
However, the most important aspects of our being together for this conference were the opportunity to share with one another about our lives and our ministries, to support and encourage each other, and to pray for each other and for the Moravian Church.
We are grateful to the Provincial Elders’ Conference of the Northern and Southern Provinces for providing us this opportunity and we look forward to meeting again in the Southern Province for the 19th Interprovincial Bishops’ Conference in 2024.
The Rt. Rev. Doug Kleintop is a bishop of the Moravian Unity from Pennsylvania.