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2016 Eastern District Synod: Taking up the task that’s given to us

With a memorable line from a favorite hymn as their theme–“To us, to us, this task is given”–136 Eastern District Moravians made their 2016 Synod one like no other.

While most Moravian Synods focus on learning about the church’s activities and helping to plan for the future (this Synod did those things as well), the 2016 Eastern District Synod focused on mission that got people out of their seats and into the community.

Mission–putting that task we are given into action–was woven into every part of the 2016 Synod. Committees were organized into mission teams. Much of the legislation from Synod encouraged increasing collaborative mission at local, national and international levels. Staff from the Board of World Mission played a significant role. Worship times focused on aspects of mission. And participants in Synod actually rolled up their sleeves and got involved in local mission efforts.

Mission as a centerpiece

This local mission component was the centerpiece of the 2016 Synod. Synod participants dedicated an entire day of Synod to working at agencies across the Lehigh Valley, performing a wide range of activities including visiting prisoners, cleaning homeless shelters, serving meals, painting rooms, meeting with nursing home patients, repairing homes and much more.

The working groups for the 2016 Eastern District Synod were organized around the “least of these” verse from Matthew 25. The mission teams featured names like “Feed the Hungry,” “Providing a Drink for the Thirsty,” “Clothe the Naked,” “Welcoming the Stranger,” and “Visit Those in Prison.” Those committee names not only reflected the work their members would do in the community; they also signified the work they would do as part of the planning and legislation portion of Synod.

One of the first activities of Synod was determining where participants would be working on their mission experience. Using the Moravian custom of “the lot,” each mission team member drew a piece of paper at random that indicated his or her mission activity.

Then, on Thursday, Synod participants fanned out across the area to “be the church.” Some worked in area shelters like New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem or Safe Harbor in Easton. Others worked serving meals at local soup kitchens or delivering meals with Meals on Wheels. Moravians painted walls at Esperanza for Bethlehem; hosted a picnic day for residents of a local elderly community; visited inmates at Northampton County prison; learned about providing health services to the homeless; repaired and refinished picnic tables for a camp serving youth in crisis; built a new porch roof for a Moravian in need and assisted in more than a dozen other agencies in the area.

The Synod Planning team coordinated these mission experiences, locating appropriate opportunities, working with agency contacts and arranging for transportation on the day of the event. While it was a major undertaking, their work succeeded in introducing more than 130 Moravians to local mission work–and helping agencies working to improve the lives of people in the community.

Synod delegates weren’t the only ones heading out into the community during Synod. Youth from a number of Moravian congregations also joined in as part of a “Mission Mob.” Eastern District Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director Cynthia Rader Geyer invited Moravians via Facebook and through their congregations to spend the day with Synod in their mission efforts. Wearing blue “Moravian Youth and Young Adults” t-shirts, 17 Mission Mob members worked alongside their Synod delegate counterparts at their mission locations. (for more on the Mission Mob, see the accompanying story.)

Assembly lines to feed the hungry

The evening before delegates went out into the community, they put the full force of their numbers into a single project to feed the hungry.

Working with an organization called “Outreach Incorporated,” Synod participants set out to assemble meals destined for Haiti. The floor of the Breidegam Fieldhouse at Moravian College was transformed into a temporary manufacturing facility. Volunteers from Palmer Moravian Church led teams of aproned/hair-netted/gloved delegates packaging non-perishable meals on more than a dozen assembly lines. Using a time-tested, highly efficient process, the workers measured precise amounts of ingredients like rice, beans, dried vegetables and seasoning into plastic bags, which were then weighed to ensure consistency, heat-sealed and boxed for shipment.

In less than 90 minutes, the delegates met their goal, finishing nearly 6000 packets– enough for 32,000-plus meals–which will be distributed to those in need on Haiti. While Bethlehem Area Moravians (BAM) provided the funding for the project, it was the labor of Synod participants that made creating this many meals possible.

Learning about mission

In addition to rolling up their sleeves, Synod participants also had many opportunities to learn about mission from those doing it.

Staff from the Board of World Mission, including Judy Ganz, Sam Gray, Justin Rabbach and Jill Kolodziej, along with board members of the BWM, were instrumental in the planning and implementing the mission parts of Synod. The staff provided a solid foundation for the events of the week, including months of coordination with the Synod Planning Team prior to the gathering, then offering informational talks, updates on the work of the BWM, training and assistance at Synod itself.

During the first plenary session, delegates also learned about local mission efforts during a “District Mission Forum” hosted by Eastern District President Dave Bennett. Representatives from five congregations shared mission efforts founded in their church, including “Sole Purpose,” a ministry of First Moravian Church of Dover, Ohio, to provide shoes to kids; refugee settlement efforts led by Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pa.; the Adult Day services ministry of Lancaster (Pa.) Moravian; joint ministry efforts of Vanderbilt Moravian and the churches of Staten Island; and the clothing ministry of Mountainview Moravian in Hellertown, Pa.

Through the Forum, each congregation shared the work they were doing, what sparked their efforts, how they made their effort happen and the results. These stories got Synod delegates thinking about ways to bring the mission spirit home to their congregations and get a sense of what’s possible.

And each of the worship services throughout Synod, led by Synod chaplain Bishop Sam Gray, focused on one of the actions called for in Matthew 25. Through prayers, songs and sermons, the worship services provided a spiritual connection to the mission work at hand.

Sparking mission interest

The outreach events and learning opportunities did more than just get Synod delegates out into the community. The experiences of Wednesday and Thursday educated their notions of what mission means and sparked renewed interest in mission as ministry.

Upon returning from their community experiences, mission team members gathered to debrief and discuss what the experience meant to them. During this time of reflection, delegates also began work on the reports and resolutions they would bring to Synod the following day.

The mission experience inspired many of the resolutions that came to the Synod floor on Friday. The “Visit Those in Prison” brought a resolution calling for the District to make prison ministry resources available to congregations, arrange opportunities for congregations to get involved and encourage advocacy for treatment efforts to prevent incarceration and facilitate re-entry into society.

Other mission groups passed resolutions calling for the development of active mission components for use in Sunday school and confirmation classes; encouraging congregations to seek and actively engage in local mission work; providing resources and information on mission opportunities; encouraging support for the emerging ministry in Peru (the Northern Province is the sponsoring province for this mission area); and others.

Additionally, the Synod proposed the development of a single-day “Be the Church” event that would be District-wide (or perhaps Northern Province-wide), where all congregations across the district would participate in local mission activities in a single-day coordinated effort. This potentially annual event would combine resources and talent of many congregations to make a greater impact together. (We’ll share more on this as the idea is developed by Eastern District commissions).

And with the success of this year’s mission experiences, Synod passed a resolution recommending that all future Eastern District Synods include a hands-on mission component.

Elections and legislation

Delegates conducted other important Synod business along with the mission work undertaken and future work proposed.

On Friday, delegates elected leadership for the next four years in the form of the Eastern District Executive Board. The Rev. David Bennett was elected to a third term as the president of the EDEB. In this role, Dave will lead the Executive Board and serve as the administrative leader for the Eastern District. He will also serve as a member of the Provincial Elders’ Conference of the Moravian Church Northern Province.

The EDEB also includes two clergy and six lay members. The Rev. Michael Johnson, pastor of John Hus Moravian Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., and The Rev. Darrell Johnson, pastor of John Heckewelder Memorial Moravian Church in Gnadenhutten, Ohio, were re-elected as the clergy representatives to the EDEB.

Lay members re-elected at the 2016 Synod include Blondel Jones-Grant, United Moravian Church, New York City; Jackie Pasquinelli, Schoenbrunn Community Moravian Church, Ohio; and Ralph Wanamaker, West Side Moravian Church, Bethlehem, Pa.†Newly elected members include Lauren Daugherty of Palmyra Moravian Church in Cinnaminson, N.J.; Tammy Lavoy of Newfoundland Moravian Church in Newfoundland, Pa.; and Michael Koenig†of Graceham Moravian Church in Thurmont, Md.

Along with EDEB, delegates elected board members for eight different commissions and agencies that assist in carrying out the mission and ministry of the District.

In addition, Synod delegates approved the District budget for the coming year, discussed financial topics and resolved to continue work on an equitable income-based methodology for District assessments through the next Synod in 2020.

Learning opportunities

Synods also offer an opportunity to learn more about the many ministries that support the Moravian Church. Throughout Synod, agency leaders from the District’s senior living facilities, the Moravian Theological Seminary, Moravian Open Door, the Board of World Mission, the Moravian Ministries Foundation and other agencies of the church provided updates on their work and offered insights into how that work benefits the overall Church.

Delegates also heard from the Revs. Chris Johnson and Tracy Pryor, who provided an update on the work of the IPO (Identity, Purpose and Organization) Task Force of the Northern Province. The team is studying the structure and ministry of the Northern Province.

Words from an Epistle

As delegates left Synod, they were provided with “An Epistle to the Eastern District Congregations.” This document summed up the activities of the 2016 Synod.

“It was exciting to hear how God is blessing others through the faithful actions and ministries of so many people throughout the Eastern District. People are feeding the hungry, providing a drink for the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting and advocating for the imprisoned and finding ways to fund these tasks.

“Throughout all of this–in our worship, in our discussion, in our mission experiences, in our conversations with fellow Moravians–we saw that God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing; so that we can be the church of Jesus, not only within these walls, but especially as we go out into God’s world to serve God’s people.

“If we live by the Spirit, then we must be guided by the Spirit. God’s Spirit leads us outward, beyond the walls of our church, even beyond our comfort zones. And we believe that the best part of Synod is what happens after Synod. The task of feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty and welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked and healing the sick and visiting and advocating for the imprisoned and using our resources to do God’s work is not only for us (delegates at Synod). It is for all of us, as together we carry on the ministry that God has given us–all of us–to be Christ’s servants.

“Just as [we were sent] to be the delegates at the Eastern District Synod, now God sends you to be Christ’s hands and feet and eyes and ears–Christ’s heart–to be the church of Jesus Christ in the Eastern District and in all the world!”

Article and photos by Mike Riess, IBOC. The next Eastern District Synod will occur in 2020.