Lutheran Moravian Coordinating Committee Meets in Bethlehem, May 2016
Thirty (?) Moravian and ELCA clergy gathered on the campus of Moravian College- Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in early May to give thanks and to imagine new ways of living out our full communion partnership of worship, fellowship and mission.
The two denominations entered into a bi-lateral dialog in the mid 1990’s in order to better understand each others teachings, practices, sense of mission, and traditions. This led to a full recognition of ministries and partnership in 1998 and 1999. “Following Our Shepherd to Full Communion” is the name of the document which summarizes the essential points of discussion during the dialogs and which sets forth a set of recommendations to be followed by the two denominations for the sake of our common mission in Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
Bishop Samuel Zeiser of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA and Rev. David Bennett, President of the Eastern District of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church have led the way in celebrating and exploring avenues for common mission within their judicatories.
Bishop Zieser and Rev. Bennett opened the recent gathering in Bethlehem with stories of how partnership in ministry and mission is being lived out “on the ground” in Pennsylvania. For example, a congregation in Shanandoah, PA has become a vital center of ministry to the community through the cooperative efforts of Lutherans, Moravians, and Episcopalians.
These opening remarks led to sharing from others about joint ministries in the area. Youth retreats, pastoral care for the members of Morarvian Hall Square, distribution of clothing to those in need were some of the examples which were mentioned.
How do we as Moravians and Lutherans move forward, building up the Body of Christ in service to our neighbors in the future? As the discussion progressed, several important themes were sounded. The way forward is unscripted and therefore needs to grow organically, through processes of conversation between clergy, between laypersons, in response to real needs in our communities. No one size fits all paradigm for joint ministry exists and even if it did. It will develop as community needs become apparent and as personal relations grow. In line with this train of thought, the conference participants wondered how the seminaries of the two denominations might be involved. In addition, interdenominational prayer partnerships could be developed between clergy and lay members for mutual support and for the sake of discovering where and how the Holy Spirit might be at work in our communities.
The time spent together in prayer and conversation proved to be most encouraging, dynamic, and hopeful. The members of the Lutheran-Moravian Coordinating Committee, who organized the conference in Bethlehem, will continue to build upon the success of this gathering and are planning a similar conference to be held in Winston-Salem, NC in mid May of 2017.
Written by The Rev. Dr. Chris Thomforde