[Editor's note: The following release was provided by Mike Riess, Executive Director of the Interprovincial Board of Communications for the Moravian Church in North America. I took the photo and you can see more from the vote here]
By Mike Riess
JUNE 18, 2010, BETHLEHEM, PA. – Today, delegates of the Moravian Church, Northern Province voted to bring their Province into a relationship of full communion with the Episcopal Church. The proposal, brought to the floor of the Northern Province’s 2010 Synod held at Moravian College in Bethlehem this week, was approved by voice vote.
What a great and glorious day,” said Steven Miller, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and co-chair of the dialogue. “In a world that wants to divide us more and more, we are called to unity. We look forward to new and deeper relationships across our churches as we continue to work together to witness the true unity of God through the Church of Jesus Christ.”
This is an important day in the life of our churches,” said David L. Wickmann, president, Moravian Church, Northern Province. “This communion means our Church has the opportunity to engage with one of our historic partners in a more complete and meaningful way.”
The communion of the Moravian Church, Northern Province and the Episcopal Church brings a greater unity to the Christian church. “We seek this relationship of full communion so that our mission as Christ’s church will be more effectively fulfilled and each of our denominations might be more complete because of the spiritual treasures of the other,” reads Finding Our Delight in the Lord: A Proposal for Full Communion Between the Episcopal Church; the Moravian Church Northern Province; and the Moravian Church, Southern Province. “We do this for the sake of the world so that the world may believe.”
In pursuing full communion with another church, both denominations remain faithful to Christ’s will for his church. On the night before he died, our Lord Jesus prayed, “…that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21 NRSV)
Full communion is not a merger. There will still be differences between the denominations, just as there are differences in individual churches, provinces and dioceses of any denomination. Current differences in structure, doctrine, liturgy and positions on social and ethical issues may require each church to speak for itself at times.
This communion maintains what makes each denomination special or unique to its members; it is about the unity of Christ’s church, not the uniformity of practice. The two will mutually recognize and respect each other as part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, which affirms its faith through the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
In addition to the unity of Christ’s church, full communion provides for the sharing of ministry. With this agreement, ordained clergy in each denomination will be able to serve in the other, allowing for the orderly interchange of ordained ministers, joint worship and the celebration of Holy Communion.
On a practical level, the full communion provides opportunities to share resources and mission work. Full communion agreements bring mutual cooperation and laboring together in mission work, church planting, clergy education, disaster relief and other areas of common endeavors. The communion also offers opportunities to enhance the life and ministry of local congregations.
The Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of their full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Episcopal Church also has full communion with the ELCA. This is the first time three denominations have come to full communion agreements on their own.
The full communion is the result of many years of work between the two churches. It was first proposed in 1999. Since then, ecumenical representatives from both denominations worked to reach the accord. The 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting July 8-17, 2009, adopted Finding Our Delight in the Lord unanimously. Following the Northern Province Synod this week, the proposal is expected to be taken up by the Moravian Church-Southern Province at their Synod in September.
The Moravian Church, which celebrated its 550th anniversary in 2007, is one of the oldest Protestant denominations, dating back to 1457 in Europe and first coming to America in 1735. Moravians have a strong tradition of ecumenical work and are best known for their missionary work and rich musical heritage. The Moravian Church in North America is comprised of the Northern and Southern Provinces. The Northern Province has around 23,000 members in 93 congregations in 13 states in the U.S. and two Canadian provinces. The Southern Province includes nearly 17,000 members in 58 congregations, which are located primarily throughout the Southeast. The worldwide Moravian Church consists of 19 provinces with nearly 795,000 members, half of which live in Africa. Moravian Church contact: Mike Riess, firstname.lastname@example.org