The Northern Province of the Moravian Church voted June 18 to enter into full communion with the Episcopal Church. ENS Weekly bulletin inserts for July 11, titled "Historic Partners," report on the new full communion agreement, which was approved by the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention, meeting in Anaheim, Calif.
Moravian Church's Northern Province enters full communion with the Episcopal Church
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
The Northern Province of the Moravian Church voted June 18 to enter into full communion with the Episcopal Church.
The nearly unanimous voice vote came during an evening session on the second day of the church's June 17 - 21 quadrennial Provincial Synod at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
"This is an important day in the life of our churches," said the Rev. David L. Wickmann, president of the Provincial Elders' Conference, Moravian Church North America. "This communion means our church has the opportunity to engage with one of our historic partners in a more complete and meaningful way."
"I am abundantly delighted, and look forward to growth in mutual relationship and mission," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said after learning of the decision. "I believe we have much to learn from the Moravian tradition."
Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller, co-chair of the Moravian - Episcopal Dialogue, addressed the synod just after the vote and afterwards said that he told the participants "that there's much that we can share with one another in terms of mission and ministry and that it was as exciting and moving a moment for the Episcopal Church as it was for them."
The Rev. Thomas Ferguson, ecumenical and interreligious relations officer for the Episcopal Church, said after the vote that "this is a sign that the Episcopal Church is committed to ecumenical conversations."
Miller suggested that the full communion relationship will have both a "global mission focus and a local witness focus."
He said he hoped that the Episcopal dioceses in Wisconsin "will make a concerted effort to nurture this new relationship and learn from one another."
Miller also noted that Jefferts Schori has proposed that the Moravian Church "join with us in our work as we seek to rebuild the church in Haiti, which they're very concerned about as well."
The Episcopal Church agreed during the 76th General Convention in the summer of 2009 to enter into a full communion relationship with the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church. The agreement is officially known as 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.
The Moravian Church's Southern Province is expected to vote on full communion during its synod Sept. 9-12 in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Each province can independently enter into full communion relationships.
The Moravian Church is relatively small and concentrated in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Moravians in America are part of the worldwide Christian communion formally known as the Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of the Brethren, which was founded in 1457 as part of the movement for reform of the church in what is now the Czech Republic. Persecuted almost to extinction, members of the Unitas Fratrum eventually found refuge on the estate of German nobleman Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. In the 1700s, they went through a rebirth under Zinzendorf's protection and grew into a global communion.
The Episcopal Church says that it understands full communion to mean "a relation between distinct churches in which each recognizes the other as a catholic and apostolic church holding the essentials of the Christian faith." The churches "become interdependent while remaining autonomous," the church has said.
The Episcopal Church also is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Philippine Independent Church and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India.
The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.