Finding Full Communion on Sacred Ground
By the Rev. Maria Tjeltveit
I feel twice blessed by a Full Communion Sacred Ground program on Zoom. Every other Monday, seven of us serve as facilitators for an afternoon group (with three dialogue circles) and an evening group (with four circles) with about 50 participants.
We are Episcopalians, Moravians, Lutherans, and other clergy and lay people. We are mostly from Northeastern Pennsylvania, but have people from as far south as Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as far north as Springfield, Massachusetts, as far west as Minnesota, and one person who relocated to California during Sacred Ground. We are mostly White, but our evening group has four People of Color (including members of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem’s Racial Justice and Reconciliation Team).
This diversity of denomination, geography, and background enriches our discussions in our dialogue circles. In the large group time, it allows us expand the Episcopal focus to learn how other traditions and cultures approach racism.
Every other Tuesday, the facilitators meet on Zoom to debrief the prior session and plan the upcoming session. Again, we are Moravian, Episcopal, and Lutheran clergy and lay people from different areas. Some of us have facilitated or participated in Sacred Ground before, and some are doing it for the first time. Our different backgrounds and gifts—combined with our shared commitment to this learning and work of racial justice—creates a strong sense of community and expands our understanding. In many ways, we have become our own dialogue circle.
As the Episcopal co-chair of the Moravian-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, which oversees how our two churches live into full communion, when I first learned about Sacred Ground I reached out to the Moravian co-chair and asked if she would like to try it together. That first pandemic fall, our congregations began a Zoom Sacred Ground group with about 15 people.
The following fall, I recruited one of the Moravian members of that first group, and a Lutheran pastor friend, and we began a Full Communion Sacred Ground, again on Zoom. We were mostly in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, but had a Moravian bishop from North Carolina among the 20 or so members. Not only did we learn from one another’s denominational traditions, but Sacred Ground began to bear fruit. The Lutheran facilitator and a couple others were members of their synod’s Racial Justice Team, so they led a Lenten study of “Waking Up White.”
The Rev. Sue Koenig, chair of the Racial Justice Team for the Moravian Church Northern Province, took the course and began promoting Sacred Ground throughout the province. She is now a facilitator and inspired the entire Racial Justice Team of Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem to join this fall. The beginning of Sacred Ground coincided with the Northern Province clergy’s racial justice pilgrimage to Montgomery, Alabama, and Sue used the question, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)—along with a meditation from Catherine Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing—as our Scripture for our second session.
Sacred Ground may be designed by The Episcopal Church, but it adapts well for sharing with full communion or other ecumenical and/or interfaith neighbors. Joining with other congregations on Zoom or in person can create opportunities for connection and ministry that may continue beyond Sacred Ground. We could do the program separately in our denominations, but we would not trade the experience of doing Sacred Ground with full communion partners. In this way, we are blessed to live into Christ’s call to unity as we work to build the Beloved Community together.
The Rev. Maria Tjeltveit is the co-chair of the Moravian-Episcopal Coordinating Committee (MECC) and chair of the MECC Racial Reconciliation Working Group, which recently produced the webinar series, “Past Reckoning: Exploring the Racial History of the Moravian and Episcopal Churches.”