Yesterday, I came across this article that says the Methodist and Moravian church, share the same DNA. That night, the Methodists held a vote that bans the rights of gays.
The Southern Province Synod of the Moravian Church recently approved two resolutions, including a measure that will allow gay and lesbian ministers to marry.
The Rev. David Guthrie of Winston-Salem, the president of the Provincial Elders’ Conference of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, said that church leaders and congregants have spent two years talking about the issues addressed in the resolutions.
“We have not had restrictions about gay and lesbian members being ordained,” Guthrie said in an email. “Prior to this decision, they would have been expected to be single and celibate. This Synod’s decision would allow them, along with all members, to be married.”
At First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh, which prides itself on being welcoming to all, the vote was on the minds of many.
“Nothing has changed in this place. Nothing has changed in this place,” the Rev. Tracy Cox, pastor of the Bloomfield church, told worshippers before Sunday’s service got underway.
Congregants together also recited the words on the front of the church program that all are welcome there, “regardless of Christian perspective, education, economic condition, race, gender, national origin, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or marital status.”
Following the regular worship service, many gathered to review what had happened at last week’s conference in St. Louis to share their thoughts and offer prayers of lament and hope.
Church delegates there adopted the “Traditionalist Plan,” which prohibits the ordination of LGBTQIA clergy and prohibits United Methodist churches from hosting same-sex wedding and clergy from officiating them, Tracy Merrick of Wexford, who was in St. Louis last week, explained.
The plan regarding clergy who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied also included penalties for churches that violated those rules.
The resolutions also outline the roles of church leaders and acknowledge the church’s different opinions about homosexuality.
One resolution allows the leaders of individual churches to decide who will serve as pastors, who can be married in the church and who will be admitted as members, according to the church’s website.
“We respect those decisions of the local church boards and pastors,” Guthrie said.
The other resolution states “that any person, group, congregation agency and entity within the Southern Province retains the right to make opinions related to LGBTQ issues … without fear of recrimination, provided such opinions live up to our covenant: ‘We will not hate, despise, slander, or otherwise injure anyone.”
About 200 voting delegates met April 19-22 in Black Mountain. The majority of those delegates approved these two resolutions and 20 other measures regarding various aspects of the Moravian Church, Guthrie said. The Southern Province consists of 56 Moravian churches, including several in Winston-Salem.
Throughout the Rt. Rev. J. Christian Giesler’s life, there has always been a United Methodist church — and a community partner — close by.
So it made perfect sense to Giesler, a Moravian bishop and pastor of Emmaus (Pennsylvania) Moravian Church, that the two denominations follow a closer path to unity through the full communion agreement approved in May by General Conference 2016, The United Methodist Church’s top legislative body.
“I find this agreement to be making official what has been a reality all along,” said Giesler, who was present for the vote in Portland, Oregon. “We are brothers and sisters, and we do share so much.”
Now, it’s his turn to help finish the process as the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in North America take their own votes on the agreement in 2018.
As with similar agreements the Moravians have established with the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Moravian congregations will be encouraged to establish or strengthen relationships with their nearby United Methodist counterparts.
Giesler expects this relationship to be somewhat different. “We do share a significant piece between both of our histories,” he noted. “To me, it adds something a little bit extra.”
A practical application
The Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the United Methodist Council of Bishops organized the dialogue on behalf of the denomination.
The joint committee that worked on the agreement had a tremendous interest in making “the full communion agreement mean something in practical terms. That emphasis was there from the very beginning,” said Glen Messer, associate ecumenical staff officer for theology and dialogue.
A Centuries-Old Connection
The Moravian movement had an enormous influence on the ministry of John Wesley and the Methodist movement he started.
Both traditions “have a real focus upon mission and upon practical Christian life within the communities,” said Glen Messer, of the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Not everything is the same. With a strong influence from the Lutheran faith, Moravians practice a quieter former of piety, something that Wesley reacted strongly against, Messer said. Methodists are “much less inclined to pause, much less inclined to wait in silence to hear God’s voice.”
But that difference could be a potential resource, he added, as Moravians learn from United Methodist activism and United Methodists learn from Moravians the quiet contemplation needed to hear God’s voice.
Both denominations may have drifted a bit from spiritual disciplines like self-reflection, Messer noted. “As we explore our common root of history together, one of the challenges we face…is what do we do about our unique kinds of spirituality that have tremendous similarities?”
On a more practical level, the biggest difference in episcopal leadership is that the function of Moravian bishops is purely spiritual, without the administrative duties of their United Methodist counterparts.
“My main function is to be an intercessor on behalf of the church, to serve as a pastor to pastors,” explained the Rt. Rev. J. Christian Giesler, who also serves his own local congregation.
But the bilateral dialogue committee, which met four times between March 2013 and September 2014, also wants members of each denomination to recognize a spiritual and theological closeness that dates back to the time of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
The Moravians had a significant impact on early Methodism. “We were struck, as a committee … with how similar their church life in the 18th century was to our life as a movement in the 18th century,” Messer explained.
“The metaphor we sometimes use is that we share a lot of DNA, which is really borrowed from them (the Moravians),” he added. “They are a part of our family tree.”
The Rev. Lynnette Delbridge, currently a pastor at Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a member of the dialogue committee, said she embraced the committee’s task with an open mind.
As a student at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, she visited several churches of other faiths, including a United Methodist congregation, and United Methodists were among her classmates. Her realization? “This is a Protestant denomination that feels pretty much like ours.”
United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, the denomination’s ecumenical officer, has had Moravian connections within the National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches and Christian Churches Together. In the latter organization, the Rev. David Guthrie of the Moravian Southern Province chaired the last steering committee meeting, she noted. He “demonstrated the wonderful gifts the Moravian community brings to the whole ecumenical table,” Swenson added.
Swenson said she finds great joy in the new Moravian-United Methodist relationship. “As we would say in the ecumenical world, this is a way of making visible our unity that, in a sense, already exists without talking about it.