Motions for the Moravian Church of North America to enter into full communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States were approved by both bodies during a morning meeting and worship service on Wednesday.
Speaking to a group of 50 Episcopalians, Moravians and seminary students from other denominations, leaders from both churches engaged in an hour-long conversation with topics ranging from future mission partnerships to how members of both churches could get to know each other.
"We have only scratched the surface of the riches of this possibility," said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori after the meeting, held at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Penn.
Efforts to familiarize the two groups had already began prior to the meeting, with Episcopal minister the Rev. T. Scott Allen reporting to the group about his education session at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Allentown, Penn.
"We did have to answer questions," said Allen, according to Episcopal News Service (ENS). "People were confusing [Moravians] with Mormons and Mennonites."
Since 1997 the two churches have been in dialogue with one another about communion, with the most recent step being a response to a proposal presented at the Episcopal Church's General Convention in July entitled "Finding Our Delight in the Lord." The two churches have shared in Eucharistic celebration since 2003.
Approval from the synods of the Northern and Southern provinces of the Moravian Church is needed to complete the communion agreement, with both groups expected to act on the proposal in June and September of 2010, respectively. Each province will vote on the agreement individually and can enter into the communion independent of one another.
While no formal opposition to the communion has been presented from either church, Moravian leaders believe the Episcopal Church's stance on openly gay clergy will draw concern from some members.
The Rt. Rev. M. Blair Couch, one of two female bishops in the Moravian Church, believes that some Moravians will be opposed, "because of what they perceive the Episcopal Church to be."
For Couch, however, who says she has experienced, "mission-, Christ-centered faith and beauty and worship and wonderful fellowship," at Episcopal meetings, has promised to do her, "part to say that [full communion] will be a blessing."
Rev. David Bennett, president of the Moravian Church's Eastern District Executive Board, expects the issue of homosexuality to be thoroughly addressed in the body's upcoming synods. According to Bennett, both Moravian provinces agreed in 2002 to affirm, "the presence and ministry of gays and lesbians within the congregation but fell short of affirming their ministry in an ordained way" if they are in committed relationships.