Moravians Approve Full Communion With Episcopal Church

Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee Bishop Steven Smith, co-chair of the Moravian Episcopal Dialogue, addresses the Provincial Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Chuch June 18 after the synod agreed to be in full communion with the Episcopal Church. (Photo: Kat Lehman/ENS)

A full communion partnership between the Northern Province of the Moravian Church and The Episcopal Church (TEC) was sealed last week during a Moravian Synod meeting.

"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," noted David L. Wickmann, president, Provincial Elders' Conference, 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 decision was made during the Northern Province's 2010 Synod, being held from June 17-21 at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Penn. According to TEC, full communion constitutes "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," providing opportunities for the two groups to share resources and mission work.

TEC has been in discussions with the Moravian Church about full communion since 1997, with a formal proposal entitled "Finding Our Delight in the Lord" submitted last summer. The two churches have shared in Eucharistic celebration since 2003.

The Rev. Thomas Ferguson, interim deputy to the Presiding Bishop for ecumenical and interreligious relations, told the Episcopal News Service that "this is a sign that the Episcopal Church is committed to ecumenical conversations."

"Apart from our Orthodox dialogues, we haven't had any setbacks in our ecumenical work here," he said. "We have found a way to continue to be in ecumenical dialogue with other churches in this country."

One of two provinces located in North America, the Moravian Church's Northern Province encompasses some 100 congregations across the United States and Canada. The province is part of an international body, the Unitas Fratrum, which traces its roots back to 15th century Bohemia, or the modern day Czech Republic.

The Episcopal Church boasts some 2 million members as the U.S.-based arm of the Anglican Communion, although relationships with Anglican leadership in England have been recently strained due to TEC's ordainment of its second openly gay bishop, the Rev. Mary Glasspool.

On the same day as the Moravian Church approved communion with TEC, Anglican Communion's Secretary General Kenneth Kearon told TEC leadership that the communion's ecumenical dialogues "are at the point of collapse" and that the last meeting of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, of which TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is an elected member, "was probably the worst meeting I have experienced," according to ENS.

Ferguson noted that the dialogue with the Moravian Church, which does not allow openly gay clergy to serve, shows that TEC "can continue to move forward when our focus is on mission and ministry together, and agreeing to disagree on things that we don't believe are church-dividing."

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