The Northern and Southern Provincial Synods of the Moravian Church and the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church authorized a dialogue team with representatives from both churches to meet and explore deepening our common fellowship, worship, and work together with the goal of entering into a full communion relationship.1 It became quickly apparent that our two Christian traditions had many points of contact over two and a half centuries ago. Eighteenth-century leaders, Count Nicolas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760) of the Moravians, and The Reverend John Wesley (1703–1791), of the Methodists, had significant contact with one another. The movements to which they gave inspiration and organization had similarities; but these renewal movements eventually drifted apart.
As a dialogue team coming together over two and a half centuries later, we therefore met partly as strangers, but also as fellow Christians whose paths have run parallel. As we met and came to know each other, we found that we were friends who had returned to each other as family. Historical disputes that divided our leaders and their adherents a quarter of a millennium ago clearly have no lasting meaning to us. We discovered that our traditions share a passion for music, living the Christian life, mutual tolerance for all people, pragmatic approaches for contextual mission, commitment to ministry by the laity, and yearning for the unity of the church.
We found that we had never denounced one another. We return as those who are, in a very real sense, in full communion already. Now we are challenged to live into that previously fallow relationship. We hope that the vitality of our shared faith will leave no doubt to any that we are united with one another in the love, mission, and ministry of Jesus Christ.
That Which Unites Us
Both Moravians and Methodists share many core characteristics that shape and define our churches. Moravians and Methodists both have their origins as revival movements functioning within European churches, calling people to live as faithful Christians. Both, from the very beginning, sought to co-operate with other Christians and looked for fellowship and spiritual nourishment wherever the Spirit of God provided. Both seek to live by Augustine’s maxim, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things love.” In the 18th and 19th century, both organized small groups, held lovefeasts, wrote and sang hymns, and developed missions.
Similarly, we have both struggled with matters of justice. Both of our traditions experienced transformations from revival movements within official government churches into free churches in their own rights in the context of a new North American society. This mixed heritage of traditions shaped both as missionary movements and as freestanding churches has left a lasting mark on the forms and practices of our spiritual and institutional identities.
Both Methodists and Moravians were mobile and agile enough in ministry in large measure because of the central ministerial role played by lay women and men. Their passion and zeal for reaching beyond the geographical limits of the official churches of the 18th and 19th centuries into lands inhabited by non-Europeans, or lands being newly settled by Europeans and Euro-Americans, helped establish new foundations for the expanding Christian church. As colonialism waned, both traditions left important marks upon the Christianity of a world no longer ruled from Europe.
Where Moravians and Methodists have gone, we have offered new models of being church that have included sacred song, worship and fellowship in small groups, commitment to education, and a persistent ecumenical spirit. Across the world, both traditions have provided leadership and commitment to the building of closer bonds of love among Christians of other differing traditions. It is natural that we now find ourselves coming closer together.
Click here to read the entire statement on the mutual recognition of full communion.
1 The Bilateral Dialogue Committee met four times over a period of two years: in March 2013 (New York, New York), September 2013 (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), February/March 2014 (New York, New York), and September 2014 (Winston-Salem, North Carolina). Members of the Committee were: For The United Methodist Church—Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, co-chair (Lawrence, Massachusetts); Prof. Dr. Ulrike Schuler (Reutlingen, Germany); Rev. Dr. Robert Williams (Ocean City, New Jersey) ; the Rev. Dr. Jason Vickers (Dayton, Ohio) ; and Dr. Glen Alton Messer II, staff (New York, New York); For the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces)—the Rev. Gary L. Harke, co-chair (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania); the Rt. Rev. J. Christian Giesler (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania); and the Rev. Dr. M. Lynnette Delbridge (Staten Island, New York).