By KEITH COPELAND |
The Lutheran Church is celebrating 500 years of the Reformation in 2017. I usually tell my brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church that I have been hanging out with our older sister. As the Moravian Church prepares to celebrate 600 years, I have been blessed to be a part of the Unitas Fratrum while in this interim journey with Peace Moravian. As I prepare to follow God’s call to serve as the interim pastor of St. Armands Lutheran Church in Sarasota, Florida, here are some reflections on my journey with the Moravian Church.
The Moravian Church seems to have a powerful way of instilling a sense of identity unlike what I have seen in other denominations. The closest I have seen in this identity formation comes from those who are Jewish. This identity lays claim to all of life including activity far removed from the church. I can’t help but think that this is because of the emphasis on community in the Moravian church and not over-emphasis of doctrine. When identity is not an idea but a relationship, it seems to be much deeper and enduring. In a survey done at Peace Moravian, the biggest reason given for remaining with the church is the Moravian heritage and the relationships. The youth and children also show a strong connection not only to the congregation but an identity as Moravian. This is truly something that can and should be celebrated and built upon.
Heritage and history are both a blessing and a burden for the Moravian Church. As the joke goes, “How many Moravian’s does it take to change a light bulb. None, because Moravian’s don’t change!” We pray as the Lord taught us, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Moravian Church has the pan, recipe and means to make bread. Sometimes, however, it is easy to forget it is daily bread. It should be made fresh every day. The challenge of heritage and history is how to use it to make the gospel new and fresh every day, rather than trying to survive on the memory of what used to be. How can the heritage and history become the vessel that serves to mold the new bread into that which can feed the world?
There are some wonderful gifts that I will take with me wherever I go. One of those gifts is the collegiality and hospitality that was shared with me on this journey. The Moravian Church has always been a leader in ecumenical conversation. This was evident in the representation of the Moravian Church at all the different ecumenical gatherings. The PEC has always graciously responded to each invitation. Even with
the strong Moravian identity, there was never a time that I felt excluded or devalued as a colleague and servant of Christ. It seems the Moravian community always has room for more. Even those at Peace who were not lifelong Moravians now identify themselves as one. This could only happen if they were welcomed. This hospitality is something that has inspired me.
The motto of the Moravian Church is also a gift that I will treasure. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” This is what keeps the Moravian Church grounded and yet unified. The essentials are common to all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The essentials create the body. The non-essentials are the movement. Love is the skin and character of the body of Christ. It is love that holds it all together. Love is not merely emotional. Love is behavioral. Love is not practiced or promoted by the culture and world around us. Therefore, the church needs to not just say they value love. The church needs to practice love. One great tool for this practice is the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living. This document, however, is only helpful if it is practiced. It will not work if only pulled out in conflict. It must be practiced and applied within not only the life of the church but the living out of the Christian life. I end every service with this dialogue. “Who are you?” The congregation responds, “I am a child of God.” Then I call on them to act like it. How can we apply this document to social media? How can we apply this document to political conversation? How can we apply this document to dialogue and life within families and congregational life?
It has been an honor and privilege to serve within the Moravian Church. Sometimes the church focuses too much on where God is not. Imagine how much stronger we would all be if we paid attention to where God is. I have seen God powerfully present in this journey with Peace Moravian Church. Even as I prepare to leave, I see God’s Spirit leading Peace into new life that only God could have prepared. My prayer for Peace Moravian and the Unitas Fratrum is to use the gifts that God has given you to draw closer to the presence of God and each other, in order to be a witness of the presence of God for the world. Thanks for allowing me to journey with you as we pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Rev. Dr. Keith Copeland is completing an interim pastorate at Peace Moravian Church in Charlotte, NC. He was ordained in 1992 into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He previously served as pastor in four congregations within two denominations. Trained in Intentional Interim ministry in the PCUSA, he has served nine congregations in times of transition. He received his D Min at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, NC, in 2010, where he did a project on congregational visioning and renewal.