Christ the Chief Elder

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BY THE REV. JOE MOORE |

Photo of communion

Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

This week Moravians around the world celebrate one of the things that makes us unique–our understanding of Jesus Christ as the Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. At a Synod in London in 1741, the Moravian leaders struggled to elect a new Chief Elder. The office had been vacated when Leonard Dober decided that, after having served as Chief Elder for six years, the job had become too much for one person.

Image of Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766)

Johann Leonhard Dober (1706-1766) | Public Domain Image

In the years between 1735 and 1741, the Moravian Church had grown rapidly from an isolated community in Germany to worldwide mission movement. After coming to the conclusion that no one person possessed the essential characteristics and gifts necessary, the Synod asked the question, “Would not the Lord our Savior be so gracious as to accept this office for himself?”

On September 14, 1741, Jesus Christ was officially named Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. Being in the days before email, text messages, and cellphones, it was decided that time was needed to spread the news around the Moravian world. November 13 was chosen as the day for all Moravians to celebrate the selection of Christ as Chief Elder.

Even now, over 275 years later, many congregations will celebrate Christ as Chief Elder with Holy Communion and/or a lovefeast on the Sunday closest to November 13. For me, having been born and raised in the Moravian church, I have always understood that Jesus is the head of our denomination. However, I’ve never really given it much thought, beyond knowing it as one of those things that makes the Moravian church different from other denominations. But is it something that is still relevant to the Moravian church in 2017? And what does it really mean to claim Christ as Chief Elder?

The Ground of the Unity (the doctrinal statement of the Moravian Church) says, “Jesus Christ is the one Lord and Head of His body, the Church. Because of this, the Church owes no allegiance to any authority whatsoever which opposes His dominion. The Unitas Fratrum treasures in its history the vital experience of the Headship of Christ of 16 September and 13 November 1741.”

Stained glass seal at Olivet Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC | Andrew David Cox, the Moravian BCM

It is clear from this that the Moravian church continues to recognize Jesus as the head of the church and, beyond celebrating it as something from our history with little contemporary relevance, considers it to be an important doctrine. In other words, it is not just something that our Moravian ancestors believed and we remember, but it is also the belief of the Moravian Church today. The language used may be a bit different, as the Ground of the Unity uses the phrase “Head of the Church” as opposed to Chief Elder, but the idea is the same.

It’s important that we understand that Jesus has been and is the head of the Moravian Church. But it is even more important that we understand what it means to recognize Christ as our Chief Elder. First it means that we look to Jesus for guidance, counsel, inspiration, and direction in ALL that we do. We rely on his leadership to help our church to be a reflection of his light in a dark world, we rely on his guidance to allow our lives to be a source of his love in a world filled with hate.

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur (Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him)

Jesus is the best kind of leader. He is one who knows what it is like, he is one who has seen first hand how hard it is to do what we are called to do. He is one who has seen how dark this world is and how much it needs his light. Jesus is one who knows how much hate there is in this world and how much it needs his love. As we read in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Another way to say this would be, “For we do not have a Chief Elder who is unable to sympathize with our struggles, but we have one who in every respect has been challenged as we are.”

Jesus has been here, he has done what we are called to do. He knows how to lead us and guide us to be the people he has created us to be and to be the church that he calls us to be. He knows the challenges that we face and he can help us to overcome them and share his light and his love.

Photo of church Seal

Moravian Seal, or Agnus Dei, stained glass window in the Rights Chapel at Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, NC | The Rev. John Jackman, CC BY-SA 3.0

That is what it really means to claim Christ as our Chief Elder. It means that we are following the lead of someone who knows the way. On this day, as we celebrate our Chief Elder, as we remember how he loves us and gave his life for us, let us reclaim him as our Chief Elder, as Chief Elder of our church and of our lives. Let us follow him out of the dark and into the light. Let him lead us into love that overcomes hate.


Bio photo of Joe Moore

Photo via the Rev. Joe Moore

 

The Rev. Joe Moore is the Associate Pastor of New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.  He has served in team ministry with his wife, the Rev. Kelly Moore, at Palmyra Moravian (NJ), Mayodan Moravian (NC), First Moravian Church of Georgia, and Fries Memorial Moravian (NC). Joe also served as the Chair of the Board of World Mission and as Assistant to the President of the Provincial Elders’ Conference. He is active in camping ministry at Laurel Ridge. (Portion of bio via NewPhilly.org)


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Time to Be Bold – Part Two

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In my last post, I declare that it’s time to be bold again, and I end with the question:

“How do we as the church best respond in these uncertain times to ensure that God’s grace is known far and wide through our witness and action?”

How indeed. I told you to stay tuned, then I hit the publish button and took a deep breath, because here’s the thing, folks: I have no idea.

Okay, that’s not quite true. As someone who has spent my life helping others do what they do better, and who feels a deep sense of call to my beloved Moravian Church, I have plenty of ideas. And, if you know me at all, you know I am certainly not shy about sharing my opinions. But they are just that. Mine. It is not up to me to tell you how we go about being the church in the future. This is not an individual activity, and no one individual, regardless of his or her dedication, brilliance, charisma, or position, has all the answers.

So let me tell you what I DO know:

  • The river has moved, people. Consider the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras, built to withstand river-that-moveddeadly hurricanes. When Hurricane Mitch came along in 1998, it dumped 75 inches of rain in less than four days and destroyed 150 bridges, but it could not destroy the Choluteca. But take a closer look at that photo. The bridge survived the storm, but the storm moved the river! Similarly, the institutional church is strong and has weathered many storms over the centuries, but the river has moved. While the temptation is great to try and redirect the massive river back under that bridge, the work set before us is to build a new bridge.
  • The Church is facing an adaptive challenge. There are two types of challenges that leaders in any field have to address:
    • Technical challenges are situations we’ve encountered numerous times and require quick fixes, problem solving, or consultation with experts. Examples of this include going to a mechanic when your car breaks down or visiting the dentist to fix a broken tooth.
    • Adaptive challenges are situations that present new dilemmas and uncharted territory. Adaptive challenges require not the predefined answers of experts, but the hard work of discernment by those most affected by the problem. Examples include solving world hunger or reforming public education.

There is no road map for the journey we are on. We’ll have to learn new ways of thinking and doing, use our imaginations, and discern solutions with each other, the ones most affected by these uncertain, complex times.

  • With great challenge comes great possibility. We know the river has moved and we know that
    first-fruits-or-erstlingsbild

    Count Zinzendorf ‘s bold vision of of the Renewed Moravian Church, as captured by 18th century artist John Valentine Haidt in the painting “First Fruits.”

    what we face is a complex, adaptive challenge. But our history as Moravians proves that we can rise to the occasion. While persecution, exile, and the sorry state of the human condition immobilized and frightened many of their day, our early Moravian brothers and sisters discovered opportunity and even beauty in those constraints. These bold followers of Jesus blazed forward, undeterred, as they expressed spirituality in community, welcomed women into ministry, embraced diversity, and sacrificed nearly everything for their mission. Over the years, though, we modern-day Moravians have grown slowly complacent in our comfortable sanctuaries. We are keepers of our great heritage, but what about the boldness? How do we take the constraints we face today, such as declining membership, shrinking resources, or competing values, and create opportunities to share faith, love, and hope with the world? Settling in and doing what we’ve always done will not solve the challenges we face. Now is the time to demonstrate creativity, openness, flexibility, and yes, boldness.

  • Transformative leadership is required. Transformative leaders focus on motivation and formation, and they do it out of a deep sense of call. I’m not just talking about clergy. We all must be transformative as we encourage one another. Transformative leaders create environments that enable people to survive and thrive through change. When we nurture the giftedness and possibilities of people and invite them to be part of the solutions we seek, it is only then that our organizational culture begins to adjust and adapt. Interested in knowing more about what transformative leadership looks like? Consider being part of the next Moravian Leadership experience. We need you!
  • We have to do this together. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, tells us how we are to live as the community that is the church. We are to live with each other like Christ – being relational, forgiving, patient, loving, and gentle. And before we can do that, we have to know we are holy, chosen, and dearly beloved by God (3:12).

We must love each other, even when we disagree about many things. As I write this, the PCUSA is holding its 222nd General Assembly (similar to our Synod) in Portland, Oregon. Bruce Reyes-Chow, a Presbyterian minister and author, reflected on Facebook about his experience there:

“One of the most difficult, but essential and transformational, aspects of meetings like General Assembly is when friends and colleagues passionately disagree with one another, the vote is taken, and we choose to remain friends and colleagues. While some might see this as a lack of integrity, selling out or even, “dining with the devil,” I see this as the living expression of mutual forbearance, the body faithfully discerning the will of God, and ultimately, why I choose to claim my seat at the table that Christ has prepared.”

Let’s continue to sit together at Christ’s table even as we face forces that would tear us apart.

  • We have to know WHY we’re doing it. We get so overwhelmed by life and its accompanying challenges it is very easy to forget why we are here, in this place, together. Christ and Him crucified remain our confession of faith. What else can we do but respond to this gift of grace with our faith in God, our love for God and our neighbor, and our hope in this life and the next?

During the 2012 Moses Lectures at Moravian Theological Seminary, Peter Vogt, co-pastor of the Moravian Congregation of Herrnhut (yes, THAT Herrnhut) reminded us that “we . . . are called to live as a community that is faithful to the message of God’s love, as given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He concludes by saying that

“our concern about the identity of what it means to be Moravian should not be guided by the fear of loss…or by the focus on preserving our historical heritage, but rather by the desire to become what God is calling us to be.”

Indeed. Let’s embrace these beautiful constraints we face as a Church today and, together, determine what God is calling us to be, then do it and be it. Amen.

 

References:

Heifetz, Ronald A., and Martin Linsky. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School, 2002. Print.

McFayden, Kenneth J. Strategic Leadership for a Change: Facing Our Losses, Finding Our Future. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2009. Print.

Morgan, Adam, and Mark Barden. A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015. Print. (View more on this idea here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfVJpEnh7wCJJoO5tS3EYZg)

Nelson, Gary V. Rev. Dr., and Peter M. Dickens. Leading in DisOrienting Times Navigating Church and Organizational Change. Ashland: Christian Board Of Pub Tcp, 2015. Print.

Vogt, Peter. “How Moravian Are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity.” The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church. Volume 19, Issue 3 (Winter 2013-14): 3-20. Moravian Theological Seminary. Center for Moravian Studies. Web. 24 June 2016. https://issuu.com/moravianseminary/docs/hinge_19.3 .

 

Ruth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Below, Ruth and her family celebrate daughter Jessy’s graduation from Appalachian State University in May 2015. 

jess grad