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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Do This… In Remembrance of Me

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BY DAVID HOLSTON |

Note: David Holston is the Executive Director of Sunnyside Ministry, a ministry partner of the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). 

This past Sunday we celebrated communion in my congregation. It was in memory of the martyrdom of John Hus, the spiritual forefather of the Moravian Church. There, for a brief period, we all gathered at the table together. When we partook of the bread and the cup, the officiant says three times during the service: “Do this… in remembrance of me”.

Do this… in remembrance of me

This phrase resonated with me this past weekend as I thought about all I am through the grace of Jesus Christ. First, I remember that through the crucified Christ I am saved. This is a very important thing to remember. But as I thought more about this, I was led to the many lessons taught by Christ. I must say that I am often drawn to the passages about how we treat others. It is related to my daily life and my thinking.

Picture of communion

Take a few minutes and think about the last time you took communion. In the Moravian Church we practice an open communion; if you are a communing member of any church you are welcome at our table. What resonates with you when you take communion?

In the 1970’s there was a Coca-Cola commercial with all sorts of people gathered in lines singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony!” Imagine a world where we all held hands and sang songs and shared a Coca-Cola. Sadly, today it feels unlikely to happen. Someone would be offended by the person standing beside them; others would make fun of the one standing a few feet away. Some might even say, “this person is too sick to stand near me!” In reality, we know people are not always singing on mountain tops or in perfect harmony. Sadly, harmony does not exist in some cases between communing Christians. We can’t always agree to come to the same table. If we always did, there would be little to no hunger in this or any community.

Sunnyside Ministry

Sunnyside Ministry

In the last six days, we have had four people shot just a few blocks from two Moravian Churches and Sunnyside Ministry. At Sunnyside Ministry, the other day alone, we saw two females who have just escaped domestic violence. Additionally, Sunnyside has provided groceries for over a hundred families.

I believe that the change starts at this table, the one in most churches inscribed with the words: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

We ask “were does it end?” We say “someone needs to fix this!” We wonder “when are things going to get better?” I believe that the change starts at this table, the one in most churches inscribed with the words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” It starts with us, the Christian community when we reach out to everyone, both those who seem to have it all and those who we have called “the least, the lost, the last.”

Consider the original mission statement of the Salem Tavern:

“Whereas it is the duty of the Board of Directors of the Congregation to supervise, with a watchful eye, the tavern, and it is their ardent desire that the guests who come here (who are of very different dispositions and customs, yea, even occasionally enemies and spies) may be served by our Brothers and Sisters thus, by their correct conduct, without words, testify to Jesus’ death, and in their difficult office and calling, be an honor to the Lord and Congregation.”

Can we, create a table where all are welcomed, even our enemies? We can. Will it be easy? I think that it would be easier than we think, but only if we do this in remembrance of Christ.


Questions? Comments? Contact David Holston at David@SunnysideMinistry.org or call (336) 724-7558 ext. 103

David Holston

David Holston is the Executive Director of Sunnyside Ministry. Sunnyside Ministry is a non-profit organization that provides food, clothing, and emergency financial assistance to families in crisis. All funding for our assistance programs comes from donations and grants. In 2014, Sunnyside Ministry provided $1,883,040 worth of services to families in crisis situations. Grocery orders were provided to 17,634 people and clothing to 15,483 individuals. To learn more about Sunnyside Ministry, subscribe to their email newsletter here.