Moving toward full communion: Episcopalians mull eucharistic sharing with Moravians

June 30, 2003

A MAJOR PIECE of ecumenical legislation to come before General Convention is a resolution to establish interim eucharistic sharing with the Moravian Church in America, similar to the one Episcopalians established with Lutherans in 1982.

"Most Episcopalians have probably not met a Moravian, nor is there a Moravian church located near most Episcopal churches," said Bishop Chris Epting, the presiding bishop's deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations.

Yet, he said, the two churches share much in common, and there are opportunities for mission and evangelism together where there is strong Episcopal and Moravian presence.

Pioneering work for Episcopal-Moravian dialogue began in 1994 in North Carolina, where Lutherans engaged in talks with Episcopalians and also were in dialogue with Moravians. "It made sense to complete the circle," said one Episcopal participant. And so, local dialogue began with Moravians.

The 1997 General Convention approved official dialogue with the Moravian church. The interim eucharistic sharing proposal is part of a process leading toward full communion. The Northern and Southern provinces of the Moravian church approved the proposal last year.

If approved, the resolution would encourage joint celebrations of the Eucharist, using an authorized liturgy of the host church with ordained ministers of both churches participating. The preacher may be from either church.

"We've made tremendous progress, but the difficult work is ahead of us," said Thomas Ferguson, associate deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations. "Eucharistic sharing, while an important stage, is just a benchmark. It means we've agreed on essentials."

Now, the churches must focus on issues upon which they've yet to agree, Ferguson said. One of these is reconciliation of ordained ministries in order to make them interchangeable, said Ferguson. Another is identifying mission opportunities where the two churches could work together.

"If we're going to have more than a piece of paper," he said, speaking of the agreement, "we've got to work together on mission and witness."

Episcopalians must be prepared for change when the church enters into dialogue with others, Ferguson said. "If we have a vision of unity to which we are called, it may require both of our churches to be transformed."

The Rev. Bill McElveen of King, N.C., a Moravian on the dialogue team, said he saw great potential for intensified mission and witness. "That's the whole reason for doing this," he said.