Thursday, 28 October 2021

Provincial Synod 2021 Online

This year we held our 100th Provincial Synod online. Aware that we could not meet in person the Provincial Board and the Church Book Committee worked hard to set up a Zoom Synod at Ockbrook Moravian Church.

The opening service led by Br Martin Smith, minister at Royton and Salem, set the tone for the Synod. He spoke of mutual love between the persons of the Trinity and the love that should be shown between members of the Church. Even though the Synod was so physically distanced there was a real sense of fellowship.

The first item of business at Synod was the proposed closure of Ockbrook School after 222 years. The chair of the Provincial Board, Sr Roberta Hoey, had the unenviable task of sharing with Synod the devastating news that COVID had dealt a body blow to the school and that the school was no longer financially viable. Many questions followed and the issue, rightly, took up all the first morning. Deep sympathy was expressed to the pupils, families and staff of the school by many Synodals. The Provincial Board will make a statement on the proposed school closure in the August edition of the Messenger.

On the Saturday the elections for the Provincial Board were held. The elections resulted in a full Provincial Elders Conference of six members being elected, with Sr Roberta Hoey being elected for a further three years and Br David Howarth being elected for a year as a stipendiary PEC member. Br Paul Holdsworth and Br Michael Newman were elected for three years as non-stipendiary members and Br Peter Gubi was elected for a one-year term as a non-stipendiary PEC member. Br Livingstone Thompson has one year to complete as a non-stipendiary member. Note the term Provincial Board and Provincial Elders Conference (PEC) are used interchangeably in the Church and in this report. We will have brief biographies of the new members of PEC, Br Michael Newman and Br Peter Gubi in the August edition of the Moravian Messenger.

Much of the time of Synod was taken up with the reporting back of the Provincial Board and of the various standing committees of the British Province Questions and comments followed these reports. Memorials were also presented from the Moravian Women's Association, the Men's Fellowship and the Diaspora Secretary.

We all missed the opportunity to chat together at break times, lunch times and in the bar in the evening. However, Sr Lorraine Shorten hosted a Social Hour on Zoom each evening which gave us a chance to meet informally and get to know those we might otherwise not have a chance to talk too.

The Provincial Board have been planning for the future and these plans were unfolded at Synod on the second day. In 1722, the community of Herrnhut was founded by religious refugees, and within 10 years, in 1732, the first missionaries had gone out from Herrnhut and the renewed Moravian Church entered the world stage. So, the Provincial Board's plan for a Decade of Celebration and Renewal has been called Project 32.

Project 32 has several strands that the Provincial Board brought to Synod. One strand is that of stewardship in the congregation.

  • There will be a ten-year stewardship programme to help members better steward their time, skills, knowledge and money. This would involve the setting up of a Stewardship Committee.
  • Another strand is that of Evangelism and the Provincial Board resolved to set out a ten-year plan for evangelism for the British Province. This would be implemented by the British Mission Board.
  • A proposal from Mission and Society Committee added a discipleship strand to Project 32. This will be achieved by using the resource called Holy Habits in each congregation in a systematic way. Holy Habits is a flexible two-year programme. This would be coordinated by a working group.
  • Lastly, a programme of possible staff posts and building developments to go through the ten-year project. These could include reshaping the Districts of the Church and revamping their work; employing a General Secretary for Mission; employing a Communication Officer; reviewing property holdings; developing a retreat centre at Brockweir and possibly relocating Church House.
  • Another committee will be set up to implement and monitor Project 32.

Many other proposals were brought by the Provincial Board at this Synod. One was to allow for the strengthening of the British Mission Board by expanding its membership. Another proposal increased the remit of the Finance Committee to include property as so much of our assets are in settlement properties with associated difficulties. Other proposals thanked Sr Zoe Taylor and Br Mark Kernohan for their service on the Provincial Board.

A further proposal from the Provincial Board was about the setting up of a Provincial Archives and Heritage Committee as a standing committee of the Province to advise the PEC about the care of and maintenance of the historical records and artefacts within the Province, to promote the heritage of the Church and to oversee research.

Ministry was one important strand of Synod. It was proposed that Sr Lorraine Shorten be consecrated a presbyter and this was greeted with acclaim. Another proposal, this time from Church Service Committee asked that the decision to consecrate deacons as presbyters be made by Church Service Committee and PEC alone without needing to come to Synod. This was passed but a great suggestion from the floor of Synod was that the Church develop a formal way of welcoming new ministers who come in to serve the Church and also mark at Synod the presbyter(s) who have been consecrated in the inter-synodal period. A proposal that created much debate was one that asked Finance Committee to come up with a rate for London weighting for stipendiary ministers and lay workers. Some argued that it would change the idea of equality of pay for all ministers whilst others said it would bring more parity as living costs were more expensive in London. This proposal was passed.

Another well debated proposal was that the Moravian Church divest from any investments in fossil fuels. It was pointed out that the ethical investment policy of the Church already excluded fossil fuel companies, but the proposal was still debated and voted on to give a clear signal of the Church's intentions with regard to the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Also on the subject of climate change was the proposal from the Mission and Society Committee about planting trees. They proposed that the Church, nationally, at congregation level and individual members review the land they have and see if any of this land can be used for planting native trees. The aim is to join with charities who are seeking to increase tree cover in the UK from 13% to 17%. This proposal was also passed and a suggestion was made that a Moravian wood be planted to mark the 300th anniversary of the renewed Moravian Church. Although this suggestion was not part of the proposal it would be wonderful if it could come to fruition.

Outside perspectives came from our three guests. The first was Catherine West MP the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green who talked about the reality of child poverty in the United Kingdom. This continued the work of highlighting the issue of poverty that has been so important to many in the Moravian Church. Br Volker Schulz from the European Continental Province brought greetings from the European Province and brought a great sense of perspective when he noted that he lives and works in Switzerland where there are only 130 members of the Moravian Church. He urged us to make use of the Daily Watchwords in our planning for Project 32 and told us that 35,000 copies of the Daily Watchwords are sold in Switzerland - small is not necessarily powerless. Br Thsespal Kundan brought greetings from the Moravian Church in South Asia where they are attempting to create a Mission Province out of the very disparate areas of Ladakh, Assam, Rajpur, Nepal and Myanmar. Br Kundan reminded us of the issue of COVID-19 in South Asia and how it is affecting the congregations there.

The Synod Service was held at 10.30am on the Sunday at Ockbrook on Zoom. It was lovely to see people sharing in this service from across the Province which was led by Br Joachim Kreusel, Synod officials and Br Fred Linyard, and it brought a real feeling of community across the Province.

We owe a real debt of gratitude to the group who gathered in Ockbrook to run the Synod. There was of course the technical company brought in to provide the cameras and microphones and Zoom capacity. However, the chairing panel of Brs Michael Newman and Phil Cooper kept things moving along, Sr Lorraine Parsons was the go to tech person in Ockbrook, Sr Sally Ann Johnston was the Synod Clerk, Sr Jane Dixon was there on behalf of Church Book Committee and as Minutes Secretary, Sr Lindsey Newens was the Synod Steward and Br Joachim Kreusel as minister of the Ockbrook congregation made many of the arrangements and was the go to repair man! Thanks should also go to the Provincial Board for enabling this socially distanced Zoom Synod to go ahead, and to all synodals who engaged so well with this very different yet familiar Synod. Lastly thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God in community for keeping us in community and communion.

Sr Sarah Groves
Editorial Team

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