Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Unity Synod 2023 - Cape Town, South Africa

Unity Synod 2023 took place from Monday 4th to Sunday 10th September, at the Garden Court Hotel, in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Unity is the terminology used by the Moravian Church to refer to the world-wide Moravian Church. Unity Synod meets every seven years and brings together delegates from every Province of the Moravian Church in the world. Our own British Province has three delegates at Unity Synod. This year, the delegates were me and Sr Jane Carter, we were both elected at our Provincial Synod, and Br Edwin Quildan, as a member of our Provincial Board. In addition, Sr Roberta Hoey attended, in her capacity as the Chair of the Unity Board, and Br Joachim Kreusel, as one of the representatives of the bishops of the Unity. There were over ninety delegates and additional people present, and it was a fabulous experience to share in fellowship with so many fellow Moravians from around the world, including some friends that I have met before.

The language spoken at the synod is English, however, there are several interpreters.

Each morning, Synod began with worship and Bible study, and each evening ended with worship, led by the Synod Chaplain and delegates. There was a Cup of Covenant Service at the close of Synod. The variety of worship over the course of the week, with prayers, Bible readings and hymns in different languages, was deeply moving and uplifting.

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to visit Genadendal Moravian Church. This was the first mission station in South Africa, founded by the Moravian missionary, George Schmidt, who began mission work with the Khoi people in 1738. We were served light refreshments and given a very interesting, guided tour.

On Sunday, delegates had the opportunity to attend a worship service at one of three Moravian churches in the area. I attended worship at Maitland Moravian Church. I, along with other delegates, was warmly welcomed by the congregation. The service was led by Sr Angelene Swart and, following the service, we were served light refreshments. Other delegates went to Mitchells Plain Moravian Church and Khayelitcha Moravian Church.

There was such a large amount of business at the Synod, that it is impossible to include everything in this report. I must, therefore, be rather selective.

At the Synod, I was elected, as one of two representatives from the European region, to serve on the Unity Committee on Theology (UCOT).
Many reports, letters and proposals were presented to the Synod. In order to deal with this large amount of business, all delegates were put into one of five committees - finance; ministry; mission and culture; theological education; or faith and order and ecumenical relations. Each committee was given a share of the reports, letters and proposals to discuss, and bring back to the floor of Synod, with recommendations for the whole of Synod to discuss and decide upon.

As I reflected on these reports and proposals, I was encouraged by the growth of the Moravian Church in many different parts of the Unity. Ruvuma and Njombe in Tanzania, and Iringa, again, in Tanzania, were both designated as Misson Provinces, and Bolivia was accepted as a Prospective Mission Province. It is of special interest to the British Province, and a great joy, that it was agreed that the work in South Asia, which is presently a Mission Area, should be designated as a Mission Province. This decision was approved with acclaim. The British Province has had oversight of the work in South Asia for several years.

Sadly, there were, also, reports of conflict and disunity in certain Provinces.

The proposals covered a wide variety of topics. There was a proposal for the Moravian Church to be visible and vocal in the public arena in times of crisis and unrest, and where there was injustice, including supporting and disseminating statements from ecumenical bodies on these matters.

A proposal was passed to consider changes to language in certain sections of the Church Order of Unitas Fratrum (COUF), in cases where such language may have unintentional negative racial connotations.

There was a proposal passed asking the Unity Board to develop a format to achieve consistency of data throughout the Unity, regarding counting members (communicant or otherwise), and the terms 'congregations' and 'parishes'.

Another proposal was passed to develop an initiative that would establish contextual theological programs throughout the Unity.

In response to the disagreements and conflicts mentioned above, that sometimes occur in Provinces, a proposal was carried agreeing a set of ethical guidelines for governance of the Moravian Church.
While noting the value of the book, 'Our Moravian Treasures', it was felt that the book does not cover all the historical and contemporary traditions, treasures and practices within the Unity. Therefore, a proposal was carried to produce an additional book, with the title, 'Our Hidden Moravian Treasures'.

There was a long discussion and then a proposal passed in relation to the Moravian Church's past connection with the slave trade, and the need to acknowledge that past, to apologise, and to reaffirm the Unity's commitment towards racial reconciliation, the fight against modern forms of slavery and the elimination of all forms of exploitation.

It was resolved that the Unity Mission Agreement be included in COUF as a document of importance to the worldwide Unity, and that it be translated into Spanish, Swahili, German and other languages.

There was, also, a proposal passed regarding Russia's invasion of the Ukraine.

As I stated earlier in this article, there is so much more that I could write, but I hope this give you a taste of Unity Synod. It was a wonderful experience, which I shall always treasure. I would like thank the Provincial Synod of British Province for electing me, it was an honour and joy to attend.

Br Philip Cooper
Minister at Gomersal and Wellhouse Moravian Churches, and Ecumenical Officer for the Moravian Church in Great Britain and Ireland

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