JUNE 11-17, 1999
Laurel Ridge Camp and Conference Center
Laurel Springs, North Carolina 28644 USA
A Pastoral Letter to the Congregations of the Unity
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. We greet you from this Conference of Bishops on the mountain of Laurel Ridge, the largest gathering ever of bishops in our Unity. Our days have been filled with worship, prayer, dialogue, listening, singing, and fellowship, yet always returning to prayer in thanksgiving to God for the blessings our church is experiencing; at the same time our hearts are heavy in sadness for areas in our Unity where there is division and discord, and of our world, where there is war and conflict.
We rejoice in the richness of our Unity that is also manifested in the diversity of cultures and expressions of our Christian life. Jesus Christ became human for our sake and by doing so has hallowed our various forms of cultural identity as a gift of creation. Our life in our different environments is a living answer and testimony to his grace. His Spirit will help us to carefully respect and enrich each other by the mutual sharing of our various ways of preaching, worship, witness and service.
While our worship practices and forms differ from one Province to another and will contain various expressions of faith, it is the one God we worship unto whom we give all praise, honor, and thanksgiving. We therefore encourage the blending of various elements in worship in the local congregation. In that worship, as well as in every aspect of our lives, we seek renewal in our church. As stated by our brother, H.-B. Motel, chair of our Unity Board, "There is no doubt, our church needs renewal, a new spiritual strength, a new missionary power." In our worship, we participate in mind, heart and body, giving and submitting ourselves to God, thus receiving God's blessings and the gifts of the Spirit.
We celebrate the diversity of gifts God has bestowed on the church and God's people "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-13). It is at the heart of the Gospel that these and all God's gifts are to be shared for the mutual benefit and strengthening of the entire church.
We recognize that while some of our Provinces have abundant resources, other Provinces struggle in want and need. Because we are a Unity, we appeal to the church for sharing of our resources with one another. Wealthier Provinces can ease the burden and alleviate the financial pressures of our sisters and brothers who labor under severe financial pressures, expressing a new vision in a just distribution of our means. We remember the words of our Lord Jesus, "From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required" (Luke 12:48). "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2).
Throughout the ages, God has called forth voices to speak a needed message. We raise that voice in alarm for the lowering, even outright elimination of moral standards and propriety in our societies, especially by the film and television industries and other media; we raise our voice in warning for the seductiveness of pornography and concern for the abuse of children, women and men in whatever circumstance. We express our Lord's call for repentance, for the people of God to walk the new direction of purity in thought, word, and action. The church has an opportunity to offer pastoral counsel and education for a responsible use of the media. Each of us may hear and respond to James' invitation to "draw near to God and purify your hearts" (James 4:8).
We close this pastoral letter celebrating the witness of the late bishop of our Unity, Clarence Shawe, which reminds us of characteristics of the Moravian Church especially relevant to us at this time: simplicity, happiness, unobtrusiveness, fellowship, and the spirit of service. We celebrate and praise God for the movement of the Spirit that has put renewal back on the church's agenda. We affirm the movement of the Holy Spirit in our church. At the same time, our Unity seeks to avoid any and all excesses which would divide Christ's Body, the Church. There is a call for our entire church to "be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him" (Psalm 37:7), listening for God's voice to speak in wisdom and in truth. We plea for unity and reconciliation wherever our sisters and brothers find themselves in conflict with one another, remembering the words of Paul to the church at Corinth: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself...and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Together we enter the future with a renewed call to discipleship as a Unitas Fratrum, in full assurance of faith, trusting in God, united in Christ, and awaiting his return. "Therefore, beloved be steady, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (I Corinthians 15:58).
Your brothers and sister in Christ,
Isaac R. Nicodemo, Tanzania (Western); Yohana Lucas Wavenza, (Tanzania, South-West); Lusekelo B. Mwakafwila, Tanzania (Southern); Theodorus Alexandar Darnoud, Emile Cornelis Ritfeld, Suriname; N.V. Mazwi, Southern Africa; John F. Wilson, Nicaragua; Robert G. Foster, Jamaica; Stanley Goff, Honduras; Geoffrey Birtill, Great Britain; Henning Schlimm, Theodor Clemens, European Continent; Burton J. Rights, Robert A. Iobst, James C. Hughes, Graham H. Rights, America (South); Kay Ward, Stanley F. Thomas, Warren A. Sautebin, Percival R. Henkelman, Hopeton Clennon, Paul A. Graf, America (North); Jacob Nelson, Alaska.