Anglicans can learn from Moravians when it comes to nurturing community, priest says

Moravians serve drinks to each other during a lovefeast. Photo: Mike Riess, IBOC
Published November 1, 2023

A signature Moravian custom is set to make its debut at an Anglican parish in Edmonton this November as Holy Trinity Anglican Church prepares to hold its first lovefeast.

Originating in the agape (“love,” in the Greek of the New Testament) feasts of early Christian gatherings and revived by the Moravian church in the 17th century, the lovefeast is a simple meal served during a Singstunde, or singing service. It involves serving food, usually a bun and coffee, to the congregation; worshippers may listen to the choir sing hymns or speak quietly with their neighbours. The point is fellowship; the Moravian Music Foundation, an organization dedicated to Moravian musical culture, says the lovefeast is “not a sacrament, nor a substitute for Communion.”

Participating in working group discussions that paved the way for full communion between the Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and Moravian Church in Canada this summer, the Rev. Danielle Key was inspired to bring the lovefeast to Holy Trinity, where she serves as rector. Her parish has planned to adapt the concept of a lovefeast during worship, Key says, to “show the community what it means to actually come together as one people.”

“Every church does community a little differently … The actual physical, tangible demonstration that Moravians do during a lovefeast is what I think has been missing” for Anglicans, Key says.

“In the Anglican Church, we have a lot of beautiful words and liturgies, but not a lot of doing to show togetherness … The Moravians … come together in a physical, tangible way to share community.” Anglicans, she says, “can learn a lot from the Moravians about what it means to actually do community versus talk about community.”

One Flock, One Shepherd

Anglicans, Lutherans and Moravians are learning more from each other’s traditions and experiences following the establishment of their full communion, which allows them to share each other’s sacraments, ministry and clergy. The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and Special Convention of the ELCIC, which have been in full communion with one another since 2001, voted over Canada Day weekend to add the Moravian Church in Canada to their family, approving the declaration One Flock, One Shepherd: Lutherans, Anglicans, and Moravians—Called to Walk Together in Full Communion. The Moravian church had voted unanimously in favour of the declaration June 23.

One Flock, One Shepherd outlines common aspects of history, theology, and worship across the Moravian, Anglican and Lutheran traditions. Each church, the declaration says, was “shaped in many ways by the reforming impulses of 15th and 16th century Europe.” It identifies shared beliefs of reformers like John Wycliffe, Jan Hus and Martin Luther who saw the need to “root out corruption in the Church and renew its evangelistic witness.” The Church of England also supported exiled Moravians who sought refuge from persecution.

Today, all three denominations are global, with, the declaration says, their greatest concentrations in Tanzania, South Africa, parts of Central America, England and North America.

Key says the working group drew upon the Waterloo Declaration, which established full communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and ELCIC, as an example of what a similar document that included the Moravians might look like. In their discussions, she says, the working group quickly agreed on two sacraments each of the churches held in common: baptism and the Eucharist.

“We also talked about how all three of our churches are based on faith, tradition and reason,” Key says. “None of us require blind faith from our parishioners. We actually are all able to have—and we encourage—open dialogues about where our churches came from, where our beliefs stem from, what is said in the Bible.

“All three churches at the end of the day, with the Moravians leading the pack, are very missional in what they want to do,” she says.

The Rev. Matt Gillard, a Moravian pastor who previously served at Heimtal Moravian Church in Edmonton and is now at Hanna Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hanna, Alta., also participated in these discussions. He says the working group made a conscious effort not to dwell on differences in theology and organization.

On the contrary, Gillard says, “We actively sought to say that each tradition has innate beauty and history behind it and that we were going to celebrate that rather than purposely look at any of the differences … We are not the people to debate those things. That’s for bishops and worldwide unity groups to figure out.”

Global churches

Key points out that disagreements persist even within each of the traditions, which she describes as “big-tent churches.”

Both the Anglican and Moravian worldwide churches, Gillard says, face divisions between provinces in the global North and South. “The global North has money, the global South has people, and somewhere theology is debated in between those two things,” he says.

The Moravian church in the global South has two or three times the members it has in the global North, and while its membership is in decline in North America and Europe, it’s “growing by leaps and bounds” in Africa and India, he says.

Key says Anglicans and Lutherans have much to learn from the Moravians, whom she says exemplify their motto: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things love.”

“I think the Moravian church has been able to say, ‘We may not agree with you, but we still love you,’” Key says.

Often in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions, she adds, “We’ve lost what it means to [agree] to disagree … whereas the Moravian church, I find, is very open to having a lot of different individuals coming together. In the Anglican church across the world, I feel like we want everyone to come together, but to just ‘do it our way.’ ”

Acknowledging residential schools

Meanwhile, Gillard commends Anglicans for “taking ownership of the past” by acknowledging their church’s role in the Indian residential school system. The Moravian Church, he says, is beginning to grapple with similar issues.

In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Labrador to apologize to students who had suffered harm in boarding schools run by the Moravian Church. Thousands of Indigenous students attended these schools, which were left out of the national truth and reconciliation process that began in 2008. The federal government argued at the time that it was not accountable for these boarding schools, since they had opened before Newfoundland and Labrador became part of Canada.

In 2020, Memorial University scholar Andrea Proctor published A Long Journey: Residential Schools in Labrador and Newfoundland, which detailed trauma suffered by students at schools including those run by Moravians.

Before the book was published, Gillard says, Moravians might have said they had not run any residential schools.

“But we do have a lot of Moravians who also want to be fully Canadian and say, even if we didn’t personally participate in this …we want to be a part of the reconciliation that happens, because I think that is an honest faith-based response to have,” he adds. “You [in the Anglican Church of Canada] are leaders in that and are going to be hopefully giving us the strength to figure out how we respond.”

Prospects for joint ministry

Each of the churches are also continuing to draw upon liturgies and resources from their full communion partners.

Gillard said Moravians often incorporate liturgies and resources from different traditions. “I have the ability to take something that I like from a Southern Baptist preacher if it seems good and right for me in my context and use it,” he says.

Key recalls the use of Moravian worship materials at her own parish last Advent.

“The Moravians have these amazing Advent calls and responses in their book of worship,” she says. “We threw [them] in the beginning of our advent services at the Anglican church and congregations were like, ‘That’s absolutely beautiful. Why haven’t we been using that forever?’ I said, ‘It’s from the Moravians.’ They go, ‘Well, they have some nice stuff.’ The ability to be able to share back and forth resources openly now is so much more fun.”

Gillard sees more possibilities for shared ministry among Anglicans, Moravians and Lutherans. Now it’s up to leaders in each church to take the initiative, he says.

Full communion “provides us with so many opportunities for joint ministry, being able to share clergy, do pulpit swaps, to host hospitality events, to do all kinds of mission work … We just need to have leaders that are willing to work with people outside of their specific church,” he says.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister (aka Matt Gardner) is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

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