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How are we organized?

In September of 1741, Moravian leaders meeting in London, England, decided through a process of prayer and spiritual discernment to declare Jesus Christ the Head and Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. This decision has influenced our church’s governance with boards, agencies and committees of our provinces and local churches looking to Jesus Christ for guidance and direction. On November 13 of each year, Moravian congregations continue to celebrate the doctrine of the Chief Eldership of Christ in the context of Worship.

According to Bishops Taylor and Kenneth Hamilton, the "conferential principle" has characterized Moravian Church government since its "earliest days". (see History of the Moravian Church 1722-1957 by Hamilton and Hamilton, 1967, pages 94ff, 111-112) The conferential principle was suspended during the decade following the Synod of Hirschberg in 1743 (a Synod that presented Count Zinzendorf "with a formal document that assured him of unlimited powers of management and oversight, as Advocatus et Ordinarius Fratrum, acknowledging his right of veto in all church matters, without his being responsible for his actions to any Synod or conference.") ( Hamilton, p.97). By the mid 1750's, however, the "conferential principle" was reaffirmed and reinstated, although Zinzendorf continued to exercise primary influence in the governance of the church until his death in 1760.

In the following definition, "conferential principle" and "conferential government" are assumed to be one and the same, and the terms are used interchangeably.

Conferential government:
A term commonly used today in the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in North America to describe our form of church government, although it is not a term commonly used in other provinces of the Unity.

Strictly speaking, "conferential government" means that governance responsibility and authority in the church is vested in "conferences" (groups or boards) charged with governance under the guidance of Jesus Christ, the Chief Elder of the Moravian Church, as opposed to being vested in individual officers (e.g. bishops). It is thus imperative that such "conferences" seek the will of Christ in all matters. The ultimate "conference" in the Moravian Church is the Unity Synod, and in any given Province, the Provincial Synod. Between meetings of a Provincial Synod, governance within a Province is vested in a Provincial Elders' Conference (PEC), or Provincial Board.

Again, strictly speaking, "conferential government" from the perspective of the worldwide Unity does not imply any particular provincial structure, other than the investment of authority in Synod and a Provincial Board. For example, although in the Southern Province the call system currently in place is sometimes used as an example of "conferential government" in action, other Provinces of the Unity, which are also governed by the "conferential principle", utilize a call system for pastors that is far less collaborative than that of the Southern Province and is more aptly described as an appointment system for placement of pastors in congregations, with the Provincial Board making the appointment. (Thus, it is probably best not to use the call system in the Southern Province as an example of "conferential government"; rather, the call system in the Southern Province is an example of collaborative administration on the part of the PEC.)

Likewise, "conferential government" means that governance authority in the local congregation is also vested in boards rather than individuals. Through Congregational Council and Boards of Elders and Trustees (or in some cases a unified Church Board), the "conferential principle" is implemented rather than authority being vested solely in the Pastor, although the Pastor is expected to provide spiritual guidance and leadership. And, as a matter of practice, the PEC relates primarily to congregational boards (rather than to individual members) on congregational matters; thus, provincial "conference" relates to congregational "conference".

Having noted that conferential government in the Unity refers only to the "conference" which exercises authority, the Southern Province has deemed it wise, as a result of experience and discernment of the leading of the Holy Spirit, to govern itself as collaboratively as possible among congregational boards, pastors and PEC. The degree of collaboration has varied historically over the past century or more, but the Southern Province has experienced the value of working together - PEC, pastors and congregational boards - as collaboratively as feasible, while recognizing that final authority and governance responsibility in the Province rest with the Provincial Synod and with the PEC between meetings of Provincial Synod.

"Conferential government" is neither "congregational government" under which each congregation is autonomous, nor "Episcopal government" which places the church under the direction of a bishop or other judicatory head, nor "governance by consensus". It is governance by "conferences" of elected persons, rather than a single individual, instructed to make decisions for the good of the whole church and its mission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such, the "conferential principle" has served our church well throughout its long history.

Much of this information was taken from Resolution#4 Conferential Government, Southern Province Synod, September, 2010.