By Danielle Nelson
*This article is posted on The Express Times website.
Lights illuminate the bell tower at Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem. (Express-Times File Photo)
The Northern Province of the Moravian Church has voted to permit the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals and create a ritual for solemnizing gay relationships in North America.
In a 181-62 decision, the 2014 synod delegates approved the proposal Sunday at its Bethlehem headquarters. Provisions will be revised in the Book of Order of the Moravian Church to reflect the changes as the province will allow for the ordination of every individual “whether single, married or in covenanted relationships.”
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth D. Miller, president of the Provincial Elders’ Conference of the Moravian Church Northern Province, said in a prepared statement that “many differing opinions were expressed during the debate,” but the decision was made after “much prayer and consideration.”
“Moravians understand that God’s call to us is to welcome all people because God’s embrace is far larger than our capacity to imagine,” Miller said in the statement.
As early as 1974, Miller said the church’s Northern Province has been discussing its services toward lesbian and gay individuals. Now with the acceptance of lesbian and gay ordinations in the Northern Province, it is unclear the impact the decision will have on other provinces across the world.
The decision will not force congregations to nominate gay and lesbian pastors, as the decision lies with the individual congregations’ Boards of Elders and Trustees, according to the statement.
Benjamin Wright, a religious studies professor at Lehigh University, said he was not surprised by the vote, but is unsure what the international response will be to the Northern Province’s decision. Since its last meeting in 2010, the synod mandated congregational forums for conversation and prayer about the role of homosexuals in the province, according to the statement.
The synod is the highest judiciary of the Moravian Church in the Northern Province, which has 23,000 members in 13 states and two Canadian provinces. The synod meets every four years.
Members began their meetings Friday and continued through Monday.
The Moravian church was founded in 1457 and now has close to a million members worldwide. Moravians from central Europe founded Bethlehem in the mid 18th century, and the church continues to have a strong following in the region.
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