Synod Report II

Three items might be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

1. The synod spent some time debating the motions to disinvite Jackie Lewis as its preacher. A joint committee consisting of the Committee of Reference and the Overtures and New Business Advisory Committee brought a recommendation reaffirming the privilege of the president to ask a person to be the preacher.

The debate on the floor turned quickly to the issue of the General Synod’s policy concerning homosexuality. Some, however, wondered how this issue got imported into the discussion. In the end the vote was pretty strong ratifying the invitation to Dr. Lewis to preach. The vote was about 3-1.

2. The recommendation to adopt the new by-laws to the GSC came before the Order and Governance Advisory Committee. That committee voted to recommend referral to the commissions of Church Order and Theology to review concerning consistency with the church order and also to refer the GSC’s policy documents for the same review.

This will leave the GSC in an interesting place. They have already moved beyond their present by-laws into Carver Governance. But General Synod folk continue to show hesitance re Carver Governance. This may be an instance of the GSC moving ahead of the General Synod. In my opinion, this continues the tug-of-war between the synod and the GSC that has been going on for several years now.

3. Wesley G.-M. gave a strong address that centered on the thesis that “the most critical challenge facing the RCA today is making the transition from being a ‘settled’ denomination to becoming a missional church.”

He offered three points in support: theological, practical and structural.

Under theological he called for more reflection on the nature of the church, including a review of the marks of the church, asking if the church might not consider a fourth mark. (Editorial comment: this writer has been at the center of an attempt by the Center for Reformed Church Studies to hold and promote just that conversation.) Also included in this section was Wes’ strong endorsement of the Belhar Confession.

Of particular interest to Chicago Invitation folk would be his comments on what Wes called the “structural challenge.” The heart of the problem is encapsulated in this paragraph, I think:

“…layers of governing asemblies that are uncoordinated, operating in autonomous spheres, and supporting various staff with conflicting areas of influence and accountability. Further, the most important responsibilities of our polity–for instance, for calling, ordaining, and caring for pastors; supervising congregations’ and starting new churches–are carried out by the classis, which typically has the least staff capacity and resources for this work. Instead, resources are placed primarily with the regional synod and General Synod. These multiple layers of assemplies,with a fundamental mismatch between responsibilities in our polity and the actual capactiy for their implementation, constitute a critical flaw that must be resolved.”

He went on to note that the publication of the report led to strong response. He remarked that in the context of change some turn to something that “feels secure.” He goes on to say that “some in the RCA, especially in our three eastern synods, turn to our church order, our polity, our liturgy, and our rich traditions as those points that secure our identity. In a time of change, these become non-negotiable in defining our life. Such features are seen as not merely functional, but as intrinsic to our nature.”

And more: “The eastern part of our church has carried the treasure of our historical legacy. This tradition must constantly be explored and nurtured, for it carries the seeds of renewal for our future. What we discover, however, is that part of the RCA story lived out in the east for our first two centuries was a tension between governance from Amsterdam upholding the Dutch church versus morel iberty to contextualize the church in American soil. Today’s transition from being a settled denomination to becoming a missional church has deep echoes in our heritage, echoes which we all should listen to and learn from.”

I’ll add a bit of a comment. Wes very nicely pointed out any number of ways in which churches, including churches in the “east” have been very “missional.” What I miss is the notion that this “missionality,” if you will, reaches back into the RCA’s history, that the “east” has been wrestling with this for a very long time. And that while we have been “settled,” and part of an “establishment” church, forces have been at work pushing the church forward in mission again and again, governed by a “structure” that has been working and indeed changing, hardly clinging to an old past. Just as Mid-Atlantics, for one, New York, for two, or Albany, for three. These are dynamic assemblies. We have a pile of problems, all of us do. And I join with Wes in wanting to wrestle our way through.

Stay posted. Today the synod begins discussion of the MSTF report.

Al Janssen

2 thoughts on “Synod Report II

  1. “Settled” vs. “missional” is a convenient but false dichotomy. The First Immigration churches tended to parishes, and the Second Immigration churches tended to be congregations. Parishes were often “missional” in ways that congregations were not. In Paterson and Chicago, for example, all the RCA churches moved out of changing neighborhoods, while in New York City, they stayed with their neighborhoods and evolved with the changing population groups. In the case of urban ministry, it was those churches that were more “settled” that were also more “missional.”

  2. It is very refreshing to have non-staff spun commentary from GS. Thanks much–and may the Spirit move over this synod.

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