MINUTES: Meeting of signatories of the Chicago Invitation and guests
21-22 October 2009 at Mariandale Retreat Center, Ossining, New York
Present: Jack Elliott, Okke Postma, Jim Reid, James Hart Brumm, Dorothy Calvin, Daniel Meeter, Mary Kansfield, Norman Kansfield, Rett Zabriskie, Bill Hertlein, Al Janssen, Herman Harmelink, Kate Constantine Reid, Joanne Fernandez-McDermott, and Ken Rugge
21 October, Wednesday
The meeting was convened with worship in the Chapel, led by Jack and Okke, at 1:00 pm.
Housekeeping and some discussion of inviting students and young pastors to future meetings, using scholarship moneys.
Introductions and expressions of “why we are here.” Dorothy spoke about the status of the Mira Loma Community Church’s legal struggles with Classis of California.
Jack led us in a review of the agenda, adding a discussion of future plans at NBTS.
We had a discussion of Wes’ membership in a CRC congregation, not an RCA congregation. Question raised at GS, but as a pastoral care issue rather than a discipline issue.
Daniel began the review of General Synod 2009. The issue of sexuality was not dealt with. Church Herald discussion was frustrating and poorly presented; the discussion groups were not capable of handling the topic. The debate on Belhar was excellent; the GS was doing theology; ecumenical delegates helped; but the Synod never read it aloud.
Worries about Belhar: difficult to get classes to debate the actual text; homosexuality is being linked to Belhar.
Difficulties of management by GSC staff were discussed.
Left to itself, the GS is able to be Synod and engages in it well. The small-group discussion process has worked well once or twice for up-and-down, yes-or-no issues, but not for multi-variable issues like Church Herald.
Daniel Meeter, Dan Griswold, Scott DeBlock, and Harold Delhagen are meeting with City Church Classis group. Wes is paying for this. Al pointed out that this raises issues of polity from a theological perspective which are not yet being discussed. Their models are Arcot and Amoy.
There will be a conversation on the nature of classis and boundary issues. Essays from 2008 conference on the nature and history of the classis about to be published in the RCA Historical Series.
A committee is reviewing the commissioned pastorate, chaired by Gregg Mast and staffed by Tim Vinck. This was initiated by Carol Bechtel.
Discussion around fear in the church: Al was invited by Classis North Grand Rapids to talk about specialized ministers and the office of minister of the Word & Sacrament. Heavy debate in that classis; a great deal of fear on all sides, and throughout the church. Greater Palisades is looking at $150,000.00 in arrears assessments; Passaic Valley, $120,000.00. A lot of episcopae, very little koinonia or concept of classis as fleet with shared mission.
Ken began discussion around the assessment. Episcopalians base theirs on operating budget. Brooklyn Classis bases their assessment of congregations on a combination of membership and income. Issues in assessments about church order: need of denominational leadership to find money becoming a heierarchy of income rather than collegial pattern of pooling funds. Need to look at longer history of financing of ministry (before assessments) to see what might benefit us.
Should classes be initiating ministry (and therefore have most of the money) or synods? Classes are not good at strategizing or talking honestly with each other about money. Assessment thing related to Church Herald: RCA used to be a reasonably cohesive culture, and everybody was content to let the denomination do most of the strategizing—lower judicatories did accountability. Now the connective tissue is gone. So how do we keep this going when there is not voluntary cooperation through a shared experience? Now denomination strategizes vision of the leader instead of shared visions of the group. We need to find a way to have serious meetings with staff.
NBTS looking at how it best uses its property in service of its mission. Looking to sell all but 1.5 to 2 acres to Rutgers, and reconfigure with Sage Library and a new multi-story building on College Avenue. Argument that it is no longer a residential school, that NBTS is unable to raise appropriate money to support the current campus, and the need to refresh the endowment.
NBTS struggling with its own identity. Absence of NBTS would change the character of the denomination.
We broke at 5:02 pm for fellowship and dinner, reconvening at 7:12 pm.
Discussion of the apparently aborted denominational structures dialogue: there was a survey (only distributed by e-mail), and discussion of classical dialogues, but nothing has happened, and it has been allowed to quietly fade away. The dialogue was not funded. There is now a task force, but there is little or no energy behind this.
There are many new people among the GSC and commissions, and a growing diversity. But who is building relationships?
For a long time, RCA vision was built around our common stories and mythology. Now it is built around mission and vision statements. This does not hold us together the same way. The shift to at least a plurality of ministers coming through the MFCA process has led to a loss of common story. This is not just an RCA issue, but a cultural issue.
Thus, CI, becomes less a body of opposition or conscience, and more a body that encourages community and accountability. We can begin to articulate a vision which we did not create, but of which we have been the bearers/curators.
We need intentional communities to nurture and form pastors within the Reformed tradition. Daniel proposed gatherings of pastors—one more senior with five younger—for two days, twice a year, to discuss Scripture in the light of RCA Liturgy and Standards. Younger pastors are reluctant to ask, but they have a sense that there is something there and are waiting to be invited.
Al began the discussion of new patterns of authority, particularly the discussion of apostolic leadership. Not so much an Episcopal understanding as a Charismatic understanding. Coaching networks also set up alternate authoritative networks; this could be the vision of the denomination working itself out as a mission-delivering alternative to classes.
For a long time, the RCA was homogenous enough to not fight about or theologize about order. It was who we were and it worked. Now, the loss of homogeneity means that we need to theologize. We need to do constructive stuff about what our order says about our theology, where we find God in our polity.
These things tend to blow themselves out. What will be the next issue? The dwindling of West Michigan CRC/RCA congregations. Potential discussions with the Central City Classis folks about the future. There will be chaos resulting from the church planting in the west (organizational distress). We can be a Synod with no money. CI can continue to calmly point out the Sovereignty of God.
Renewed discussion of financial issues.
Recessed at 8:44 pm with prayer led by Jim.
22 October, Thursday
Reconvened at 7:30 am with worship in the Chapel, led by James and Okke, followed by fellowship around the breakfast table.
Jack mentioned correspondence from Bob DeYoung and Bill Tewinkle (suggested focusing on 2011 Synod gathering with people from every congregation). Extensive discussion over the latter, which now appears to be a planned gathering for 2012.
Dorothy began the discussion of supersession with the discussion of the struggle of Mira Loma vs. Classis of Central California. “Fresh Start” task force at work at denominational level has been discussing supersession and will be holding workshops around the RCA during the coming year.
Suggested to Dorothy that Mira Loma and the classis need to seek Christian mediation. The rest of us need to communicate where we can to that classis and GSC staff that such mediation is needed.
Jack asked the question: With the Church Herald gone, who remains (besides CI) as independent voices in the RCA? “Room for All” was mentioned. The General Synod can be a Synod when the staff allows it. Papers for the CI blog are needed about this.
Jim asked the question “What is the next vision for the RCA?” We could be an idea-generating body.
The next meeting will be 19-20 May (Wednesday-Thursday) at the Mariandale Retreat Center.
Jim mentioned that the consultation on the future of women’s work took place.
The meeting adjourned with prayer led by Okke at 10:48 am.
James Hart Brumm