The (Much Delayed) Spring CI Minutes

My apologies for the late posting of these.  Until the other day, I had been living in a fog that told me I’d done this . . . James

MINUTES: The fourteenth meeting of signatories of the Chicago Invitation and guests
19-20 May 2010 at Mariandale Retreat Center, Ossining, New York

Present: Jack Elliott, Dick Otterness, Joanne Fernandez-McDermott, Nancy Gallagher, Stacey Midge, Harold Delhagen, Tom Danney, Bill Hertlein, Daniel Griswold, Al Janssen, James Hart Brumm, Elaine Tetreault, Daniel Meeter, Paul Janssen, Ken Kobza, Okke Postma, and Dorothy Ver Strate Calvin

19 May, Wednesday

The meeting was convened with worship in the Chapel, led by Jack and Daniel G., at 1:00 pm.

Introductions and expressions of “why we are here.” The recent adoption of the Belhar Confession by the RCA was noted, as was the work of Harold, Al, and Daniel M. We were updated about the Mira Loma case.

Jack read e-mails from Carol Bechtel, Rett Zabriskie, Mike Hayes.

Jack led us in a review of the agenda. Added discussions of the discernment process re: new ten-year GSC goals, the use of Scripture in the Church Herald blogs, CI moving forward, and the website.

Harold reported on the spring GSC meeting. Carol led the meeting well. Very little of substance, but a number of voices challenged issues. Still, the body primarily functions as the accountability group for the cluster facilitators; this means the cluster facilitators set the direction of the denomination.

Questions about what was happening with BoBS. Financial stuff looks like it will be moving to Grand Rapids; Ken Bradsell is being called the interim director of BoBS.

With Wes on sabbatical, many things aren’t happening. Under Carver theory (or Carver-lite), things do not happen when the CEO is away.

GSC ends and goals reports tell very little. Not individual malice, but malice of ideology: the GSC and staff think this is what they have to do. At all levels of the RCA, there is a lot of demand for money and services, but no way to control anything. Conversations that are emerging at some leadership meetings are using language about gatherings of churches rather than corporate bodies.

We discussed how an extroverted decision making style shares information freely, while an introverted decision making style limits that sharing. The RCA tends toward an introverted style.

The ten-year goal is driving and limiting the work of the GSC. But the Church has other things to do besides the goals.

Paul began a discussion of overtures to and issues at General Synod 2010. Many overtures about the RCA’s relationship to the ELCA; two ELCA leaders, including the one who wrote their sexuality paper, will be there. The Formula of Agreement has often not lived up to expectations, though some things work in some places. On a denominational level, we (all four) have not lived up to what we said we would do. As a rule, the Church holds up a vision and takes years to rise with it.

The on the GS Professorate has big issues for Church Order changes and finding a place for that office. The Reformed & Missional Task Force is proposing very minor church order changes in its final report. There is a proposed reconfiguration of the constitutional questions—this is to go to CCO for review.

At least three overtures coming to GS about covenant of care. We are in a covenant community, and we agree to be part of it; as soon as money as penalties get into this, it doesn’t work. If more and more classes are not seated because they have not paid assessed monies, then the integrity of GS is called into question.

Mention was made about the overtures on assessments.

Agreement by consensus to meet in Chicago, either at Cenacle or at McCormack. Jack and the steering committee will look into arrangements.

Daniel G. began a discussion of use of advisory committees at GS. Recent synods have not used advisory committees for major issues. GS has been working on discernment for twelve years or more. This serves to eviscerate the commissions. The forums which will be held on Our Call will allow the staff to present these things outside of the GS agenda. This is an example of the introverted nature of our organization.

The model has worked very well for some things, such as missional structures and Belhar, but not as well on the Church Herald. Some folks are trying to make the synod a synod, even though they make mistakes. These groups work best when the issue is theological, but, for non-theological business, this can be problematic. Set-up questions are not always well developed. The commission structure does not fit well in the internal design of the Synod. The malleable nature of Synod, year to year, makes it difficult for delegates to get a handle on working on that. We need to figure out ways to re-empower our commissions.

Harold began a discussion on implications of the Belhar Confession adoption. How do we own this and keep the Belhar from becoming just another document? Moderators of commissions can be encouraged to use the Belhar as a formative, confessional document. By making it a confession, we have forced its continued life. It is now curricular, hermeneutical, being used in order conversations, and being used programmatically—but we need to be careful not to have the priorities backwards.

PCUSA and CRC have resourced the RCA in their process of Belhar adoption. People not usually on the same side have been on the same side in this process. Even many who opposed it have given it serious thought. There hasn’t been any direct push-back by those who opposed its adoption. There is some anxiety among Belhar opponents that the Confession will be used to forward a homosexual agenda; staff are asking to avoid homosexuality issues at this GS.

Harold began a discussion on the discernment process leading to the next GSC goal. Unlike “going to the mountaintop” to create the last goal, there is a plan for sharing and listening among congregations and affinity groups, then discussions among classes. The team that is creating this project seems very staff driven, light on RSNY and Mid-Atlantics representation.

Foundational questions: “Why a goal?” and “Who is the goal for?” A goal set by GSC for GS staff and GS is one thing; a goal set by GSC for whole Church is less appropriate. How is the whole church discerning this? We need to be reflective about the whole biblical story in asking “How is God working?” How do we choose the hermeneutics by which we reflect on those stories? Choosing one goal, or one set of who we are to be, narrows, and possibly alienates, because the church is diverse. But we also use goals to preserve the life of the person/people/church we love. Goals tend to lead us into triumphalism; we need to stay humble. Some of that is in how we set up process.

This goal-setting is going to happen. The question is whether we will have a part in it. It would be good if this conversation would include “where are we weak?”; “what is each classis struggling with?”; “how are we screwing up?” Goal setting is nearly impossible in multi-cultural settings. Global mission needs to be part of the goal-setting discussions.

We broke at 5:31pm for fellowship and dinner, reconvening at 7:32 pm.

Discussion of CI’s identity and its public face: we seem to be seen more and more as a freestanding, thoughtful group that is not agenda driven. We are also becoming known as a group of people who do practical theology well and thoughtfully. We can be a think tank, offering a hospitable space for people to work out Reformed theological issues; we need to continue to invite people and be encouraging to them.

Daniel reminded us of his idea of CI supporting the formation of young pastors. New pastors in the RCA, many of whom really want to be Reformed, need our support. We need to look for them. We can also help keep pastors from becoming disillusioned.

Thoughtful reflection has been lacking in the church. The sense of optimism in the group is also helpful; sometimes we are forced into the position of looking like naysayers.

There is an important dialectic between CI as watchdog (the Word is a two-edged sword) and as prophet/vision caster (the Word is life). We need both of these, both the “yes” and the “no.” It is easy for us to be practical and productive in the negative; how do we do so in the positive?

This differs from emotional support or specific problem solving as offered by the coaching networks; rather it is a broader support in what it means to be Reformed pastors. We could respond theologically and thoughtfully to current denominational leadership paradigms, and to help equip younger pastors with critical evaluative faculties to deal with them.

We shouldn’t fight the stuff the GSC wants to do (beyond our due diligence), but we should keep doing what we need to do in a quiet, positive way. When we gather, we need to pray, read Scripture, and do serious theology.

We need to avoid creating too much work, too much structure.

Longer meetings—perhaps two full days—were discussed. The fall meeting might feature a teaching element. Then the spring meeting could focus on GS/governance issues. Bible study/issue study could be a good element.

We need to each invite somebody to the meeting, including people who haven’t been in a while. Daniel G. also pointed out the need to keep e-mail addresses up-to-date.

Elements of our meetings as Bible study, theological discussion, and think tank were all discussed.

Recessed at 9:14 pm with prayer led by Stacey.

20 May, Thursday

Reconvened at 7:30 am with worship in the Chapel, led by James and Daniel G., followed by fellowship around the breakfast table.

Jack began with housekeeping details. Jack will circulate (via e-mail) items for the next agenda, and we will respond.

We will meet at Mariandale in October, and in Chicago in the spring. We will meet on 20 October 2010, 10:00 am through 21 October 2010, 11:00 am. We will plan the Chicago meeting for May, 2011.

We will be intentional about inviting others, and will include some intentional Biblical reflection, worship, round tabling, and talking about the church.

Classis boundaries discussion: Center City Classis, Far West Synod, and some GSC staff are looking for permission to do what they are already doing. There was a meeting with discussion of history and ecclesiology. A conversation seems to be getting turned into policy. This could have been the first step in a continuing conversation. The Commission on Church Order is not happy with how Center City Classis has come to be; there will still be conversation happening. Protocols still need to be developed. The local assemblies need to be consulted. The problem is not Center City, but the Church Multiplication Team. There are many discussions that need to be had in ethics as well as in order, with effects on global missions as well. This group needs to be vigilant on the type of people who get called and who comes next.

The Commission on Theology has a paper by Jim Brownson reviewing the commissioned pastorate, taking on Tim Vink’s notion of apostlic leadership. It affirmed that commissioned pastors are, in fact, elders, not ministers of Word & Sacrament, though there are forces trying to push it further. There are recommendations about professionalization of the commissioned pastors, regarding pay, training, etc. These recommendations were rejected by the review group, but are going to GS by another avenue. The review group did not say commissioned pastors are a good thing. There is a contention that we need commissioned pastors and avenues to ordination without involving boards of elders. Women (even those in seminary) are being strongly encouraged to pursue commissioned pastorates instead of ordination to ministry of Word & Sacrament.

Place of seminaries: Harold reported about City Church wanting to form a new seminary and the CRTC around Albany, New York, wanting to partner with a seminary to train pastors; these seem to be symptoms of a perceived failure of the seminaries to provide pastors adequately. Ecclesiological concerns about seminaries needing a larger view of theological education were discussed. This is a conversation the whole church needs to have.

Daniel G. began a discussion about the website. It needs more content. We need people to be writing. We need to create facebook links to articles we post on the website. Is the website our catechism or our conversation? Much of the group preferred the idea of conversation.

Jack led us into the discussion on the growing (unspoken) debate about use of Scripture in the RCA. We should be modeling a way of reflecting on Scripture rather than attacking how others do it. But how do we stand up and point out inappropriate/un-Reformed use of Scripture in assembly debates? We need a way to say “that’s nonsense” in assemblies without it being a personal attack. In the discernment process, this can be done.

Boards of elders are responsible for the private lives of members, not the GS. Classes are responsible for the work of elders, not the GS. We need to resource classes and elders in how they work with Scriptures in an orderly way. In the RCA, we confess the actions of God, not human action; that is what is constitutional. We need to remind the Church of that, and remind the Church to be covenantal.

One of the results of the MFCA approach is that Biblical interpretation courses are no longer seen as forming Reformed identity. Remedial work needs to be done. We might want to consider overturing about this. This could be a discussion at the fall meeting.

Daniel M. began a discussion of global missions in the RCA. There are reports of poor morale in the staff, a lack of clear vision, and it is becoming development/fundraising driven. This is, in large part, a consequence of the denominational centralization. Missions have been the glue, historically, that hold us together, it is also our contribution to the larger ecumenical world; all of this is in danger of being lost. Congregations are not feeling as if they are in mission; they are disconnected from mission choices. Rather than boards raising money, missionaries themselves must be entrepreneurs. Global mission staff is half what it was ten years ago and shrinking. Without a board, there is no common missiology, and fundraising opportunities are missed.

Prior to the GPC, there were boards (not without their problems). They had representative members and members of access, experience, and resources. The GPC removed the access, experience, and resource people. Then GSC mixed governance and program, but was originally big enough to have sub-groups to do the work of the boards. The smaller GSC doesn’t have even that.

Some congregations are starting freelance missions relationships, and Global Mission is catching up later. This is happening because congregations don’t think the RCA is doing anything. On the flipside, missionaries have a difficult time finding congregations to visit. There is a disconnect. The City Church folks are thinking like CI on this; they need to be part of the conversation. This has huge implications for our ecumenical life, as well; ecumenism is a natural fit for global mission. But staff energy considers global mission a world reflection of church multiplication.

Jack thanked James for keeping minutes.

Harold expressed prayer concerns for James & Kathleen Hart Brumm and Tom Danney.

The meeting adjourned with prayer led by Okke at 11:03 am.

Respectfully submitted,
James Hart Brumm