I was recently at a classis committee meeting that was authorizing $200 grants to persons from our classis churches who had registered for the RCA Conversations event to be held in Orlando in February. The grants were to be a dollar-for-dollar match to regional synod grants for that same purpose. Six names were on the list before us, all ministers; by category, one woman, one Korean, one native-American, one specialized minister, five local church pastors. In addition, our classis would likely have three other ministers present: one serving on the General Synod Council, one national staff person, and one serving on a denominational commission meeting concurrently to the event. These latter three persons were not eligible for scholarship as their presence is being underwritten by the denomination and they are serving the event in particular functions. As a group, these nine ministers will bring to the event over two hundred years of experience with RCA ministry in a diversity of venues and cultures. We are fortunate to have them present at the Conversations event. For most of them, it will involve a personal financial cost, even with scholarship assistance, to transport themselves there and back, as well as time away from their ministries.
Several committee members at the meeting expressed surprise that my name was not on the list and that I was not attending the event. I explained that, as a regular delegate to the 2011 General Synod last June, I had carefully studied the plans for the Conversation event, and had directly shared on the floor of General Synod my chief concerns about its purpose, its proposed process and its place in the future planning processes of the denomination. Neither at that point, nor in personal conversations with RCA staff since, have those concerns received any substantive response or satisfactory explanation. These unaddressed concerns, which I detail below, involve orderly church process, openness of participation, cost factors and adequacy of information to be shared at the event. Given the lack of response to them, I simply could not justify any personal participation, although I both hear and appreciate that others can; that their hope is for a classis “voice” to be expressed. My personal choice is to expend time and effort on a classis gathering to envision a local future under Belhar mandates.
The event is extra-ordinary; that is, it falls outside the decision-making process specified in the RCA Book of Church Order. We already have a structure for making our decisions in common; one that we used for the last decade of planning –i.e. the GS.
The process internal to the event suppresses rather than expresses the variety of visions for the future of the denomination. Hearing digests and summations of discussions is not equal to hearing the actual voices themselves. The process is a Temple veil between God’s people assembled and the Holy Spirit.
Participants are asked to envision the future of the RCA without the benefit of examining our past and present learnings. Without a full understanding of where we are, it is impossible to determine where we must go.
The venue, timing and cost limits the participation of RCA folk whose voices we need to hear directly. When heads are counted at Orlando, the vast majority of participants will be ministers with a scattering of lay leaders [elders and deacons]. The genius of RCA polity is the openness [at times near-chaos] of the assembly. Healing happens when the waters churn.
The overall rush to put into operation a second-decade plan is unwise. Not enough time is being allowed for the deep discernment required to articulate our common mission.
Planning by decades is not appropriate to a “black-swan” society, where flexibility is the hallmark of successful institutions. The bias of rushing things is always towards continuing to do what we have been doing because of its familiarity and vested interests.