Minutes of the CI meeting, 23-25 October 2013

he minutes from our last gathering of CI signatories and others is below. Signatories interested in the much less tidy and occasionally more interesting journal of the meeting may contact me.

MINUTES: Meeting of signatories of the Chicago Invitation
 23-25 October 2013 at Mariandale Retreat Center, Ossining, New York

Present: Jack Elliott, Okke Postma, Al Janssen, Jim Reid, James Hart Brumm, Bill Hertlein, Donna Field, Peggy Funderburke, Rett Zabriskie, Dan Griswold, Al Poppen, Linda Gold, Donna Field, Hank Lay, and George Casler

23 May, Wednesday

The meeting was convened with worship in the Chapel, led by Al J., at 2:00 pm.

After introductions and expressions of “why we are here,” Jack led us in a review of the agenda.

  • Bill TeWinkle sent a note, and would like us to see how we can be supportive of the “Transformed and Transforming” goal statement
  • Some discussion over troubling denominational issues–information sharing time, maybe later in agenda
  •  The order of the agenda will evolve as we go.

Al J. spoke to us about North American Dialogue between the Roman Catholic bishops and the Reformed communions (PCUSA, UCC, RCA, and CRC). This is the ninth round, around ecclesiology and ministry; beginning with the nature of the church and continuing through episcopacy versus presbyters. He is also doing research into effects on ecumenical dialogue of Vatican II.

  •  There is a school of thought that talks of essential Protestants and accidental Protestants. Essential Protestants view Roman Catholics as “the other,” and find definition over against Roman Catholicism, and celebrate the Reformation. Accidental Protestants see the division from the Reformation as an accident, and mourn that. Al is finding insight into the divisions in the RCA because of this.
  •  The new pope is making a huge difference, attitudinally and functionally, as he calls people from around the world from outside the curia to examine how Rome does things.

Okke began a discussion of the new economics of pastoral ministry, sharing the beginnings of the paper “The Church and the Many Churches: One and All.” The Hastings congregation where he serves has shared its space with other faith groups since the beginning. Sundays are easier to schedule than the weekday stuff.

  • As we meet, the WCC is meeting to consider the Faith & Order Paper The Church–Towards a Common Vision, over the question “How can there be on Church and also many churches?”
  • The Holy Spirit has always been one and many; when God does one thing, God does many things.
  • In the RCA, we have no order for having a congregation be both CRC and RCA; the Spirit moves ahead of the order. Similar things are happening with the Redeemer congregation within FRC Hastings, which wants its own identity but is also exploring a place in Rockland-Westchester Classis.
  • Being ahead of the theology isn’t bad, as Theology is a reflective discipline. “The Spirit beloves many-ness” (Van Ruler).

We broke at 5:30 pm for fellowship and dinner, reconvening at 7:15 pm.

James began a theological reflection of the new CRC-RCA hymnal, Lift Up Your Hearts, and the new PCUSA hymnal, Glory to God.

  • Both do a very good job at including music of various styles.
  • Both do well with language, though Glory to God does better with language for God. Glory to God’s statements on theology and language are also impressive.
  • Neither hymnal has much of a theology of office, as if ministers, elders, and deacons and the theology by which we understand their role in the Church might be important. Priesthood of all believers theology is strong, but the theology of office is non-existant. “God of the prophets” has been theologically devastated in Lift Up Your Hearts.
  • RCA hymnody—the rich tradition of hymns by RCA writers—has just about disappeared from both books. Since most congregations and worship planners do not look beyond their hymnals for congregational songs, RCA hymnody may be gone by the next generation.
  • Lift Up Your Hearts is a much more CRC-dominated book, and Glory to God may be a better fit for eastern RCA congregations and those like them.

Recessed with psalm, hymn, and prayers led by Al Poppen at 8:40 pm.

24 October, Thursday

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

Dan led us in a discussion of General Synod 2013, borrowing Lynn Japinga’s paradigm (from her new book Loyalty and Loss: The Reformed Church in America, 1945-1994) of the conservatives being in the middle, the purists being on the right, and the moderates on the left, with no block of true liberals. This Synod was a moderate-dominated body. An empty chair was on the dias to represent Christ sitting there; everyone was told to speak as if they were addressing Christ.

  • Al J. commented that Lutheran and Episcopalian assemblies are centered around the Sacrament—we had an empty chair, which speaks to a paucity among us.
  • There was also a change in delegates, and a strong chair of the meeting.
  • Some discussion over why worship and sacramentality is not at our center, how we look for some pop-culture, evangelical “thing” (Van Doornik) instead of an item from our faith heritage.
  • Church Order & Governance had more work to do than normal. The paper on Constitutionality and the RCA was helpful in their work.
  • R-52 from CO&G acknowledged mistakes made in producing R-28 from GS2013. Some were not happy about having the Synod then confess, but majority ruled.
  • Report from the R-28
  • GS called for a new paper from Theology on Human Sexuality (the Commission plans a very limited, focused paper) and renewed discussion.
  • Church Order was asked for a statement on the authority and scope of GS statements not written into the BCO; that statement has been issued, quoting “Constitutionality and the RCA.”

Two other issues that may become bigger:

  1. Zeeland’s overture on the reapportionment of delegates, now being studied by Church Order, Theology, and History; what is the theological basis for this?
    · This is a matter of our theology of order over against modern consumer-driven democracy. The discussion will turn around issues of power and justice; the Church and the assemblies are not parliaments.
    · This is about the power to hold sway at a Synod; and that is a troubling view about the nature of Synod being winning and losing.
  2. The mission presentation: the mission focus of the RCA seems to be moving from the historic three-self paradigm, working with indigenous partners, to a more evangelistic focus, and this is primarily staff-driven, with no input from the assemblies.
    · In the old GPC, people saw, discussed, and supported mission directly. Now staff are setting denominational policy, not the GS, as required by the Constitution.
    · We no longer have the means to communicate among one another that we once had; communication is more and more staff driven.

“Transformed and Transforming” was approved. The all-synod advisory committees worked with a statement presented to them, based on a digested ideas from the denomination-wide reflection groups. The fifteen-year timetable was not up for debate. The advisory committees were highly scripted, pushed to do things that are not deliberative. Al J. saw it as a vote of permission and not of endorsement.

Donna and Hank introduced themselves, and we introduced ourselves to them.

Jim began a discussion of the “Transformed and Transforming” fifteen-year goal. It is a statement which is to be a guide for the denominational staff. It is not constitutional. It is a laundry list; it includes just about everything.

  • Fifteen years is too long to plan strategically—business uses one to three years or even six to nine months.
  • “Transforming” is useful if it is used as a dialogical and reciprocal process, problematic if used as a mandatory process.
  • There is a mythology that this arose from a grassroots process of congregational, classical, synodical, and a denominational events; but those events were not actually connected; there was no advocacy traveling from one gathering to the next.
  • This did not devolve into a refined statement, and will need to continually be interpreted and altered over the next fifteen years.

Jim had some recommentations:

  • much of the language is immeasurable; watch for what measuring units will be imposed.
  • watch for what kinds of questions get asked to evaluate T ‘n’ T. Why are these questions being asked?
  • watch for changes, for tests of allegiance; can we affirm or not affirm?
  • ask cost-effective questions; if we don’t have a say in what is being deliberated, why bother supporting it?
  • Ask if there are other ways to network, connect, and ask questions. Official denominational communication is a controlled press. How are we being helped in ministry on the ground?
  • Do not let T’n’T slide; this has political effect and cost. Who will be in charge of the disposal of valuable real estate?
  • Watch for attempts to merge classes into entities controllable from the outside. Local assemblies know best.
  • Churches need to be transforming agents. We need to self-examine before we point fingers at GR.
  • As a mental exercise, it might be good to picture what it would be like to leave the RCA.

Are we simply drifting toward being subsumed by the CRC? Professorate is asking about the loss of Reformed identity. CRC seems to have a sense of identity in joint ventures—this is a shift from a generation ago.

  • Professorate also trying to address the concept of transformation in Christ positively and theologically.
  • Hank sees some attempt in T’n’T to have denomination resource local churches, as opposed to vice versa in Our Call.

Recessed for lunch at 12:08 pm  with prayer led by Linda, reconvening at 1:29 pm.

Al J. started us in a discussion of our Project in Practical Ecclesiology–looking at the practice of the church in the 21st century as a way to model a Reformed ecclesiology. Introduced Randy Van Doornik, to present on his ministry at North Reformed Church in Newark, NJ.

  • One hundred years ago, the biggest congregation of the RCA, lots of movers and shakers. Bob Barrowclough succeeded Howard Hageman, was a smaller personality but loved the church and the city. Delayed his retirement a few times because of that, leading to an extended season of “what’s next?”
  • Randy worked with them before he went there on a season of prayer without agenda except a belief that God wanted a church there—but did God want that church there?
  • They sought the will and the voice of God, and then they pursued options. Met with denominational folk, considered selling property, considered a part-time pastorate.
  • New leadership developed, especially Ms. Moses and Ms. Pat, who accidentally signed on for a youth leader workshop Randy led. They were impressed, and later Randy’s profile showed up in North Church’s pile.
  • Changes in leadership happened. Randy pressed them on how they were truly willing to change, and insisted that they were all in ministry together.
  • Many rough spots, which led to lessons in collaborative leadership. Randy knows he has done something right when someone else doesn’t remember that he said something, but claims the idea as her own.
  • Realized that the church had to engage its neighborhood, to acknowledge that there was a world out there. Randy engaged in MbWA (Ministry by Wandering Around)—walking around the community and seeing what happens, now not just handing people food or clothing and sending them away, but now also eating with them and asking names, inviting them to stay around.
  • There were beginnings of engaging neighborhood people who came to Bible study, caring what they think. They now have an elder and a deacon who came to North from the streets.
  • For Randy, the congregation is the people who are there already, and congregation-based ministry is the congregation taking care of its own and engaging the parish to grow the congregation. The parish is those around the congregation, and the church thinks about how to engage—not recruit, but engage—them.
  • This changes who they think about counting and why and how. Heart of the ministry is Monday-Friday (save the first two Mondays of the month), 9:00-1:00 for breakfast and lunch; they are the only church that lets people linger in the building. Congregation is quite supportive of all this, and participates.
  • Money is tough, the endowment is gone, but leaders believe they once had all the money in the world but no Spirit; now they have all sorts of Spirit but no money. They live hand-to-mouth, but show integrity in finance. They work to cooperate with Synod of the Mid-Atlantics and the RCA, with varying success, now beginning to make inroads as a mission that doesn’t fit the old definitions. Partnering with Pompton Plains, RCA Global Missions, Hope College Immersion Trips.
  • Some challenge with people feeling the need to be doing when they help rather than just being.
  • They are challenged—happily so—by how they count who is and who is not the church.
  • One elder self-identifies the congregation as “The Island of Misfit Toys,” and knows that is a good thing. For many of them, the place they went to be healed was North Church, where they were healed by busting their asses in the kitchen (the primary entry into North Church now).
  • The economics are tough, but things find a way.

Dan began the response by citing Bonhoefer’s Christ the Center. He observed that North Church has gone through a de-centering, finding a new, other-centeredness.

  • Has this been disorienting? Very. Much of what Randy and the congregation do is to reject what they have seen. The congregation doesn’t see this as Randy’s ministry, but everyone’s. There is a central Biblical focus on what it means to be the people of God. They are not de-centered, but re-centered around Christ. So it is disorienting and re-orienting. Highly disorienting when they couldn’t have nasty church fights any more.
  • How does the ministry help de-centered people to find Christ? By getting folks to re-focus on who they are and how they can be together in Christ.
  • Is there a danger of this being an ideology divorced from Christ? Not when focusing on a Jesus who is full human and fully divine
  • Does Randy have advice for us? Keep thinking, keep talking, spend time with people who think differently from us.
  • No reasonable church would have them (but isn’t the church called to be unreasonable?). We can no longer live by gathering everybody, and we have to think about being the people of God differently.
  • So is “Transformed and Transforming” really about us, an individual transformation in Christ? That is more Biblical and more supportable. It still happens in and/or toward community.
  • Are there congregations as focused around Sacrament as North is focused around Word? One Episcopal congregation, calling itself “a Catholic church in the Anglican tradition,” does parish like North, but more sacramentally centered.
  • North is keeping a focus for mission visitors on “what can you learn from them?” Veronica’s testimony of who she is and what she does at North an entry point for everybody (“If you can make a pastor smile, that’s doing something”); “Now you’ve met Veronica. Now what?” A lot of storytelling.
  • We need to remember that it takes time to begin really doing stuff.
  • So, what about self-care? Good training in faithful, simple living. Faithful support (even without money) from congregation and colleagues. Knowing self and making healthy choices. Not easy, but plenty of safety nets. Pain is pain and God is God.
  • In the early 19th century, there was a parish concept of church existing for the community.
  • The parish doesn’t move–this concept is more indigenous to the old, eastern RCA. This goes along with the idea that the church is where its members are active and at work.

What will be the next discussion? Who should be next? Scott Sherman, Ann Kansfield, Seth & Stephanie Kaper-Dale, Jess Kas-Kiet, Michael Bos, Hartmut & Susan Kramer-Mills, and Jill Fenske were among those discussed.

Dan has put up links to materials relating to most of our discussion topics on the CI website.

Jack reported that we are down to $150.00 or so. Al J. will contact the Meyer Foundation for support for the Project in Practical Ecclesiology. It has taken us ten years to get through $5,000.00. Anybody with ideas for more funding sources should speak up.

Recessed for fellowship and dinner at 5:16 pm, reconvened at 7:12 pm.

Donna began a discussion on the plight of pastoral care in US hospitals. Medicare changes about pay for performance to hospitals have led to an industry-wide change in how things are paid for. This has led to surveys for patients on the quality of service they receive, and, more recently, to being surveyed about pastoral care (which is not billable, and therefore has a finite budget).

  • The spirituality surveys are completely subjective, and the surveys acknowledge that emotional and psycho-social considerations cannot be separated from spiritual needs.
  • How does one quantify spirituality? Dartmouth Microsystems Academy has developed an instrument for this which has begun to decimate pastoral care departments.
  • Communication is completely lacking, and staff is conflict-averse. It is easier to assume that a patient is difficult than it is to ask what the patient wants. Medical staff doesn’t have time to deal with these situations.
  • ACA leads to improved distributive justice, but it requires communication. Chaplains and ethicists can give the time to patients for communication. But how can this be quantified?
  • Is there a metric that can be applied to pastoral care? See Harold Koenig, Spirituality in Patient Care or Faith, Medicine and Science.
  • It is even more difficult to make a metric to measure pastoral work in the parish. All pastors live with the metric of being asked “Why are we smaller?” They know that there are spiritual things going on, and they feel caught in the tension between the unquantifiable and the need for measurement. There are all the things pastors cannot share, which cannot be measured. They are the scary numbers over which the next generation doesn’t obsess as much. One metric is that, for a person to stay in a congregation, she or he needs to know at least seven other people in the congregation.
  • A lot has to do with understanding what the offices are, and not be overworked and under-employed. What are the prospects financially for people who answer the call to go to seminary, and what will happen, especially to those beginning later in life? Is there a future without vocational ministry, and what will that mean? See Doug Walrath, The Demise of the Divine.

Recessed for the evening with prayer led by Peggy at 8:56 pm.

25 October, Friday

Reconvened at 7:30 am with worship in the chapel, led by James, with music led by Dan, followed by fellowship around the breakfast tables.

The agenda format was affirmed.

A bit of discussion on things going on in the RCA.

  • Some people are and will be losing their jobs. Tom DeVries is seen by some to be running ahead of the GSC on this, pushing against the boundaries of Carver. The shifts in people and backgrounds and the shift toward commissioned pastors are creating changes regarding moving personnel.
  • Many stories around commissioned pastors, which we should discuss next time.
  • Rumblings about MFCA, as well.
  • Changes are coming in how regional synods function. Mid-Atlantics has no staff, Far West barely exists.
  • A lot of flurry and fury over Jim Brownson’s book. There are attempts being made to bring him before the Synod to remove him as a professor. Attacks on Western, as well; some are threatening to refuse certificates of fitness from WTS. The seminary is standing behind Brownson at the moment. As we have the homosexuality debate, we are messing with people’s stories. We are also messing with the lives and vocations of the professors.
  • The roof is on the new building at NBTS. The seminary will have first occupancy on apartments in a new building being built by New Brunswick DevCo behind Second Reformed Church. A number of denominational offices will be moving into the new building, leaving Ken Bradsell as the last anchor at 475.

Okke will work on a response to Bill Tewinkle’s letter re: being loyal allies to “Transformed and Transforming.”

Next meetings:
7-9 May (Wednesday-Friday) at Mariandale Retreat Center.
21-23 October (Tuesday-Thursday) at Mariandale Retreat Center.

Presentations/Discussions for our May meeting:
1. Mediation by Jim Reid
2. Ecology, Economy & Ecclesiology by Okke Postma
3. General Synod 2014
4. Practical Ecclesiology By Al Janssen
5. apostolicity as manifest in Reformed church order by Al Janssen
6. Medical ethics & the Heidelberg Catechism by Donna Field
7. The Commissions by Rett Zabriskie
8. Commissioned Pastors by Rett
9. Transformed& Transforming
10. using music more organically within the liturgy by James Brumm

Adjourned at 9:43 am with prayer led by Rett.

Respectfully submitted,
James Hart Brumm

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