MINUTES: Meeting of participants in the Chicago Invitation discussion

Participants in the Chicago Invitation discussion met 6-8 May at Mariandale Retreat Center in Ossining, New York.

Present:     Jack Elliott, Jim Reid, Okke Postma, Norm Kansfield, Mary Kansfield, Donna Field, Herman Harmelink, Rett Zabriskie, George Casler, Pat Ryan, Dorothy Ver Strate Calvin, Amy Nyland, Al Janssen, Daniel Griswold, Stacey Midge, Angie Mabry-Nauta, Bill Hertlein, Tom Danney, Abby Norton-Levering, Ken Ruge, Lynn Japinga, Gary  and James Hart Brumm

6 May, Tuesday

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

Jack declared that Okke would be taking over as treasurer, and that Jack intends to retire as convener.

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

M/S/C—the Dan Griswold become the next moderator of this group.

Okke began a discussion of “Ecology, Economy, and Ecclesiology.” “Ecclesia” describes the same world as “Church,” but in a different way. “Ecclesia” does relate to “Economy” and “Ecology,” as they deal with the function of the world, and there is overlap. While the systems descriptions of this world get smaller and smaller (because of scholars who have everything figured out), God’s world gets bigger and bigger (though some in the church like to have everything figured out). What does all this say to the RCA, and should we be initiating and planning, or should we be making room to grow and see what happens? This runs counter to taking something which has worked in one place and replicating it everyplace (like a denominational program). In Ecology, a two-dimensional ecology is doomed to fail; needs diversity. There can be joy in not knowing what is happening. In Economy, some are now acknowledging that not everything can be calculated; we must let some be, and let it grow. The church needs to be a place where more joy is brought out.

Dan responded with how, when he thinks of “Economy” theologically, he thinks of the economy of God, God working in our midst. In Rochester Classis, Brighton is struggling, and looking at selling its building and renting space or merging with Trinity and then planting a new church in downtown Rochester—all of which addresses the ecology of the church. Norm pointed out that the location of a congregation’s building should begin to define its ministry. Rett spoke about how Passaic Valley Classis is changing its thinking about hanging on to real estate. Al talks about the energy in small congregations around Albany which are vital, but which cannot manage the economics of ministry as we have known it. Norm quoted Rett, about a congregation having a right size and a right shape for its community and its soul.

Donna began a discussion of Medical Ethics and the Heidelberg Catechism. Her job as a nurse was as a patient advocate, to not let the doctors kill patients. As a medical ethicist, she is part of a clinical ethics consultation service, helping medical staff to make moral choices in the care of patients. What is the patient’s quality of life in her/his terms? What does the patient want? Do patients understand what they want? Is the decision in the patient’s best interest? Power Point for this presentation is on the CI website. NY State law protects rights of patients to make own decisions. The Heidelberg Catechism makes us think differently about medical ethics, in part because we believe that we belong to God who cares for us. Q & A #28 reminds us that nothing shall separate us from God’s love. Where is our autonomy in all of this? To what extent is our will still bound?

Jack advocated for some medical ethics update at every CI gathering. Dan wondered if we should look at this in terms of virtual ethics: instead of looking at the moral act, look at the moral actor—how the individual responds in terms of God’s grace (consistent with Heidelberg). Al talked about ethos as shaping the community . . . how does the community shape our choices? Where does obedience fit in? We are freed to obey.

We broke at 5:28 pm for fellowship and dinner with a prayer for grace led by Al, reconvening at 7:15 pm with Jack’s Arizona travelogue.

Al led a review of General Synod overtures and a discussion of what is coming to GS 2014.

Recessed with prayer led by Norm at 8:31 pm.

7 May, Wednesday

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.

The meeting resumed at 8:52 am with all of us quickly introducing ourselves for the newly arrived.

Rett led us in a discussion of commissioned pastors (CP). They pose the question: “Do God’s people experience God most effectively through church order that is Episcopal, Presbyterial, or Congregational?” He related the tale of a church order incident in Classis Passaic Valley. It is about understanding: the English word “understand” means “to stand under,” which puts one party on top; the Danish word for understand means “to stand before,” which implies equality. CP is understood as office by some as being an office (even though the BCO says it isn’t) and by many others, vehemently, as not. Advocates of CP are saying that the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament is inadequate to the needs of the church in the present day.

Angie—introduced by Dan—presented and began a discussion about what happened at the (now closed) Reformed Church in Plano and the ending of the “Dallas Experiment” of the RCA. This is a topic people need to talk about: her blog post on this has 8,000 hits and growing, and her Christianity Today on-line article had 1,200 shares. The Church as we knew it is dying, and we need to learn and adjust.

What can we learn? Jakko Hamman: All ministry is grief work—there is always loss—we need to help them grieve. Mourning can facilitate the revitalization of the body of Christ. Ridder Church Renewal Process is helping understand this. Stronger and more consistent support from classes is needed. A theology of church death is needed. Also, congregational hospice care, helping congregations to die well. How does the fact that we are grieving influence how we are thinking about the body of Christ?

Recessed for lunch at 12:11 pm with prayer led by Rett, reconvening at 1:18 pm.

Lynn began a discussion around issues related to her book Loyalty and Loss: the Reformed Church in America 1945-1994. Distrust of East by Mid-west had begun with hiring of Worcester at NBTS by 1920s, and then was inflamed by accusation that NBTS and Board of Foreign Missions were “modernist.” Hiring of McLean in 1946 made things worse. Howard Hageman, at a speech in 1950, called the RCA to claim its identity as Reformed. Historically, RCA uses growth to feel good about itself, but underlying tensions are still there. Much comes to a head at the Synod of 1969. Response to that leads to some reconciliation through festivals, and the Church Growth Fund, and congregations doing their own thing. Issue of the ordination of women fought out then settled through judicial process. The 80s brought the identity discussions, and, in the early 90s, the homosexuality debates begin. When Wes becomes General Secretary, he steered us back toward church growth.

The book divides RCA into Moderates, Conservatives, and Purists. Historic purists were good church members with a high conception of that, as opposed to modern purists. Creation of TEA begins breakdown of relationships among ministers, and it becomes more difficult to solve this. Lynn called out of us issues to be discussed:

  • Broken classes
  • Living together, spending time together
  • RCA as family? We haven’t been Dutch in the east for a long time
  • Can we break the cycles?
  • Denominational communication—what does the demise of the Church Herald mean over the long term?
  • Fear of declining membership/numbers
  • Ecclesiastical statistics are notoriously unreliable

Questions were discussed: What justifies leaving a denomination? Do the Moderates have a responsibility to try to hold the Church together? How does family work as a metaphor? We could have intimate conversations, not at synods, but we don’t have mechanisms for intimate denominational conversation. What about denominational communication? Absence of Church Herald may be the absence of any real denomination. Communication seems confused and poor now. How do we get out of the cycle of conflict and growth attempts?In the 90s, Luidens and Nemeth predicted that, unless the RCA acknowledged and affirmed its differences, one group would assert its hegemony over the other. Has this now occurred?

Dan announced that Angie’s presentation is posted on the Chicago Invitation site, along with a list of resources from Rett, Al, and Donna. Angie’s blog will be posted, as well.

Al announced two books: An Order to Serve by Leon J. Kauffman, who advocates and ecumenical approach to church order; and Protestant Church Polity in Changing Context in two volumes (LIT Verlag)—Al is published in one volume and edited another. International Reformed Theological Institute will be meeting at NBTS in 2015.

Recessed for fellowship and dinner at 5:06 pm, reconvening at 7:17 pm

James did some presentation about using music more organically within the liturgy.

Al gave background for his thought piece on “Transformed and Transforming.” Church order is about what makes the church the church, and it tells us apostolicity is different for us than for Roman Catholics and some others. Ministry and ecclesiology is one of our biggest differences with Roman Catholicism. As terms, transformed and transforming are empty terms. He sees all sorts of small examples—not denominational programs, but in local congregations and small groups—of transformation happening in the RCA. A Reformed understanding of apostolicity has problems with the RCA movement that talks about apostolicity, which is having influence over where money is going. Some more discussion of the whole topic will come later.

Jim gave a bit of an overview of the work of the mediation team with whom he has been working. More discussion will come later.

Angie is looking to make a book out of her work examining what happened in Plano. Dan encouraged us to offer her suggestions for research, grants, et cetera.

Recessed for the evening with prayer led by Rett at 8:59 pm.

8 May, Thursday

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.

Agreed by consensus that we should save Al’s paper on “Transformed and Transforming” for a hearing by the full group in October. Al told us this paper comes out of the Professorate’s attempt to honestly do some theological reflection on the topic—chosen by GS for our 15-year goal.Jim spoke a bit on mediation, and especially the process taught by the Lombard Mennonite Center.

Next meetings: 15-17 October 2014 at Mariandale Retreat Center in Ossining, NY.

In October, we will have another installment in the Seminar in Practical Ecclesiology, and more on Mediation; Okke would like to bring some colleagues from the shared space relationship in Hastings; there will be some things from General Synod, especially regarding the growing CRC/RCA collaboration (it might be good to have a CRC person come talk about this).

Dan has called on all of us to help him moderate.

M/S/C—to set the moderator’s term in three years.Agreed by consensus to set Okke’s term as treasurer at two years, and subsequent treasurers’ terms at three years.

People with more ideas for the October meeting should remain in touch with Dan.

Jack thanked us for the privilege of being moderator.

Lynn and Angie expressed their gratitude for our hosting them, and reflected on their experiences. Angie challenged us to keep an eye on what is happening in our congregations and remain engaged so that we will continue to be heard.

Adjourned at 10:08 am with prayer led by Donna.

Respectfully submitted,

James Hart Brumm

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