Shouting Across the Divide? Synodical Dialogue in the RCA

The word ‘synod’ means together on the way, but general synods in recent years have felt anything but. On May 30, the Chicago Invitation will host a conversation about the myriad ways the RCA engages in conversation. How can we learn from our successes and failure to communicate? What options do we see moving forward? Are we just shouting across the divide, or are we truly together on the way?

This will be a unique event for the Chicago Invitation as it will take place in two locations: Western Theological Seminary and New Brunswick Theological Seminary, with presenters in both locations connected by an internet video-link so that both sites can fully engage.

Confirmed Presenters
Lynn Japinga, Professor of Religion at Hope College
Monica Schaap Pierce, RCA Ecumenical Associate
Emily Janssen, StoryCorps
Lisa Tice, Air Force Chaplain

What: “Shouting Across the Divide? Synodical Dialogue in the RCA”
When: May 30, 2019 10am-4pm
Where: Western Theological Seminary (Holland, Michigan)
New Brunswick Theological Seminary (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
Cost: $75; students are free
(to offset the cost of travel for presenters and lunch)

Register here

Call to Meeting

The Chicago Invitation will be having its Fall meeting on November 7-8, 2018.
We will be meeting at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady (8 North Church Street Schenectady, NY 12305-1699).
The Registration fee is $50. We will start at 1:00 on Wednesday (Nov. 7). We will conclude with lunch on Thursday.
Topics include but not limited to:
 – Affinity, Geography, and Boundaries
 – RCA Vision 2020 Team
 – Composing a New CI Statement?
If you plan to come please click here to let us know!

MINUTES:  Meeting of participants in the Chicago Invitation discussion 1-3 November 2016 at Stony Point Center, Stony Point, New York

Present:     Daniel Griswold, Audrey deWaard, Jonathan Vanderbeck, Abby Norton-Levering, Stacey Midge, Donna Field, Kendra van Houten, Rett Zabriskie, Al Janssen, Norman Kansfield, Mary Kansfield, Bob Callender, Daniel Meeter, Linden DeBie, Herman Harmelink, Larry Schuyler, Nancy Callender, Tom Goodheart, Jonathan Gundlach, Bill Hertlein, Brad Lewis, Amy Nyland, Greg Town, John Paarlberg, Marilyn Paarlberg, Terry DeYoung, Sam Clover, Josh Bode, Kim Pavlovich, and James Hart Brumm

1 November, Wednesday

The meeting was convened with worship led by Jonathan V. and Audrey at 3:30 pm.

Daniel G. called us back to order at 3:54 pm with introductions around the circle and some preliminary sharing.

We began a discussion of what is going on in churches, classes, and commissions.

  • Classis of Passaic Valley voted on the seven proposed amendments to the Constitution.
  • Brooklyn Classis is having a special meeting to deal with the amendments and another to discuss whether the Classis can continue.
  • Different kinds of dual affiliation being explored.
  • MFCA board has struggled with gender issues in granting the certificate of fitness for ministry..
  • Commissions on Theology and Church Order are dealing with a mechanism for letting commissioned pastors be delegates to GS.
  • Members of the Biennial Synod Task Force—which is no longer looking to have biennial synods—met with all of the commissions to talk about changing ways that GS works.

We took a break at 5:33 pm for our Happy Half-Hour and dinner, reconvening at 7:10 pm.

Stacey began a discussion about the need to find new ways to communicate across the denomination. CI was not founded with a particular point of view beyond wanting to discuss what it meant to be synod together. The challenge is not technological, but figuring out what we want to do. This requires reflection, prayer, and informal conversation.

Recessed for the evening with evening prayers led by Audrey and Jonathan V. at 8:12 pm.

2 November, Wednesday

Reconvened at 8:00 am with fellowship around the breakfast table.

The meeting resumed at 8:40 am with a presentation on “Faith and Physics: Science Informing Theological Reflection” by Bob Callender.

We are in a major transformational age. We can now cause extinction, not only of ourselves, but of all life on earth. Within 50 years, we will be tinkering with life forms, including human life forms. Within 30 years, we will understand consciousness. This will be self-directed evolution, with many ethical consequences. In principle, the world should look to the religious communities for wisdom, but it is doubtful that we will keep up.

Recessed briefly at 10:07 am, reconvening at 10:16 am

Daniel M. presented his paper on hermeneutic—“In the Beginning Was the Talk.” Sixteen Reformed characteristics:

  1. We take the Old Testament as equal in status to the New Testament (even if we read the Old by the New).
  2. Scripture must be interpreted. Scripture is not rightly understood with­out the partners­hip of men and women who interpret scripture for those who need to hear it.
  3. We scan the scriptures for the ongoing themes of Promise and Fulfilment, and we watch for this expressed in the form of covenants.
  4. We follow the early church in reading scripture according to the regula fidei (rule of faith), es­pecially as confessed in the Apostles Creed.
  5. We pre­fer the “plain” reading of scripture, and we dislike allegorical and mystical interpretations. But plain reading is not the same as naive reading!
  6. Because we hold that education and science are not antithetical to the work and witness of the Holy Spirit, but that these are the Spirit’s gifts to us, we value and employ historical, liter­ary, and critical learning in our interpretation.
  7. We value theology in the interpretation of scripture, regard­ing the­o­logy as proper­ly a disciplined reflection on the interplay of scripture, human thought, and the intellectual sciences.
  8. All the intellectual tools of exegesis are required for preaching—that is, for the public proclamation of the word of God within the church.
  9. God does not speak to us except through scripture. The scripture is sufficient.
  10. We regard scripture as the only “rule” but not the only “source.” Sola Scriptura does not mean “only Scripture” but “by Scripture alone”—Scripture is the only rule (instrument) by which we measure other sources. The Bible always exists in a dynamic relationship with our experience of the world.
  11. We have a way to treat between scripture and reason, scripture and tradition, and scripture and experience. We cannot help but begin with experience, informed by tradition, and using reason; therefore, to give any authority places them above Scripture.
  12. The Holy Spirit is what both guarantees its authority and is required in its reading.
  13. Churches in the Reformed tradition tend to control their Biblical interpretations by means of confessions.
  14. New and innovative interpretations of scripture are always to be welcomed, if cautiously.
  15. The Word of God goes beyond the church into the world.
  16. The Word of God is free from the church and free for the church.

How do we re-enter conversation among the “sides”? Maybe by looking at conversation as a gift, and also lifting up the Resurrection—out of death comes life.

Recessed at 11:28 am, having introduced the newcomers and re-gathered for worship led by Audrey and Jonathan V. at 11:30 am, then lunch, reconvening at 1:33 pm.

Began a discussion of GS2016 with presentations from Jonathan V., Kim, and Daniel M. The order is not capable of holding us together; most people in the pews do not have a living sense of the order; we cannot go back—we need an alternate vision for mission.

  • How can we get real change past the leadership?
  • How can we get the GS to discuss things theologically?
  • How can we get better behavior in the assembly?
  • How can we get to financial transparency?

Staff was hired to do a job, and want to do it; we need to know what job it is—we need to listen to the felt needs behind these jobs. People are genuinely trying to do their jobs; we owe it to each other to listen to each other about that.

Took a break at 3:29 pm, reconvening at 3:50 pm.

Began a panel discussion of the Special Council, led by Brad, Greg, and Marilyn.

Took another short break at 4:48 pm, reconvening at 4:55 pm.

Began a discussion of resourcing classes on the proposed amendments. Abby has curated a collection of documents at Jonathan V. spoke about the formation of the Albany Synod FAQ sheet, which was authorized by Albany Synod Executive Committee to be shared with Albany Synod classes.

Recessed for fellowship and dinner at 5:31 pm, reconvening at 7:00 pm.

Jonathan G. spoke about the transitioning going on at City Church, San Francisco, since they became more open to LGBTQ people in their membership. The hopeful signs: there is a real sense of ministry in the city. Most of the classis is in the position “of course there will be different opinions, and we just have to live together.” The future of the classis is uncertain; some of it is worry that Far West Synod might dissolve them if they move too far too fast; some of it is worry that Emmanuel, Paramount, will leave if the classis approves same-sex weddings.

Daniel G. began a discussion about the need for our next gathering to be in the Midwest. There is a strong interest and a strong need. The need for internet hookups of some sort—livestreaming, Facetime, etc.—was discussed. There would be a need to create a short paper of points on common Reformed ecclesiology. How can we best help seminarians be present? Support for people in harder places, hermeneutic discussion, shared ecclesiology, reaching students, and inclusion of Midwestern signatories and potential signatories, and the possible discussion of an alternate vision are all potential topics.

Recessed for the evening with evening prayer led by Jonathan V. and Audrey at 8:33 pm.

3 November, Friday

Reconvened at 8:00 am with fellowship around the breakfast tables, then worship led by Audrey and Jonathan V. at 8:45 am.

Daniel G. reported on the CI finances.

The interim committee—Donna, Stacey, Abby, Daniel G., and James—were helpful to Daniel G. in planning and preparing this meeting, and there was affirmation that the meeting has gone well, and we are grateful for new faces and new voices. The interim committee will meet very soon to debrief this meeting and begin planning for the next meeting. Daniel G. was asked to continue as moderator.

Al wondered aloud if we are in a status confessionis in the current political climate. Should we be making testimony to the nation/culture? It might be a wedge issue to get the RCA to look at itself and its proclamation of the Reign of God. If Trump wins, we may need to be the confessing church.  This will be on the agenda for the interim committee to consider.

By the next meeting, Al may have a very clear picture of where the Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogue is going. It might go so far as the Roman Catholics acknowledging Reformed ministries and Reformed acknowledging the place of bishops in the church.

Daniel M. asked the interim committee to consider a one-night meeting format.

Daniel M. challenged the group to consider the preparation of a mission statement. This will also be part of the interim committee’s agenda.

Adjourned at 9:19 am with a song led by Jonathan V. and Audrey and a prayer led by Daniel G.

Respectfully submitted,

James Hart Brumm

Aids and FAQs on the Proposed Amendments

The following documents and posts represent a variety of perspectives on the proposed amendments. We will refer to them during our conversation in the afternoon session on Wednesday, November 2.

If you want to download all of these articles with one click (except for my blog post), here is a zip file



I am grateful to Aaron Schulte for providing the following list of links to documents referenced i the above Aids and FAQs:

Announcement: Fall Gathering

November 1-3
The Stony Point Center
17 Cricketown Rd,
Stony Point, NY 10980

As is our typical pattern, we will gather on the first afternoon and conclude on the last morning. Some attend the whole conference; others come for just a part of it.

This event has the promise of being helpful for many. There is a great need to process the actions of General Synod 2016. We are working on lining up fine presenters. Some of them we expect will dive deep into the issues that became evident at Synod, such as biblical hermeneutics. Others will address other issues not connected with Synod but of importance for the Church and of great interest to many of us. We also plan to discuss plans to hold our spring gathering in the Midwest.

I do hope that you can attend.

Details about registration and schedule will be posted here over the next few weeks.

If you know others who should attend and have not attended, please encourage them to do so.

Save the date: Spring 2015 meeting

Please mark it down on your calendar. The next CI gathering will be May 20-22, 2015, at the Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center in Ossining, NY.

We’ll begin with worship at 2:00 on Wednesday, May 20.

We’ll conclude no later than 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 22.

You can attend all or part of the event.

Stay tuned for more details.

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 Continue reading “MINUTES: Meeting of participants in the Chicago Invitation discussion”