Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As I look back at General Synod, I thank God for the delegates who gave their time and came together to discern God’s will for our denomination. I thank God for leadership, for grace, and for thoughtful discussion, which was so evident at General Synod. I believe that the Reformed Church in America stands on the firm foundation of Christ with a focus on transforming lives and communities and radically following Christ in mission together.
I want to offer a brief outline of some of the significant outcomes of synod and share my thoughts on where we go from here. For a complete report on synod, please read the summaries on the RCA website (www.rca.org/synod) as well as the General Synod Workbook (www.rca.org/workbook).
Here are just a few of the outcomes of synod:
In Recommendations 42 through 46, the synod worked through a proposal that I brought to the delegates in my presidential report. Those recommendations include the following:
The work on planning for and forming this special council will begin very soon. The General Synod presidents included in the recommendation have been contacted and have agreed to serve the church in this process. As plans are completed, information will be shared with pastors and members of the RCA. This is a significant process for our denomination and it must be accomplished with both transparency and a desire to include all voices. Please pray for those who will be involved in the council and that God’s will be done.
I also ask congregations, office holders, and assemblies of the RCA to respect and maintain the season of restraint called for in the recommendation. This is a critical piece of the process and General Synod delegates voted overwhelmingly to support this season of restraint (the vote on this was 176 to 39). With the recent opinion of the United States Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage, I realize that this season of restraint takes on new meaning and potential challenges, but I still urge all to respect this call for restraint.
I’ve also been asked how Recommendation 25 affects the work of the special council and the RCA moving forward. The Recommendation reads as follows:
Judicial business before synod is always a critical element of the work of delegates and this was no exception. I believe that delegates saw this decision for what it was—a judicial response to the procedural requirements of the Book of Church Order. The decision to approve Recommendation 25 came after the decision to support Recommendations 42 through 46 and does not detract from the importance of the special council as we, as a body of believers, continue to look for a constitutional pathway forward to address questions of human sexuality.
Sisters and brothers, there is much within the RCA for which to be thankful. There is much for which we must pray earnestly for God’s discernment and will. I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit will be in and among us as we plan for and move through the season of discernment and the special council. I covet your prayers and support for the RCA in this time as well.
President, General Synod 2015
General Synod Council Moderator
Pastor Joyce has asked me to write an article for the next issue of Jacob’s Well describing my experience at General Synod, so I thought I would do the summary here and include photos and links that won’t fit in Jacob’s Well.
I attended General Synod as an Elder delegate from Schenectady Classis. There were two Elder delegates and two minister delegates. As official delegates to the General Synod we had both “voice” and “vote”. There were corresponding delegates from various bodies that had “voice”, but no vote. The other delegates from Schenectady Classis included Rev. Janet Vincent and Rev. Ann Reilly and Elder Carol (Kitt) Jackson. On the plane to Chicago we met up with other delegates from the Albany Synod … about 12 of us total were on the plane.
We flew into Chicago and were shuttled to Trinity Christian College where we spent the next five days before flying back. We were assigned rooms with other delegates and it appeared that the staff had purposely mixed us up. I shared a room with Jon (J.R.) Henderson from Cedar Hills Community Church in Cedar Rapids Iowa. Although I was a first-time Synod delegate, J.R. had been to many synods and has served on RCA committees, as a church planter, and in general balanced my newness with his experience. J.R. and I also disagreed on what was to be the main topic of discussion throughout the synod, what to do about homosexuals. While we were there we ate our meals in the college cafeteria where we encouraged to sit with new people and get to know them. I thought this was one of the most valuable and enjoyable parts of the trip. I met Elders and Ministers from California, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and other parts of New York and New Jersey.
We generally met in Plenary three times per day, morning, afternoon, and evening. Occasionally the evening session was a worship session or a special presentation and we did not actually conduct business. Worship was another part of the experience that I enjoyed. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t really care for most of the Praise Music that they used during the worship sessions, but the speakers were all uniformly excellent. The speakers included the RCA President, Greg Alderman, the RCA General Secretary, Tom De Vries, Charles Contreras of Faith Church – Hammond, Indiana, and Jessica Pierce (also of Faith Church).
Worship times also included special music and performance art including “Above All” performed by Marc Eckel of Splat Experience.
Much of the business we conducted in each Plenary
was fairly dull and unless it was a topic you were particularly interested in, you might find it boring. For instance, the first overtures and recommendations we voted on had to do with the topic of Commissioned Pastors supervising Consistories. I didn’t really understand all the issues involved but there was some disagreement among the delegates. If you are interested in a particular topic ask me and I’ll provide you with more detail. I’m just going to hit the highlights here.
One of the highlights was an Ecumenical Panel on Friday night that included Rev. Granberg-Michaelson, Father Aren Jebejian, Armenian Church of America, Bishop Tod Brown, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Diocese of Orange, California, and David Sang-Ehil Han, Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Church of God. Following this, we celebrated some of the missionaries the RCA supports around the world. Especially highlighted were the missionaries who had served in Chiapas, Mexico.
Throughout the Plenary sessions we heard reports from various bodies within the RCA. We heard fro the seminaries, the professorate, the colleges, and all the different racial councils.
On Friday afternoon, the President gave his report. In addition to many thanks to various people and groups who had worked with him during the year, he highlighted much of the work the denomination has accomplished in the last year. The “meatiest” (my apologies to vegans) part of the presentation also started off the discussion on the most-frequently discussed topic throughout the synod. “What is the church going to do about homosexuals?” The President ended up recommending a council to be assembled during the coming year to try and find a way forward for the denomination. The President’s recommendations resulted in several recommendations that were passed by the General Synod.
R-42a called on members of the RCA to exercise a season of restraint, refraining from ordaining or marrying homosexuals, and refraining from bringing charges against those who do, and lastly refraining from leaving the denomination. Note the “urges”. There’s no teeth to this.
R-42b called for the formation of a special council to meet for the express purpose of describing a constitutional pathway forward for the Reformed Church in America to address the questions of human sexuality as it relates to ordination and marriage, and to empower this council to bring recommendations to General Synod 2016.
R-43 called for a “Wise Council” of Five will be formed from among past General Synod presidents, including Carol Mutch, Brad Lewis, Irving Rivera, Chuck Van Engen, and Tony Vis. They will arrange and conduct the meeting(s).
R-44 required 79 members of the council: one selected by each classis (forty-four) and thirty at-large members selected by the “Wise Council”.
Although initially we were told that this council would not cost anything, funds would be allocated that were left over from previous years, subsequent amendments to the original recommendations added the possibility of more than one meeting and required all costs to be funded by the General Synod. This raised the assessment churches are required to pay by $2.03 per person. The estimate was for $ 350,000 to cover multiple council meetings. There was also some discussion that this might result in the commission not being done in time for the 2016 Synod.
There was much discussion of the issue, people kept referring to the “Elephant in the room”. My best estimate is that at least 2/3 of the voting delegates wanted a constitutional ban on ordination and marrying of homosexuals. There were also some rumblings that churches would leave the denomination if this matter was not resolved (in that way). I believe it was only through the efforts of the President, Greg Aldermann, and the General Secretary, Tom De Vries, and a few others that things did not come to a head. I heard a few forecasts of doom and gloom for the RCA in the near future.
During the synod, we elected a new President of the
RCA, Evan Vermeer. He was last year’s Vice-President and previously served as president of the Regional Synod of the Heartland and an elder at First Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Later, Dan Gillette was elected Vice-President. He is currently lead pastor of First Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
There were way too many things for me to cover here or in Jacob’s Well. Feel free to grab me after church or arrange for us to meet me at the church some morning for more information. I’m sure Dorothy (Duffy) and Helen will let us join their coffee klatch!
The last morning. I haven’t been sleeping well, for some reason the bed for me is extremely uncomfortable. I woke up at 4 a.m. (central time) and used the time to finish packing to go. About 5 I was inadvertently facetimed by Robin …. and when she realized I hadn’t called her she said she was going back to sleep. Within about 5 minutes she facetimed me again to tell me her cousin Eddie had died. He had been in the hospital for over a week following a heart attack and a subsequent bypass operation. Unfortunately he caught pneumonia and went downhill and died this morning at 4:37. He left two sisters, a daughter, and of course some cousins.
At our morning plenary we voted on Vice President. The nominees included two from New York and I voted for Richard Dykstra, who is the President of the Synod of Albany and is the Pastor at the Reformed Church in Roxbury, NY. Richard is second from the right in the picture. Daniel Gillett was elected. Dan is lead pastor of First Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. He has served as president of Holland Classis, a General Synod Council member, and adjunct professor at Western Theological Seminary. Daniel is far left in the picture.
I found a link that might be helpful if you don’t have time that allows you to look at recorded streaming. Previous sessions can be viewed at the livestream.com page at:https://livestream.com/rcasynod/synod2015
So this morning we picked up our business with bringing back a response to an overture from the New Brunswick Classis concerning the RCA’s position on reparative/rehabilitative therapy for gays and lesbians. As a response to that overture, the RCA body which considered overture mad the following recommendation:
To declare that the RCA does not support the use of reorientation/reparative therapy.
My personal belief is that we should not only not support, but also recommend against that kind of therapy. It is illegal now in California, Oregon, New Jersey, and Washington DC. There is a bill waiting to be signed by the Governor of Illinois to make it illegal. Past practice for this kind of therapy has included partial lobotomy, chemical castration, and electric shock therapy. In reviewing an asylum request the 9th Circuit Court has stated its opinion that in a foreign country the use of drugs and hypnotherapy constituted physical and mental torture. I was tempted to do a Saturday Night Live parody and say “REALLY?”
Yet there was a strong movement on the floor of the General Synod to defeat this recommendation. After much dispute, it was referred to a committee along with the decision to remove any links to this therapy that are present on the RCA web site.
I think I mentioned before that in my preparation for the Synod I thought many of the recommendations in the workbook were …. wise. They didn’t make controversial decisions. They did their best to keep everyone talking. The made an effort to follow the rules and be fair. This was not what I considered the right course of action, but it was the best we were going to get.
Next we went into judicial session where, among other issues, we considered a complaint against a synod and classis which had ordained a minister who was a Lesbian. The recommendation was to deny the complaint because the classis and synod involved followed proper procedures and there was no evidence of any king that the minister in question was a “practicing” homosexual.
During this discussion I was surprised and pleased to see the Rev. John de Velder, brother-in-law of Joyce, rise to speak for the minister under discussion.
As with much of the other business, some delegates took every opportunity to turn this into a debate about homosexuality. Eventually, an amendment was made that clarified that affirmation was only that procedure was followed.
Next up was the Commission on Theology. The first item concerned the formation of a task force who’s responsibility would be to recommend diaconal bodies so that Deacons would be involved in service on a broader basis than just their local church.
The second item was a report on Human Sexuality. Although I had questions about how homosexuals were portrayed in the report, the amended recommendation was to approve the report as a resource for future discussion. Since there was no movement to discussion again of the gay marriage, gay sex issues, I let it go.
Next we went back to the President’s recommendation for a council to consider gay marriage. Specifically there was much discussion about how to pay for the council. An amendment to pay the costs of members attending the council would end up raising assessments over $2 per member and costs total about $350,000. This passed. Total assessments will be voted on later tonight.
Sunday morning we were encouraged to attend one of the local Reformed churches. My registration choice of a local church did not make it through so I was left without assignment or transportation. Although I was given in the option of meeting the shuttles in case there was room, I found the Harvest Bible Chapel which I could walk to in 10-15 minutes with services at 9 and 11. It was raining in the morning, as it has been for most of our stay here at Trinity Christian College, so I waited until the 11 am service. Luckily the rain paused and it was a pleasant walk through a very nice residential neighborhood (think gated driveways with tennis courts) to get to the church. Although it was next to this nice neighborhood, the church was on a very busy commercial boulevard, not as nice as the neighborhood. According to the internet, the building was once the home of the Reformed Church of Palos Heights.
I got there about 10 minutes early and there were only a few people in the sanctuary. More people came in and at 11 a praise band started. After about 30 minutes of praise songs there were close to 200 in the church and they took an offering. Another 10 minutes of praise songs was followed by introduction of a guest speaker. The guest speaker was a former youth-minister in the church who was currently planting a new Harvest Chapel in Rochester, NY. I found a biography online and picked out a statement that he was “saved from the Catholic Church at the age of 10.”
The sermon was based on 1 Peter 2:4-10 and was very interesting. Included with the bulletins passed out at the door was a note-sheet and I noticed the majority of congregants were using them. Periodically during the sermon the leader would mention that they should make a note of something or fill in one of the blanks on the note page. It was a very interesting sermon, although, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not real fond of the praise music. I did note that one of the praise song used, 10,000 reasons (I think) was one that was used by the RCA praise teams and I did like it better the second time I heard it. For some reason the song made me think of REM (80’s rock band)
I left after 90 minutes to get back to Synod, the service looked like it was starting to wind down. I’ll be bringing the bulletin back to show the Consistory.
In the afternoon on Sunday we had various work shops. I chose to attend one on conflict management which centered on Acts 15 and the Council of Jerusalem. The leaders made a big effort at the beginning to make sure everyone knew that the topic and Scripture were chosen months before Synod and were not related to the Presidents recommendation on the gay marriage issue, which is being called the Jerusalem Council by delegates at the Synod.
The workshop was led by a member of the RCA staff and a Pastor from a church in Holland Michigan. It focused on personal styles of handling conflict and communication. I’m not sure I got very much from it and hope that we won’t have much in the way of conflict to handle at Old Saratoga where I might need these techniques. If we do I’ll have to call on Abby Norton-Levering who was at the workshop and is here representing Albany Classis. Abby also is the Synod of Albany Ministries Coordinator …. whatever it is that she does.
There are some other focus groups meeting this afternoon, which I have not been invited to and then dinner and the Evening Plenary. Not sure what they will be doing although our program lists a speaker and discussion.
If you want to see more pictures of the General Synod than just the few I’m able to share, you can follow this link to the particular page on the RCA web site.
Most of the business being conducted at General Synod can be found through links on the Delegates page.
On Friday night, our Plenary included an ecumenical panel including a Roman Catholic Bishop, an Armenian Orthodox priest, a Bishop from the Pentecostal church, and Wesley Michael Granberg, the retired General Secretary of the RCA. It was interesting and worth the time to look it up later if you weren’t watching the livestream. I believe the recorded events will be posted later on the RCA
Friday morning we had several reports and honored a retiring member of the RCA staff – retiring to mission in Oman. Then we addressed recommendations the President made yesterday related to questions about gay marriage. Basically, the President urged restraint for at least a year and to form a commission to study the recommendations. If you’re watching the livestream you saw me speak for an amendment to the President’s recommendation. Feelings are, as you can imagine, strong.
I feel strongly in favor of allowing and encouraging strong committed relations (marriage) for our gay brothers, sisters, children. However, I don’t see that this issue is reason to leave the denomination. Unfortunately, based upon what I’m hearing, regardless of what we decide today, churches will leave the denomination. The President’s motions seek to put things off for a year and hopes to find a way to move forward together. Its possible that some churches will delay, but I believe when our position becomes clear and firm, regardless of whether it is for or against gay marriage, we will be a much smaller denomination.
The issue continues to be vigorously discussed in our afternoon Plenary as we deal with the President’s recommendation. A lot of the discussion is dry, parliamentary procedures. Debate goes back and forth about procedures, amendments, etc. It might be a good time for a nap.
I have been to the microphone several times today. Feelings are running strong. The current discussion is about a motion concerning gay rehabilitation therapy. Even in the face of strong scientific evidence … the AMA, there are people who want to allow our support of rehabilitative therapy to continue. An amendment for this was narrowly defeated, 113 to 102. I ended the session nervous and shaky,
During the morning Plenary, in addition to the General Secretaries report we had several report from race councils. The African American/Black Council report mentioned Ferguson and other recent events and made several recommendations for an appropriate RCA response. Similar reports were made by the Pan Asian council and the Hispanic Council. I was saddened by comments made during the Hispanic report that a number of churches were considering leaving the RCA unless the Synod made a definitive statement taking a strong Biblical position that homosexuality is inherently sinful.
The President’s report was given during the afternoon session. Although he touched on a number of topics, the main topic turned out to be ” What is the church going to do about homosexuality?” The President pointed out that the RCA’s position is clear and has always been a strict Biblical interpretation that a homosexual life-style is sinful. He made a proposal that we convene a commission to consider a change in the RCA’s position next spring and until that report was in that we refrain from:
- ordaining homosexuals
- performing gay weddings
- leaving the denomination
After his report, we were given a short time to discuss the issue with ou table mates, with each of us answering two questions about the proposal:
- what do we find challenging
- what do we find encouraging
It was an interesting discussion. 🙂
Later in the afternoon we were introduced to a number of church planters for the RCA. The ones I found most interesting, and all of them were dynamic individuals, was a black couple that specialized in planting churches in high-drug traffic urban areas in places such as Kalamazoo and Detroit.
Thursday night we were scheduled for worship scheduled from 7-8:30. It was led by a praise band, which I was not thrilled by. For a good part of 10 years I was a Youth Group Leader at Fort Miller. Most years we tried to take our group of kids to the Youth for Christ convention, which usually included a lot of Praise songs. I enjoyed it at the time, but its been a few years and I’m not familiar with the current batch of praise songs.
I was greatly impressed by the speakers and the performance art. If you look at the pictures on Facebook you’ll see several pictures of a man drawing a picture of a man hand-painting a picture of Christ. The performance was very moving. The second speaker was Greg Alderman, the current President of the RCA. He quoted that line we are all familiar with, “It was the Best of Times …” and went on to talk about his year. His wife had graduated with a Masters degree and started a job teaching. His daughter graduated high school and got a full gymnastic scholarship to a college in Texas. He included several other examples of success in his life (being elected President at last years General Synod). “It was the worst of times ….” – During the year while driving in his mini-van through an intersection he passes twice a day almost every day, he was hit by an older gentleman who ran a red light and pushed into oncoming traffic. Remarkably, his injuries were minor. His dog, pet of many years, died. He mentioned several other failures. Then he told us about his brother who died, worse, who committed suicide. He talked about how others ministered to him. Later he talked about his new dog, who every day, when he comes home is happy to see him. The dog doesn’t care whether his day was good or bad, whether he succeeded greatly, or miserably failed. The dog was glad to see him. As Christians, perhaps we should be the dog. We should love the person in front of us. We shouldn’t care what’s behind them, just what’s in front of us. Our ministry is to love our neighbors.
That’s what I came out with….. I should be the dog.
Friday morning after breakfast our morning Plenary started with reports including one from Tom De Vries, the RCA General Secretary. His presentation was very interesting. Hopefully you have time to check out the live-streaming which is available on the RCA web page (click the link). Rev. De Vries talked about some of the things coming up in the General Synod or the coming year for the RCA. He expects some controversial topics to be brought up. After reading some of the overtures I think we will be dealing with this afternoon. I agree. If you can, check out the live-streaming link above this afternoon. I’m sure I’ll not be able to do the discussion justice.
One of the early surprises when reading the workbook has to do with the responsibilities of the delegates. My initial feeling is that I will be there to represent my Classis and Consistor as their representative. Bound by what I believe is their will. The following excerpt redefines my purpose:
- “Because office-bearers receive their authority from Christ and are responsible first of all to the Lord of the church, they primarily represent Christ to the church and world. They can be said to represent their churches, consistories, classes, and synods in at most a secondary sense. Delegates’ votes and consciences cannot be bound by their sending bodies.”
I found that interesting.
This morning (Thursday, June 11), I joined Rev. Janet Meyer-Vincent from Bacon Hill and Kit Jackson from Altamont in our classis, and about 5 others from the Synod of Albany on our flight to Chicago. From O’Hare we were shuttled eventually to Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. The trip was uneventful, but on each leg of the journey we were joined by more and more delegates for the General Synod. It was fun and exciting to meet so many people on a trip with a common destination and purpose.
The first Plenary started at 3 p.m. and was mostly just reports from each of the RCA seminaries/colleges and the professorate. There were some uneventful votes having to do with amendments to the BCO from previous synods and one denial of an overture from a classis. That had to do with Commissioned Pastors supervising Consistories and I went with the recommendation from the synod group that reviewed the issue. There was some dissent and ended up with about 60/40 split for approval.
Tonight after dinner is a first worship service. I’m looking forward to it; it will be a much larger group than I am used to. I’ve posted some initial pictures on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/OldSaratogaReformedChurch?fref=ts). You should check that out. When you see the pictures, I’m seated at table 23 with a Women’s Delegate from the Regional Synod of Albany plus two ministers and two other Elder delegates from Michigan and Iowa. They mix us up at the tables.
I am privileged this year to be selected (I volunteered) to be an Elder delegate for the Schenectady Classis to the RCA’s General Synod. The other delegates from Schenectady are the Rev. Janet Vincent (from Bacon Hill and the past President of the Classis), Rev. Ann Reilly (solo pastor at State Street Presbyterian Church and the Regional Synod of Albany Communications Coordinator), and Elder Carol “Kitt” Jackson (from Altamont).
On June 1 I sat through an hour long webinar on the General Synod, how it operates, and what kind of procedures will be followed. At the beginning there was a comment about the organization of the RCA. Although some might see the General Synod as the “top” governing body of the church, in actuality, the RCA’s table of organization shows the churches, and their Consistories, as the top.
We were also asked to consider 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Emphasis during the webinar was also placed on the idea that every delegate should contribute. Even “new” delegates who have never been to a General Synod before, like me, should fully participate and share their views.
There is a 269 page workbook that has been provided for the Synod. We were all encouraged, multiple times, to read the workbook (“skim through once quickly, and then go back and read it more thoroughly”). I have done the skim through part already, spending more time on parts that looked interesting. This week I’m going to start reading through the entire workbook more thoroughly, making notes as I go.
The Synod is a five-day event, with morning, afternoon, and evening work sessions interspersed with worship and workshops. Since I’m going to have to report back to the Consistory of Old Saratoga as well as the Schenectady Classis, I thought it would be helpful to “blog” about it. This will also serve the purpose of keeping the church and anyone interested up-to-date on what I’m doing and what I think about it. Since this is my first effort at blogging, we’ll have to see how well it works.
Please pray for me and the church.