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!