People from throughout the RCA gathered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for General Synod from June 16 t o 21. Together, they prayed, worshiped, and made decisions regarding the life of the church. Among the highlights from the week:The RCA participated in a historic joint session with the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The denominations have been divided since the CRC split from the RCA in 1857.
The joint session came at the end of the CRC’s synod, also held at Calvin College. Delegates from both synods shared lunch, followed by a plenary session and worship. “I have been waiting for this moment all my life, without realizing it,” said CRC interim executive director Joel Boot. “This is like a family reunion, at long last.”
RCA general secretary Wes Granberg-Michaelson said that cultural differences between the denominations “are diminishing every day as we grow closer together.”Before the joint session, both synods had approved new common translations of the three doctrinal standards they share–the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort.
Synod confirmed Tom De Vries as the new general secretary of the RCA. De Vries, pastor of Fair Haven Ministries in Hudsonville, Michigan, will begin his new role on August 1. He addressed synod, saying, “There is thanksgiving as we move into the future, recognizing that it’s going to be grounded in faith, that it’s going to be lived out in love, and that it will be fueled by hope. This is the foundation with which we begin our journey together.” De Vries was installed during a special worship service on Monday night.
General Synod approved a common agreement on baptism with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the United Church of Christ. Approval of the agreement is one step toward official recognition of each others’ baptisms.
Synod elected Lisa Vander Wal as its next president. Vander Wal is pastor of Lisha’s Kill Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York. “I’ve tried over the past year to hear your stories of ministry,” she said. “My email and phone are open opportunities to hear from you.” Synod president Donald Poest, in his report to General Synod, emphasized unity and trust in the body of Christ. “The goal is not uniformity, but unity. We may disagree on many theological points, and many church practices, and even on some scriptural interpretations while still valuing each other as different parts
of one body, the body of Christ,” he said.
Tom Smith is the new vice president of the General Synod. He read Ephesians 3:20-21 to the synod and said, “This is my prayer for the RCA as we move forward into God’s exciting future.” Smith is copastor of Faith Reformed Church in Rock Valley, Iowa.
Wes Granberg-Michaelson delivered his seventeenth and final annual report to synod as general secretary. He reviewed progress related to the Reformed Church’s 10-year goal to start new churches, revitalize existing congregations, and become more multicultural and freed from racism, joyfully reporting progress in church multiplication and initiatives to support pastors for personal revitalization. He also challenged the church with a question: How do we develop a creative and transforming witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that can be seen and heard by those outside the doors of our congregations? “Answering that question will keep the RCA on a journey of deep change,” he said. “That’s where we need to be.”
Delegates approved sending a theological paper on deacons to all RCA churches for study and feedback. The paper explores having deacons participate in the higher assemblies of the denomination, including General Synod and classis meetings. Synod approved a 2012 per-member assessment of $45.24. This is a 3 percent increase over the 2011 per member assessment.
Delegates learned about “Conversations,” a church-wide process of discovery and discernment that is expected to provide a clear sense of direction for the RCA’s life together following the conclusion of its 10-year goal, Our Call, in 2013.
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