While Dutch immigrants were expanding the church in Canada, the Reformed Church in the United States also underwent change in the 1950s, the years following World War II and encompassing the tensest years of the Cold War. The social and cultural mood in America welcomed churches and religiosity, if only as a counterpoint to the atheism practiced by the nation’s Cold War enemies. Americans moving to the cities and suburbs prompted the RCA to spend millions of dollars to organize 120 new churches between 1949 and 1958, and for the first time in the denomination’s history, many were opened among people unfamiliar with Dutch heritage and the Dutch Reformed traditions. In the 1960s, mission work also took on a new tone, as the Board of Foreign Missions was renamed the Board of World Missions.
To further welcome people from backgrounds other than Dutch, the RCA formed four racial/ethnic councils between 1969 and 1980. The councils help the denomination face and address issues related to race and ethnicity, dealing particularly with people connected to the RCA through Pacific and Asian American congregations, Hispanic congregations, Native American Indian congregations, and African-American congregations.
Women have always played a vital role in the RCA. Their contributions began with such activities as initiating and supporting missions in North America and around the world, and serving as missionaries. Today they are missionaries, teachers, study leaders, volunteers, elders, deacons, and pastors. Denominational approval of the ordination of women as elders and deacons came in 1972, though women had been ordained to those offices beginning in 1970. The first woman RCA minister was ordained in 1973, and ordination to the office of minister was opened to all women by an act of General Synod in 1979.
Today women continue their involvement in the Reformed Church, in many kinds of ministries. Dozens of women are ordained ministers in the RCA, serving as pastors and specialized ministers, pursuing graduate work, and serving elsewhere without charge. Nearly 50 percent of the students in RCA seminaries are women, and many women have been sent as delegates to General Synod.
In 2000, the RCA assembled for Mission 2000, a whole-church event that aimed to discern and direct the denomination’s role in mission into the twenty-first century. The RCA’s Statement of Mission and Vision, introduced in 1997, spells out the calling of the church, and the Pentecost Letter, written at Mission 2000, exhorts the many congregations of the RCA to go forth into their communities and make a difference there for Christ.
Emphasis on mission continues, at home as well as overseas. The “Discipling All Nations” paper talks about the need for and methods of ministering to people around the world in this new century. Urban ministries focus on churches and people who live in cities around North America, charged with the reminder that, as cities grow into population centers, the future of the church depends on how it touches the lives of people in the cities.
The mutual-mission initiative developed in 2002 acknowledged the North American church’s need to learn from the strong and developing church in the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere in the world. Mutuality fosters exchanges of people, knowledge, and understanding between the long-established North American churches and their younger, innovative, growing counterparts in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
In 2003, General Synod adopted Our Call, a ten-year goal focused on planting new churches and revitalizing existing congregations. As Our Call drew to a conclusion, a denomination-wide discernment process took place, involving thousands of voices over two years. Conversations at the grassroots led to the adoption of Transformed & Transforming in 2013, a 15-year vision for discipleship, leadership, mission, and engaging the next generation. RCA staff work with churches and church leaders to equip them to take a next faithful step to follow God’s call in their context.
Reformed and always reforming, the RCA has moved into the twenty-first century, rooted and established in careful theology and committed to grow as the Spirit leads.