Hope for the future
With long-awaited Vision 2020 decisions coming to General Synod 2021, the synod did not seem poised to be a bastion of hope—and yet it was. Delegates sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of Christ permeated even the most difficult conversations. Throughout synod, delegates engaged one another with respect, civility, and open hearts.
General secretary Eddy Alemán shared the vision of the future church painted by Revelation 7:9 in his report on Friday morning. And that vision of unity in diversity, of a church composed of many tribes and tongues who are one in Christ, emerged as a theme. Synod celebrated that the Reformed Church in America (RCA) is becoming more culturally and racially diverse, drawing nearer to the vision of Revelation 7:9.
”After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.- Revelation 7:9
Delegates also celebrated the vibrancy of RCA Global Mission. Even a discussion about a recommendation to form a separate mission agency became a clear affirmation that mission is central to who the RCA is and how the church engages with the world. Watch video greetings from RCA missionaries, which were played at the beginning of plenary sessions.
Synod celebrated 34 new churches in North America and another 34 in Nepal who have joined the RCA in mission. And delegates celebrated that 85 percent of new church planters since 2019 have been people of color. As Alemán said in his report, “The future of the Reformed Church in America is multi-ethnic … I have to say, that is a beautiful thing.”
Vision 2020 decisions
In response to the report of the Vision 2020 Team, General Synod voted to:
- Form a restructuring team. The team will develop a restructuring plan for the denomination “with a view to optimizing the RCA’s sustained spiritual and organizational health.” The restructuring team will consider the guidance of the Vision 2020 Team about future structure but is not bound by that guidance. The Vision 2020 Team suggested reorganizing classes as affinity based, rather than geography based; that decisions about ordination, marriage, and discipline of consistories continue to fall within classis authority; and that the assemblies of regional synod and General Synod be examined for continued viability.
- Keep RCA Global Mission RCA. After nearly an hour of discussion that spoke volumes to the centrality of mission within the Reformed Church in America, the General Synod voted against the Vision 2020 Team’s recommendation to create a separate 501(c)(3) mission agency. As a result, RCA Global Mission will continue to exist with the RCA label.
- Adopt new regulations for departing churches. The regulations provide for mutually generous separation when churches leave the RCA over the next five years. “From the very beginning of our work as the Vision 2020 Team, we wrestled with the reality that some kind of separation was inevitable,” said Brian Keepers, a member of the Vision 2020 Team who presented the recommendation. “There would be churches that decided to leave the RCA and pursue other kingdom relationships regardless of the outcome of our work. This reality brings with it a deep sense of loss and grief. … However, even as we lament this reality, we are a people who do not grieve without hope, for our hope is in the living Jesus.”
In anticipation of some churches and ministers leaving from the RCA, the synod also clarified the process of transferring a minister to another denomination and approved bylaws changes for the RCA Church Growth Fund, enabling the CGF to make loans to churches that used to be part of the RCA.
Synod supports anti-racism work and indigenous communities
After the 2020 global reckoning with racism, General Synod 2021 passed eight recommendations related to anti-racism and the concerns of indigenous peoples.
These included a recommendation urging RCA assemblies to hold an annual one-day event dedicated to anti-racism. For accountability, another recommendation, which came as a motion from the floor, adds a question to the Consistorial Report Form (CRF) about anti-racism training.
The recommendations came from the African American Black Council by way of the General Synod Council (GSC) and the Commission on Christian Action. Additional motions were brought on the floor of the synod and approved.
Synod also voted to acknowledge and advocate for the concerns of indigenous communities, including land acknowledgements when General Synod meets in the future. Delegates called for a liturgy of lament for the roles “the RCA has played in oppression of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of North America.”
Synod takes action on climate change
In light of climate change, the General Synod approved a variety of actions related to creation care and repair. The Commission on Christian Action brought the recommendations, all of which were adopted on Monday morning.
Incoming General Synod leadership
Phil Assink was elected and installed as the president of General Synod for the coming year; Dwayne Jackson was elected and installed as vice president. Assink is currently serving as the interim pastor of First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor, Washington. Jackson is currently serving as the co-pastor of the Second Reformed Church of Hackensack in New Jersey.
“I thank God for this opportunity, for such a time as this. We have a lot of work to do as people of God,” said Jackson after he was elected. “My hope, my prayer is that I can bring whatever gifts God gave me to add to the gifts of those who have been called into leadership in this, our Reformed Church, to do the work that God has called us to do faithfully. Pray for me; I will pray for you.”
Delegates approved emergency provisions for making decisions if General Synod can’t meet in the future.
Western Theological Seminary will maintain its existing relationship with the Reformed Church in America for now, after General Synod voted to refer a proposal to change the seminary’s bylaws.
General Synod approved an annual assessment of $54.51 per confessing member for 2022. The 2022 Partnership-in-Mission (PIM) share was set at $6,900.
Tools and resources for ministry
The following tools and resources for ministry were commended by the 2021 General Synod.
Witnessing in a postmodern age: General Synod approved a paper on postmodernism to help the church recognize and respond to the challenges and opportunities of a postmodern culture. Read the paper, which was written by the Commission on Theology: “Christians in a Culture of Suspicion: Reflections on Living Faithfully in a Postmodern Age.”
The Blanket Exercise: Synod commended the Blanket Exercise as a first step for understanding the history and concerns of indigenous people. Developed by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Blanket Exercise is “a practical, powerful, experiential way to understand Native peoples’ history in the Canadian and American contexts.” Explore the Blanket Exercise.
Guidelines for civil discourse: General Synod commended a set of guidelines for civil discourse brought forth by the Commission on Christian Action. Each guideline is rooted in one of the fruits of the Spirit.