Synod approves changes to certification for ministry process
On Monday morning, General Synod 2022 discussed changes to the way candidates for ministry pursue ordination. They approved recommendations to rename the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry the “Certificate of Readiness for Examination” and adjust the process for granting certificates.
The proposed changes aim to clarify the certificate’s role in the ordination process and the requirements for being granted a certificate. They also affirm that examination for ordination and licensure is a classis responsibility.
Because these recommendations would amend the BCO, they will now go before the classes for consideration.
Synod calls to suspend Russian Orthodox Church from WCC for Ukraine war support
Late Monday afternoon, synod voted overwhelmingly in favor of taking steps to call for the Russian Orthodox Church’s suspension from the World Council of Churches (WCC) because of its support for Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Additionally, delegates ordered an examination of whether the church’s actions meet the criteria for status confessionis. Status confessionis, a full break in communion, has been invoked twice before: toward churches in apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany. The Commission on Theology, in consultation with the General Synod professorate, will examine whether the war meets the criteria, with report to synod in 2023.
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has morally endorsed the use of violence against the Ukrainian people repeatedly. General secretary Eddy Alemán already signed a letter petitioning Kirill to use his influence to call for an end to the war on Ukraine in March.
Synod instructed Alemán to advocate for the Russian Orthodox Church’s suspension from the WCC in two ways:
- To work with RCA ecumenical officers and members of the Commission on Christian Unity on a WCC resolution calling for the Russian Orthodox Church’s suspension.
- To support any move the WCC makes toward a suspension at its June 15-18, 2022, meeting.
“This is an action to call the Russian Orthodox Church to repentance, but it’s also a very important step in showing our solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” said Jeff Lampen, a minister delegate from the Classis of Illinois. “It is of the utmost importance to show the love of Christ from a place of justice and mercy.”
Meet the vice presidential candidates
Judy Nelson serves as a chaplain at Tyson Foods. She resides in Holland, Michigan, where she attends Fellowship Reformed Church.
“I firmly believe that the experiences I have had serving in so many different capacities at every level of the denomination have prepared me well for such a time as this,” said Nelson in her vice presidential presentation Monday night. “I would be honored to stand on the shoulders of the men and women who have been in this position before me, standing by grace alone at the foot of the cross.”
In the past, Nelson has worked as a speech pathologist, a public school teacher, and a chaplain for a music ministry. Nelson has a BS and MA in speech pathology and education leadership from Eastern Michigan University and an MDiv from Western Theological Seminary. She also has a trauma trainer certification.
Nelson has served as the president of Holland Classis and as the president of the Regional Synod of the Great Lakes. She has also been involved at the classis level as a church support supervisor, on the classis committee for judicial business, the classis transition committee, and the supersession committee.
Nelson is currently a member of the Commission on Nominations. She has twice served as the chaplain for General Synod. In the past, Nelson was a member of the Women’s Transformation and Leadership guiding coalition as well. She has been involved at the local church level in mission and worship committees.
Nelson has a husband, four children, and seven grandchildren.
Stephanie Doeschot serves as the part-time coordinator of the Lutheran School of Theology in St. Louis. She resides in Columbia, Illinois, and is part of Christ’s Church in St. Peters, Missouri.
“As vice president, my intention would be to listen to the diverse people of the RCA as we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to make the love of Christ known in the United States, Canada, and the entire world,” Doeschot said in her vice presidential presentation.
Previously, Doeschot has served as a campus pastor at Drake University, an assistant chaplain at Hope College, a church planter, and a missional community developer. She co-pastored with her husband, Phil, for 29 years, and has also served as an interim pastor.
Doeschot earned her BA from Northwestern College, and an MRE and MDiv from Western Theological Seminary.
Doeschot has served as president of the Regional Synod of Mid-America and has served on the General Synod Council twice. She was also part of the general secretary search committee. Her experience at the classis level includes serving as the seminary supervision chair of the Classis of Illinois.
Doeschot has a husband, three children, and four grandchildren.
Leaders from Native American churches lead morning worship
Leaders from the RCA’s Native American congregations led the delegates in worship on Monday morning. Elder Ken Mallory shared his testimony. Worship included a statement of denominational confession from general secretary Eddy Alemán, apologizing to Native American and First Nations communities for the hurts the denomination has caused them.
“I offer an apology for the ways the Reformed Church in America has pushed you aside, for the ways the RCA has not supported and recognized your gifts, for the ways the RCA has treated you as less than,” he said. “We commit to doing better going forward. You are an important part of our denomination.”
Alemán led the body in a prayer of confession; the assurance of pardon in the liturgy was delivered by Mallory, who had earlier in the synod offered forgiveness to the RCA for discontinuing the Native American council. On Friday, the General Synod voted to reinstate a racial/ethnic council for Native American and First Nations ministries.
The RCA’s love for Global Mission continues
On Monday afternoon, RCA Global Mission director JP Sundararajan delivered an uplifting report from the office of RCA Global Mission, which he said is “home to an unbelievable collection of talented, courageous, brave, faithful followers of Jesus Christ, together serving to grow and equip the global church by supporting acts of compassion, developing leaders, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The “big hug” General Synod gave Global Mission last October has continued, said Sundararajan. Twenty of the thirty-three requested new Partnership-in-Mission (PIM) shares have been fulfilled since General Synod 2021, and response to disaster relief efforts has been generous. (This year, General Synod unanimously approved sustaining the $6,900 PIM share amount.)
“In a year of such uncertainty within our lives and within the denomination, there was no hesitation toward supporting the needs of our sisters and brothers around the world impacted by natural and man-made disasters,” he said.
This year, disaster response has included immediate humanitarian relief and shelter for those fleeing Ukraine, care for grieving families in India, safe evacuation of people from Afghanistan, and food provision to tens of thousands of households following an earthquake in Haiti.
Sundararajan also cited many exciting opportunities for RCA members and congregations to engage RCA Global Mission more deeply, including a new subscription box.
“RCA Global Mission has a historic track record of punching above its weight in the mission that God has called us to around the world,” said Sundararajan. “Whether you represent a small church or a large church, a church staying with the RCA or a church that is unsure where God might be calling her to, or if you are an RCA pastor currently serving a non-RCA church—the invitation is open to participate in God’s mission globally.”
Following Sundararajan’s report, delegates spent time with their tablemates reading “Dear Friends” letter updates from missionaries, writing notes of encouragement for missionaries, and praying for RCA missionaries and mission work. Subscribe to receive “Dear Friends” letters from missionaries at www.rca.org/subscribe. You can also get to know RCA missionaries, including the RCA’s newest missionary, through these video stories of calling. Each video played at the beginning of a General Synod plenary session.
Dwayne Jackson elected General Synod president
Delegates elected Dwayne Jackson as the president of General Synod 2023 on Monday afternoon.
Jackson, who co-pastors Second Reformed Church of Hackensack in New Jersey with his wife, Anna Jackson, is currently serving as vice president of General Synod. He was elected to that position during General Synod 2021 last October.
“When my name showed up on the screen as a nominee for vice president, every fiber in my body wanted to say, ‘Take my name off that list,’” Jackson recalled in his presidential acceptance speech. “But I prayed, we prayed—many of you prayed with me—and I decided to go through with it. At the end of the day, I came to the same conclusion as when I entered into ministry. I said, ‘Lord, this is your church. I am your servant. I will do what you tell me to do.’ I won. And I said, ‘Okay, God, guide me. Lead me.’”
Jackson went on to reflect on his time as vice president and share his hopes for his service as president.
“Amid all the separations, and the falling aways, and the heartbreaks over the last year, I still see hope. I see joy. I see God hard at work in the Reformed Church in America,” he said. “As I transition out of this chair and into that chair, I want you to pray with me, pray for me, walk with me, and let us breathe new life in the Reformed Church in America. And let the RCA be a model of how all churches should respond to God’s call.”
Covenant Shares receive second approval
In a surprise move Monday afternoon, General Synod voted to move forward with Covenant Shares a year earlier than anticipated. Covenant Shares is a denominational funding system based on a percentage of church income rather than a per-member assessment. Delegates overturned a recommendation to delay the implementation of Covenant Shares for one more year; they will now go into effect in 2024.
Covenant Shares were first approved by General Synod 2019. Because their implementation requires a change to the General Synod bylaws, the proposal needed approval by a second General Synod in order to become effective. General Synod 2020 did not take place, and a vote at General Synod 2021 delayed the implementation of Covenant Shares for one year.
With this second approval of Covenant Shares, share amounts will be calculated using 2022 year-end data from the Consistorial Report Form (CRF) for payment in 2024. General Synod approved per-member assessments for 2023 earlier in the day.
While some delegates had questions about specific workings of Covenant Shares, other delegates wanted to move forward into the percentage-based funding model, citing current confusion around calculating membership due to the pandemic.
The amendment to the bylaws of the General Synod specified in EC 19-11 will be incorporated in the 2022 Book of Church Order (BCO). The twice-approved bylaws text, found in Chapter 3, Part I, Article 3, will now read: “Assessments shall be a specific percentage of income voted by the General Synod, payment of which shall be mandatory.”
Covenant Shares reflect the Bible’s emphasis on cheerful, generous, regular giving, and are equitable, simple, and congregationally supported.
The RCA’s financial picture
General Synod Council moderator Ned Beadel reported on the RCA’s finances.
“The GSC staff, led by the general secretary, are taking a proactive approach to reducing the GSC’s budget, in anticipation of a decline in assessment revenue and contributions due to departing churches,” he said. “The staff is also pursuing other ways to generate income.”
Beadel shared that $1.9 million has already been cut from the annual operating budget, and further reductions are expected as departing churches in the process of leaving complete their departure. To generate income, the General Synod Council has approved a new board-designated Operations Endowment Fund using excess reserves. This fund, Beadel says, will help offset declining assessment revenue due to departing churches and minimize future increases in assessments for remaining churches.
Beadel thanked the General Synod for the financial gifts provided through contributions and assessment payments. This income provided the GSC with sufficient resources to carry out our shared work. Beadel also reported that nearly all RCA holdings in Russian companies have been divested, and that a new subcommittee of the Investment Advisory Committee has been formed to review environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria following actions at General Synod 2021.
After four years of no change in the General Synod Council assessment, delegates approved a $1 per-member increase for 2023 to help offset rising costs due to inflation. Synod also approved a 36-cent assessment increase to provide Sankofa journeys (immersive trips focused on looking back at the history of racism in order to move forward) and other experiences around healing racism, for the next three years. The total per-member assessment for 2023 is set at $55.58.
The 2023 Partnership-in-Mission share is set at $6,900. RCA Global Mission is primarily funded through PIM shares; partial shares are available.
- Synod heard reports from the African American Black Council, the Council for Hispanic Ministries, and the Council for Pacific and Asian American Ministries.
- The General Synod requested updates from RCA Global Mission and Church Multiplication regarding international church planting initiatives, to be given to churches and classes before the end of the year.
- Delegates heard a report from the RCA Church Growth Fund (CGF), which loans money to churches to buy, build, or renovate facilities for ministry. Income generated from loan interest helps fund RCA grants and scholarships for church plants, for youth serving in mission, and for RCA congregations who have flourishing ministries but are unable to afford needed building improvements. Last year, the CGF provided $780,000 for grants and scholarships. Since 1999, the CGF’s contributions total more than $7 million.