General Synod president EJ de Waard opened General Synod 2021 at 3:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on Thursday, October 14. The opening session included introductions, an orientation to the process of synod, and a review of the Vision 2020 process in anticipation of discernment groups taking place Thursday afternoon.
“We’re invited to say, ‘Lord God, search our heart and change it,’” de Waard said in an introduction to the decorum of synod on Thursday afternoon. “It’s only through the work of the Spirit, through the testimony of the Word, and through the covenant and the fellowship of the believers that we see real heart change.”
It has been more than two years since the RCA General Synod last gathered in June 2019. The meeting, normally held annually in June, had to be delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many delegates also faced travel delays en route to synod. There were still delegates arriving less than an hour before the meeting commenced, but a quorum was present and ready to prayerfully begin their work by the time de Waard rang the bell to signal the meeting’s official start.
Some delegates began their work the day before, meeting in advisory committees on Wednesday night, preparing advice to the synod on church order recommendations and overtures.
Vision 2020 discernment begins
The most anticipated business at General Synod 2021 is the report of the Vision 2020 Team. The team was formed in 2018 to explore future scenarios for the RCA in light of significant divisions. The team initially looked into three future scenarios for the RCA: staying together, radical restructure, and grace-filled separation. After thousands of hours of research, discernment, and feedback, they arrived at a combination of the three.
On Thursday, delegates spent 90 minutes in discernment groups.
The Vision 2020 Team’s first recommendation, which was the focus of Thursday’s discernment groups, calls for a denominational restructuring task force, “with a view to optimizing the RCA’s sustained spiritual and organizational health.”
“The purpose of the [discernment] group is not to debate, but it is a place to say what you hear the Spirit say, and then listen to others as they do the same,” said consultant Trisha Taylor, who worked with the Vision 2020 Team and introduced the discernment groups with colleague Jim Herrington.
“We believe the body of Christ functions best when the different parts function as a whole, and this listening to one another can create a context for the Spirit to speak if we’re open to that,” said Herrington.
On Friday, the discernment groups will meet twice more, considering the Vision 2020 Team’s other two recommendations. On Saturday, the synod will discuss and vote on the recommendations. “On Saturday, you will vote, but your work will not be done,” Taylor said. “Once decisions are made, it will take time and space to implement them.”
Delegates met for opening worship on Thursday evening. Synod president EJ de Waard preached from 1 Timothy, exploring “how we do church,” a theme that will be continued in the remaining worship sessions during synod. De Waard encouraged delegates to heed Paul’s instruction to Timothy to hold onto the true doctrines of faith, chiefly that Christ is our hope. “Under the command of love, let us do church.”
Delegates also participated in communion and took an offering for three churches: Anchor Church in Romania, Highbridge Community Church in Bronx, New York, and Joy Hamilton, a church plant in Hamilton, Ontario. Offerings during synod will be divided equally among the three churches.
Pray for General Synod
In the month preceding General Synod, general secretary Eddy Alemán called for a season of prayer for the denomination. That prayer focus is continuing throughout General Synod.