The General Synod Council of the Reformed Church in America has decided not to call a special session of General Synod as previously planned.

Citing coronavirus concerns, moderator Ned Beadel says, “It became obvious that the restrictions may not be lifted at all or not lifted to the point where we could be comfortable social distancing for the safety for everybody.” The General Synod Council (GSC) is a board that serves as the executive committee of General Synod.

Because of COVID-19–related shutdowns and prohibitions on large gatherings of people, GSC decided in April to postpone General Synod’s regular session in 2020 until June 2021. At that time, GSC planned to call a special session in October to focus almost exclusively on the report from the Vision 2020 Team. In April, “we were still hoping something would break sooner,” says Beadel. “Now there is not much confidence that we would be back to normal by October.”

A special session of General Synod would have gathered hundreds of people from across the U.S. and Canada. At a meeting earlier this week held by videoconferencing, GSC determined such a gathering carries too much risk. Prioritizing the safety of RCA leaders, members, and communities, they will not issue the call to meeting for the special session.

A secondary consideration in the discussion was an update from the Vision 2020 Team that the team’s report will recommend changes to the Book of Church Order; BCO changes can only be voted on by a regular session of the General Synod.

The Vision 2020 Team still plans to release its report by the end of the month; the report is still being finalized. The team’s recommendations will be considered at General Synod in June 2021. Because General Synod is not meeting this year but the Vision 2020 report will be released as planned, there will be an unprecedented 11–12 months before the recommendations are voted on.

“This is an opportunity for discernment and prayer,” says general secretary Eddy Alemán. “We had hoped for a decision this week, when General Synod was originally scheduled to meet, and then after synod was postponed we hoped for a decision in the fall. That’s no longer possible, but this gives us a unique opportunity. Let’s commit ourselves to prayer and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the coming months.”

Beadel asks that people not be reactive, but rather be measured in response to the report. “Give us a chance to sift through it. Please stay until the final process is done.”

Assessment relief for churches

Without a General Synod meeting, the RCA will see a significant cost savings, which GSC voted to return to classes and congregations through a reduction in assessments. Jillisa Teitsma, RCA chief financial officer, says there will be a 30 percent discount to third-quarter GSC assessments. The discount, she notes, applies to GSC assessments but not to assessments for the Board of Benefits Services assistance fund, theological education funds, or the Christian Educators, Reformed Church in America (CERCA) scholarship fund.

Other GSC decisions

GSC also addressed two items of business that would have come to General Synod, and need to be addressed before next June. They approved the assessment amount for 2021 (no increase over last year). This action was made after consultation with the Commission on Church Order. The commission recognized it is not ideal for GSC to make this decision instead of General Synod, but with no meeting of the General Synod in 2020, it was likely the only option for approving an assessment amount. At the commission’s recommendation, GSC will seek ratification of this action by General Synod 2021.

GSC also approved ad-interim appointments recommended by the Commission on Nominations to fill vacancies on boards, agencies, and commissions. Appointments to these roles are normally approved by synod, though GSC does have authority to fill vacancies ad-interim between sessions of the General Synod. These appointments will be in the Commission on Nominations report to synod again next year for synod’s approval, since an ad-interim approval is only meant to fill the gap until the next session of General Synod.

General Synod 2021 will be held next June at Central College in Pella, Iowa.