The RCA’s General Synod Council (GSC) has voted to reduce the total General Synod per-member assessment rate for 2021 by $2.29 per person.

The chart below summarizes the General Synod assessment amounts for 2020 and the General Synod Council proposed amount for 2021.

Name of Assessment 2020 Proposed 2021 Change % Change
General Synod Council $46.10 $46.10 - 0%
BOBS $2.00 $2.00 - 0%
Theological Education $6.12 $3.91 -$2.21 -36.11%
CERCA scholarships* (MGS 2019, DE 19-2, p. 216) $0.08 0 -$0.08 -100%
$54.30 $52.01 -$2.29 -4.22%

Without a General Synod session in 2020, the GSC, acting in its capacity as the executive committee of the General Synod, approved the per-member assessment rates for 2021. This action will require ratification by General Synod 2021.

The GSC approved a continuation of the same assessments rates for the GSC and Board of Benefits Services. The one-time assessment to fund scholarships granted by CERCA (Christian Educators, Reformed Church in America) was eliminated. The theological education assessment was reduced by $2.21.

The theological education assessment in 2020 was allocated to the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency (MFCA), New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS), Western Theological Seminary (WTS), and the Pastoral Formation Oversight Board (PFOB). For 2021, the allocation to the MFCA was eliminated ahead of a recommendation anticipated to come to General Synod next year to dissolve the MFCA. The MFCA oversees the certification of ministerial candidates who attend non-RCA seminaries but wish to be ordained within the RCA. Without assessment funding in 2021, the MFCA will use reserves to fund operations. The 2021 theological education assessment will continue to provide funding to NBTS, WTS, and the PFOB.

Dissolving the MFCA would require changes to the RCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO), so the recommendation must be voted upon by delegates to General Synod, approved by a two-thirds majority of classes, and then ratified by the subsequent synod. The MFCA’s reserves can sustain it through June 2022, the same time its potential dissolution would take effect. If the 2021 General Synod decides to continue the MFCA, it will also need to approve the necessary funding at that time.

The MFCA is already making plans to ensure that its current candidates can finish before June 2022 or have another way of completing their certification. These candidates include both students at non-RCA seminaries and those who are following the Approved Alternate Route.

“We will hold our commitment to those students who are in the process now, and we won’t walk away,” says Norma Coleman-James, chair of the MFCA’s board. “Our commitment [is] to be there for the students to shepherd them through the process.”

Cornelis Kors, the executive director of the MFCA, retired on July 31. The MFCA Board of Trustees hired Dave Schutt as an interim director. Schutt began on August 1.

Mid-year reductions to 2020 assessments

The GSC already reduced per-member assessments during two financial quarters this year. The second-quarter assessment was reduced for all assessments by $500,000 to provide financial relief to churches during the coronavirus pandemic, and the third-quarter reduction passed along almost $450,000 in financial savings from not holding General Synod this year.

Assessment decrease part of larger reductions

In addition to the GSC reducing per-member assessments for 2020 and 2021, denominational staff has reduced their budgets. Assessment revenue is determined by the confessing membership of RCA churches, and, with a potential decrease in membership due to decisions about the Vision 2020 Team report, the RCA staff is also working to steward its funds wisely to put the RCA in a more financially stable position during a time of uncertainty.

Reductions included a 10 percent decrease in department budgets and nine early retirements. Two part-time staff positions will also be eliminated as of September 30: the coordinator for prayer mobilization and the ecumenical associate position.

General secretary Eddy Alemán will increase his involvement in ecumenical relations, as will director of Global Mission, JP Sundararajan, and chief operating officer, Jill Ver Steeg. Non-staff RCA leaders will continue to participate in ecumenical gatherings as they have in the past, and the RCA will maintain its involvement in ecumenical partnerships.

Similarly, the work of other departing staff will be largely absorbed by other staff. The work of coordinator for the African American Black Council will be continued by Peter Watts, who has been hired half-time and will start in September. All other work will be covered by others on staff.

“Because of the current reality of the Reformed Church in America, deep change is necessary. The Vision 2020 Team discussion next year will include significant decisions, and we have the potential of churches moving on,” says Alemán, whose role as general secretary includes the responsibility of keeping the denomination financially solvent. “We have an amazing staff, and these have been difficult decisions to put the RCA in the healthiest financial position moving forward.

“I am so grateful to departing staff for their years of faithful service. My prayers go with them, and I am eager to see how God continues to work through them in the future.”