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On Saturday evening, delegates approved the Vision 2020 Team’s third and final recommendation, detailing provisions for mutually generous separation when churches leave the Reformed Church in America (RCA). 

“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.

“We believe that it is the right time to provide more guidance for this process, so that generosity is proscribed and not just encouraged or permitted,” he said.

The recommendation, which spells out the rules and regulations that govern the conditions under which a church could leave with its property, runs ten pages long. Essentially, the rules and regulations allow a local church transferring to another denomination to retain its properties and other assets, while being solely responsible for any liabilities. The new rules and regulations will last a limited time, as they include a sunset provision in 2026. Read the full rules and regulations. 

Because the recommendation was framed as rules and regulations rather than as a change to the Book of Church Order (BCO), the change required only a majority vote at General Synod for immediate implementation. BCO changes, once approved at synod, also require approval by a two-thirds majority of classes and ratification by a subsequent General Synod. 

Doug Smith, a facilitator for one of the General Synod discernment groups, summarized feedback on the recommendation received from those groups earlier in the week. The recommendation was seen as effective without BCO changes, Smith said, and there was hope that it would minimize the heavy workload for classes transferring multiple churches. He noted that it “strikes a good balance between giving freedom to churches to leave, while ensuring that it’s done in good order.” 

Delegates considered one amendment, about whether judicial business in process should prevent a church from leaving the denomination, but the amendment was defeated. 

The recommendation passed by a large majority. 

After the vote, the Vision 2020 Team received a standing ovation for their work. 

“On behalf of the team, we do want to say thank you for your support and your prayers over the past two-plus years,” said Keepers. “This has been hard work, but we believe in a God who is doing something new, and a God who is faithful. I want to just leave you with the passage of Scripture for us as a team that we have carried with us from the beginning, these words from the apostle Paul in Ephesians: ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory, in the church and in Christ Jesus, from one generation to the next. Amen.’”

Don Poest, who as interim general secretary called for the Vision 2020 Team in 2018, also came to the microphone with appreciation for the work of the delegates and the denomination, saying, “I want to thank you for the decorum, and the debate, and the spirit in which it was carried out.”

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