General Synod 2014 News Summary
General Synod 2014 met June 12-17 on the campus of Central College in Pella, Iowa, and addressed many aspects of ministry and mission in the RCA.
RCA and CRC Synods
The synods of the RCA and Christian Reformed Church in North America met simultaneously and gathered in a variety of settings that included worship, meals, fellowship, and several joint sessions that highlighted a growing commitment to collaborative and cooperative ministries.
At a joint session on Saturday night, delegates gave unanimous approval to a resolution that provides common language for future actions together. Declaring that "the principle that guides us, and the intention that motivates us, is to 'act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel us to act separately,'" the resolution instructs the CRC Board of Trustees and the RCA General Synod Council to be guided by this principle "in looking to the future relationship between our two denominations."
Synod president Carl Boersma focused on the new 15-year vision for the RCA, Transformed and Transforming: Radically Following Christ in Mission Together, which he called "a future that we did not design nor create, but discovered in submission to the Holy Spirit's leading." Boersma urged delegates "to consider how you, your church family, consistory, and classis can participate in this exciting new adventure as the RCA prepares for our four hundredth anniversary."
In reviewing progress on Transformed and Transforming, general secretary Tom De Vries said, "We are moving from preparation to destination to connection to dedication. From being ready for a significant and lengthy journey, to defining where we are going and what it means, to recognizing that how we engage is as important as what we engage in, and finally, to testing our devotion and dedication in living out the journey."
Responding to a report identifying mass incarceration as "the most critical social issue of our time," synod approved a series of recommendations from the Commission on Christian Action calling for education, advocacy, and direct action related to prison reform and mandatory sentencing reform.
Synod approved revised and updated guidelines and new resources for welcoming baptized children to the Lord's Table that were recommended by the Commission on Christian Discipleship and Education.
Citing a need for more information, synod referred recommendations for biennial synods to a committee to create a concrete plan for a two-year cycle of General Synod to be considered at next year's synod alongside proposed BCO changes.
The RCA Church Growth Fund announced a new scholarship program for next-generation missional engagement. Grants will be awarded through RCA Volunteer Engagement to help fund volunteer opportunities, advocacy experiences, and mission internships for middle school to post-college young adults.
Synod also heard about a new initiative to equip congregations for global missional engagement. A team will come alongside congregations at their invitation to help them engage mission or take mission engagement to the next level.
In gratitude for his more than 40 years of ministry and service to the Reformed Church in America and Western Theological Seminary, synod declared the Rev. Dr. Dennis Voskuil professor emeritus of the General Synod.
Delegates elected Greg Alderman president of General Synod. Alderman is pastor of Christ Community Church in Carmichael, California. Referring to a time earlier at synod when 2014 president Carl Boersma had batons passed out to delegates, Alderman said, "I accept the baton and am reminded that we run the race in front of a great cloud of witnesses. I want to remind you that we carry the baton of the one who wins, Jesus Christ."
Delegates elected Evan Vermeer vice president of General Synod. Vermeer is an elder at First Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa, and current president of the Regional Synod of the Heartland. "I thank you for your faith in me," he said. "I ask that you will pray for me."
Including a $2 increase to fund new initiatives related to Transformed and Transforming, synod approved the GSC assessment of $44 per confessing member. With additional assessments adopted for the Board of Benefits Services assistance fund, theological education, and new task forces and initiatives, the full General Synod assessment for the coming year totals $51.73 per confessing member.
Synod raised the pledge amount for a full mission share to $6,300 to cover rising costs worldwide.
In response to various overtures:
Delegates instructed the Commission on Church Order to begin the process of incorporating a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman into the Book of Church Order, in advance of two General Synod reports addressing human sexuality and same-sex relationships that are anticipated in 2015.
Delegates overwhelmingly approved a recommendation to more deliberately support ministry to children with disabilities. The work will be folded into Transformed and Transforming, the 15-year goal of the Reformed Church in America.
Delegates spent time in prayer, deploring the violence caused by guns and other instruments of senseless violence, and encouraged churches to lift up this concern in prayer throughout the coming year.
Regarding homosexuality, delegates chose not to state that the history of the RCA's stated position is nuanced and that a wide array of perspectives regarding same-sex relationships exists in the RCA.
Delegates also denied an overture that would permit three or more classes to bring a charge against another classis for failure to discipline members of consistories, ministers, or commissioned pastors.