General Synod 2019: News Summary
A roundup of the top news stories from General Synod 2019
Delegates learn to listen, recognize loss as they dive into Vision 2020 scenarios
“God gives us the capacity to make hard decisions wisely.”
—Jim Herrington, preparing delegates for discussions about the Vision 2020 Team report
After a year of prayer, research, and developing emotional maturity, the Vision 2020 Team brought three scenarios to the General Synod for delegates’ consideration and feedback: staying together, radical reorganization, and grace-filled separation. Throughout the process, the team has emphasized that at least as important as what the RCA decides is how we decide it.
In that spirit, RCA coordinator for prayer mobilization Jim Harrison led delegates in listening prayer. Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor, and Ryan Donovan, the consultants who have worked with the Vision 2020 Team, also set the tone with a presentation to delegates before they broke out into feedback groups. Taylor explained the idea of being “defined and connected” as holding your convictions tightly in one fist while reaching out with your other hand to shake someone’s hand. She encouraged synod delegates to act with a similar spirit as they engaged the scenarios and their fellow delegates.
Delegates spent nearly five hours discussing the scenarios; their impressions, fears, wonderings, and affirmations were shared with and synthesized by the Vision 2020 Team. After their final report, the synod gathered around the team members in prayer.
The team will continue to gather feedback and prepare a final proposal for General Synod 2020. The scenarios the team proposed are starting points for discussion; they may shift over the coming year.
In order to collect feedback, the team invites churches to facilitate discussion groups like the ones that took place at synod. If you’d like to host a feedback group for your church, you can find all the resources you need in the Vision 2020 Scenarios Discussion Toolkit. The toolkit includes a guide to facilitating these discussions in your church, handouts with descriptions of the scenarios and discussion questions, and a series of podcasts to help develop participants’ capacity for difficult conversations.
“The world is watching what we decide. God is watching how we decide.”
—Don Poest, preaching about the fruit of the Spirit during opening worship
Who’s who: election results
EJ de Waard, president of General Synod 2020, is pastor emeritus of Owasco Reformed Church in Owasco, New York.
Phil Assink, vice president of General Synod 2020, is interim strategic pastor of East Valley Reformed Church in Yakima, Washington.
Beginning in January 2021, churches will begin contributing a percentage of their income to support denominational ministries and operations, rather than a per-member assessment. (The decision needs to be ratified at next year’s synod.) With assessments, the RCA is able to equip congregations for ministry and to care for the pastors who serve those congregations.
“This is not news to anyone—we have been dealing with these disagreements that are in the way of mission and ministry for so many years already—but we have now come to a defining moment in our history.”
—general secretary Eddy Alemán, in his report to the General Synod
In a lengthy evening discussion and vote, delegates approved a change to the Book of Church Order that would require approval from a simple majority of classes—rather than the current two-thirds majority required—for proposals related to the work of the Vision 2020 Team. (Since this is a BCO change, it requires approval from two-thirds of classes and ratification at next year’s synod before taking effect.)
In other news:
After debating the term “catechism,” the synod declined to receive the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality as a catechism.
Delegates approved recommendations to create a volunteer-run RCA media channel and to study postmodernism and its relationship to Christianity. These recommendations came out of proposals made in General Synod president James Nakakihara’s report.
Synod helped fund the work of the denomination by approving a 2020 per-member assessment of $54.22, the same amount as the previous year. The 2020 Partner in Mission share was set at $6,800.
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