Survey Results Suggest Closer Partnership with CRCNA
Synods of the CRC and RCA hear about collaboration before passing the Pella Accord in June 2014. This story was written by Chris Meehan, CRC Communications, and originally published on www.crcna.org on August 23, 2017. Adapted and used with permission.
This past summer, at both the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) Synod and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) General Synod, delegates spent time in discussion and completing a short survey about the future of the two denominations working together.
Some delegates wondered—lightheartedly—if closer collaboration between the CRCNA and RCA might eventually wipe out the sports rivalry between Calvin College and Hope College.
Others, more seriously, were concerned about how historic differences—cultural and otherwise—could be overcome if the two denominations built a closer relationship.
Yet, the majority agreed—by a nearly two-thirds margin—that they favor greater collaboration between the denominations.
“I believe delegates at both the CRC’s Synod and the RCA’s General Synod helped all of us confirm a direction of continued partnership,” said Steven Timmermans, executive director of the CRC.
“While about two thirds of both sets of delegates seemed to say that intentional collaboration should be our goal, some also suggested that openness to new creations would be helpful in reaching that goal.”
Delegates to each of the synods spent about an hour exploring three alternative directions the denominations could take as they work toward creating a closer partnership for the future.
This discussion was in preparation for June 2018 when the synods of the two denominations will meet and hold a joint business session on the campus of Calvin College to discuss their future together.
“In these discussions about increased collaboration, we’re cautiously hopeful,” said Don Poest, interim general secretary of the RCA.
“It is as though we’ve been traveling at 25 miles per hour and now are looking at ways to ramp up to 45 MPH,” he said. “Because we don’t know for sure what the terrain is like, we’re aware there may be unseen speed bumps ahead and we don’t want to hit them at a speed that would cause damage. The light is green, but we’re following the speed limit.”
It was in 2014 that the two denominations approved what has come to be known as the “Pella Accord“ in which the CRCNA and RCA decided to work more closely together whenever possible. As part of that process, leaders from both denominations have been having ongoing discussions about the best way forward for the years ahead.
“For over a decade I have been in conversations between the CRC and RCA about what we can do to further mission together,” said Jul Medenblik, president of Calvin Theological Seminary.
“This journey of developing a wider Reformed witness has shown fruit and the response of leaders, local churches and the synods seem to want to keep going in this journey. We have had encouragement to keep exploring is what I have seen and heard.”
During the synods this summer, delegates were reminded of ways in which the denominations are already working together in such areas of ministry as disability concerns, overseas relief and development, church planting, curriculum development, and in the development of the Reformed Benefits Association, which handles health care and other benefits for employees of the denominations.
Delegates were then given three scenarios to discuss and react to in writing. Offering different levels of moving toward greater unity, these scenarios were:
Coordination - In this scenario RCA and CRC entities would work together in ministry as much as possible, each drawing upon the strengths of its home denomination (including separate but linked staff). Each denomination would continue to have its own revenue stream for their part of this work.
Collaboration - In this scenario, the two denominations would work together to create third-party entities that include both RCA and CRC components, but are directly answerable to their own board and have a joint revenue stream. These new entities would be neither fully CRC nor fully RCA. Instead, they would be completely separate, yet serve both denominations. An existing example of this type of collaboration would be the Reformed Benefits Association.
New creation - In this third scenario, a new denomination would be created from the former RCA and CRC. Churches could keep their CRC or RCA names if they so choose, thereby preserving their identity.
This third scenario was open to a variety of options. For example, it could re-imagine how synod works and have multiple “affinities” which CRC and RCA churches could choose to identify with based on their convictions. In addition, there could be one administrative structure that does the day-to-day work of the “new creation.”
“The second scenario actually describes how the Disability Concerns ministries of the RCA and CRC are working today,” said Terry DeYoung, the RCA’s coordinator of Disability Concerns.
In fact, he said, when the RCA established a Disability Concerns ministry in 2009, the charge was to move forward in a collaborative way, and not simply as an RCA ministry that happened to work with CRC Disability Concerns in ways that were convenient and coordinated.
In discussing the scenarios, one group of delegates wrote that they liked the third scenario: “Change in our society is happening at a great pace—this vision helps us keep up with the pace of change.”
They added: “This vision reflects changing culture and dynamics. (It would be) cost effective, and has the potential for greater impact. The issues that divided our denominations in the 1850s won’t be issues that keep us apart now.”
But other delegates disagreed, listing challenges and roadblocks to greater unity: “Differences in Christian education, same-sex marriage, confessional commitments. Potential watering down of our theological strengths. The pace of change could cause a host of unseen problems.”
Running throughout the comments were words of caution with many saying they favor a stronger partnership between the denominations, but are concerned that changes must come slowly and be communicated fully to church members.
“Since the coming together of two separate spiritual bodies is no small task, we believe it will need to be handled with delicate intentionality, with special attention being paid to the designation of work (and responsibilities)” wrote one group of delegates.
Running the gamut from wanting little change all the way up to enthusiasm for a “new creation,” the comments in general showed interest in moving ahead to explore ways in which the denominations can continue “being better together.”
Ken Eriks, director of special projects for the RCA and a member of the Reformed Collaborative Vision Team assigned to the role of encouraging and guiding various collaborative efforts, said he was encouraged by the responses of the delegates to the synods.
“There seems to be appreciation for the role that increased collaboration plays in improving operational efficiency and increasing ministry effectiveness,” he said.
Eriks said he has “witnessed the value that collaboration adds to congregational learning and change.”
Denise Posie, a CRC ministry leader, and Eriks co-direct the Reformed Leadership Initiative, a separate effort that seeks to develop leaders in churches.
Steve Timmermans said the results from the delegates “affirmed the approach we’ve been taking since the Pella Accord: intentional joining together in mission.
“These results give both the RCA and the CRC encouragement to bring new ideas for collaboration forward. But it is important to remember the phrase that has been used since the Pella Accord was passed in 2014: ‘This is about working together in mission, not merger’.”