Earlier this summer, several Reformed Church in America (RCA) staff began work under a new office focused on advocacy and race relations. This new office is part of general secretary Eddy Alemán’s vision for the denomination.
“We’re serious about becoming a Reformed Church in America that’s multiethnic, multiracial, and freed from racism,” says Alemán. “Having this department is crucial for the future.”
The Rev. Peter Watts, who serves as coordinator for the RCA’s African American Black Council (AABC), will oversee this office. In addition to the work of race relations, the office will house Disability Concerns, led by the Rev. Terry DeYoung, and Women’s Transformation and Leadership and Equity-Based Hospitality, led by the Rev. Liz Testa and specialist Lesley Mazzotta. Administrative partners within the office are Lorraine Parker and Erika Fleming.
Together, this team will be equipping leaders, churches, and organizations to think through, develop, and establish equitable, hospitable practices and processes. The invitation is to live fully into the vision chronicled in Revelation 7:9-10, and the intention is to make that vision a reality in individual churches and the denomination as a whole.
“This office is about making sure there’s full inclusion within the framework and system. [Advocacy and equitable hospitality] is not a side, marginalized ministry, but should be incorporated into everyday life,” says Watts, who will also continue his work with the AABC. “We’re helping the denomination live into Revelation 7—helping us practice that here on earth—and live into the Belhar Confession. This is our opportunity to live into a new day.”
The team will also be informing the RCA’s ministry team, ensuring that attention is given to the inclusion of oft-marginalized people groups—especially women, people with disabilities, and people with multicultural backgrounds—when carrying out the work of making disciples, multiplying leaders, ministry multiplication, and global and local mission engagement.
“As we mark seven years of ministry [with Women’s Transformation and Leadership], it is awe-inspiring to see the flourishing of so many sisters in Christ from a gloriously diverse array of backgrounds, racial/ethnic cultures, generations, and geographic locations,” says the Rev. Liz Testa, coordinator for Women’s Transformation and Leadership and Equity-Based Hospitality. “My team and I give God thanks for the transformative opportunity to be a part of this new office and continue to encourage, equip, and empower women to live into their God-given gifts and callings within the RCA, across the broader church, and well beyond, as well as equip congregations to create healthy, thriving environments where women and men can serve together in ministry.
“I look forward to the Spirit-led collaborations that will naturally emerge from having our ministries officed together, as we help Rev. Alemán pursue the RCA’s vision for a multiracial, multicultural future freed from racism and one that embraces the gifts and leadership of women and people with disabilities,” she adds.
Likewise, the Rev. Terry DeYoung, coordinator for Disability Concerns, is grateful that the inclusion of people with disabilities is part of this advocacy office.
“One challenge in overcoming the pervasive marginalization of people with disabilities is simply getting included in discussions about diversity. So often people limit conversations about ‘diverse people groups’ to race, gender, ethnicity, and maybe one or two others,” he says. “I’m so grateful that Eddy’s vision has brought together our three ministry areas to work together toward freeing the RCA from racism, sexism, and ableism.”
Generations of RCA leaders have affirmed the work of race relations in particular, beginning in 1957 when the General Synod adopted the Credo on Race Relations. The on-going work of race relations has been included as a priority during Our Call and Transformed & Transforming, the RCA’s past and current visions for ministry. A governing ends policy, E-5, adopted by the General Synod Council (GSC) in October 2019, also calls for this work. The policy, which was revised in March 2021 to better align with the language used in Transformed & Transforming ministry, reads as follows:
The RCA will be a fellowship of congregations committed to a multicultural and multiracial future freed from racism, engaging all of God’s people in mission and ministry and resisting the sin of racism.
“Our core work is to look at systemic causes of injustice and dismantle them,” says Watts. “We want to see more people come to Jesus, so my theme for this year and for this role is recover and grow.”