RCA Vision 2020 Process:
How We Got Here
Three years. That’s how long a diverse group of leaders from across the denomination worked as the Vision 2020 Team. They spent thousands of hours researching, praying, discerning, and wrestling with the RCA’s future—and ultimately bringing three recommendations in a report to General Synod. Because of COVID-19 and the subsequent postponement of synod, the proposal has now been with people to read, think on, and pray over for more than a year prior to being voted on, while the Vision 2020 Team continued to work with the Commission on Church Order to clarify their final recommendation.
Here is an overview of the Vision 2020 Team’s process over the last three years.
June 2018: the start
In his report to General Synod 2018, interim general secretary Don Poest acknowledged deep divisions within the RCA. Citing the urgency of the moment, he and proposed a 2020 Vision Team “to work, in consultation with whatever staff, commissions, councils, agencies, and/or outside consultants the vision group deems necessary, to identify possible scenarios, strategies, and consequences for these future options for the Reformed Church in America: staying together, radical reconstituting and reorganization, or graceful separation.”
Poest identified human sexuality as a point of significant division, along with divisions about polity, biblical interpretation, and lack of alignment with Transformed & Transforming, the RCA’s strategic goal.
See the history of General Synod statements about human sexuality.
August and September 2018: team building
The Vision 2020 Team consists of 12 members, appointed by incoming general secretary, Eddy Alemán, in consultation with the General Synod Council (with Poest and Alemán as ex-officio members). See who is on the team here. Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor, and Ryan Donovan joined the team as the consultants to this process. Early on, as the team’s September report stated, the main purpose was for the team “to work on becoming a more cohesive unit, agreeing on key assumptions, identifying the skill sets and specialties that each person contributes, discussing the enormity of the task and ways it can be divided up, grappling with a mandate that they know will disrupt the status quo, considering the pacing of their timeline, and beginning to construct a framework for scenario-planning.”
November 2018 – May 2019: envisioning the scenarios
At November and February meetings, the Vision 2020 Team delved into the three scenarios listed in Poest’s proposal: staying together, radical reconstituting and reorganization, and graceful separation. Sub-committees had done advance work on each scenario, and the whole group spent time processing the information, and then looked at how each scenario could play out in the years to come. Between meetings, sub-committees continued to develop and refine the scenarios.
Fully aware that any outcome of their work involved change, loss, and disruption, the team also planned for General Synod 2019 and how to engage delegates in the discernment process.
June – September 2019: receiving and discerning feedback
At General Synod in June 2019, the Vision 2020 Team presented its three draft scenarios to delegates, who spent hours in discussion groups, digging into the scenarios and providing feedback. The team also provided training for delegates about emotional maturity and how to have hard conversations.
At its September meeting, the team continued to work on trust. They had honest conversations about the relational messes in the denomination. Some time was also spent in personal reflection: with the differing opinions in the RCA, do they think the denomination should stay together, or separate, or something in the middle?
Based on feedback from synod delegates and a denomination-wide survey, the team began to simplify the three scenarios. At this point, some clarity began to grow for a pathway forward.
October 2019: defined yet connected
A crucial moment that shifted our understanding was recognizing the difference between General Synod statements on human sexuality and the functional reality of our structure. This team believes the denomination has existed for a long time with functional diversity. Historically, we have been united around our standards, and because of the way our polity works, functionally the RCA is theologically diverse about a range of topics, including human sexuality, infant baptism, women in church leadership, and others. Our practices vary from classis to classis and congregation to congregation.
Since the team saw its role as recommending a way forward in spite of division—rather than deciding a stance on any particular topic—they began to look at next faithful steps for a denomination with differing views.
November 2019 – March 2020: gaining clarity
Throughout the process, the team surveyed people in the denomination twice and solicited feedback from leaders across many organizations and groups. The team’s January meeting centered around looking at the latest survey results, developing the recommendation to bring to General Synod, and celebrating the good things happening in the denomination.
That recommendation began to take shape. According to the January update from the Vision 2020 team:
These recommendations are based on the realization that our denomination is already structured to be a place where we can hold differing views in tension. Most of the denomination is traditional in its understanding of marriage and sexuality. At the same time, there is theological diversity in the RCA. Because of the way our polity works, our practices vary from classis to classis and congregation to congregation. The Vision 2020 Team thinks of this in terms of being defined and connected. (In our last update, we called this functional diversity.) Out of our common commitment to Christ and our understanding of the Standards of Unity and confessions, each person and assembly in the RCA may hold firmly to their beliefs and live out of their convictions. We call this being defined. At the same time, it’s possible to remain connected with others who believe differently on any number of topics.
April 2020: meeting during a pandemic
In an online meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team reviewed the latest feedback. In addition, the team spent much of the time on what restructuring would look like for being defined and connected. With this came a sobering reminder of the loss that will happen as no proposal will please everyone in the RCA.
The team also committed to meeting weekly to finish refining and writing the report.
May – June 2020: completing the final report
For much of the spring and into June, the team met weekly by videoconferencing, continuing their discernment process and refining their proposals into a final report. During this time, the “defined and connected” idea evolved into a recommendation to create an independent mission agency, the restructuring discussion led the team to call for a restructuring task force to take next steps, and proposed terms of the generous exit were identified, though the exact wording of the proposal still needed to be developed in conjunction with the Commission on Church Order. This report was released June 30, 2020, though the global pandemic meant it would not be voted on until General Synod 2021.
July 2020 – June 2021: pandemic offers the opportunity for processing
Because of the global pandemic that led to no General Synod being held in 2020 and General Synod 2021 being pushed to October, the denomination had the unique opportunity of more than a year to read, digest, and discuss the contents of the Vision 2020 report. A mix of in-person and virtual gatherings were led by members of the Vision 2020 Team, General Synod officers, and the RCA’s Executive Leadership Team staff in a number of regions and classes in order to provide opportunities for discussing the report. Many more discussions, both formal and informal, have taken place across the denomination since summer 2020.
In addition, during the second half of 2020 and in the first half of 2021, the Vision 2020 Team worked with the Commission on Church Order to figure out how to translate the proposed terms of their generous exit proposal as published in the June 2020 report into the text of a recommendation that works with the Book of Church Order and can be voted upon by General Synod 2021.
October 2021: Synod considers Vision 2020 report
General Synod carefully considered and voted on the recommendations presented by the Vision 2020 Team. Read about those decisions: