As a Vision 2020 Team, we met in Chicago on January 23 and 24, 2020, to continue our work discerning the future of the RCA. We are seeking the best for the reign of God as we do this work.
Our team was formed after General Synod 2018 approved a proposal to carefully consider the future of the denomination in light of deep divisions.
Over the past year and a half, our team has developed three scenarios for the future of our beloved Reformed Church in America, sought extensive feedback, and settled on a new option that combines elements from the original three scenarios. Though the details of that new option are still being worked out, we know that any decision for the future of our denomination will be disruptive. Any decision will involve change and loss. It will also involve commitment to a hopeful future. We have felt God with us throughout this process.
We began our time together by sharing where we’ve each been experiencing joy and struggle lately, and spending time in prayer for each other and for our work as a team.
At this meeting, we reviewed initial findings from the latest survey of RCA leaders and members. We heard reports from sub-teams that had been working on details of proposed recommendations for General Synod. We discussed what key theological commitments unite us and what we hold in common. We celebrated some of the great things that are happening in our denomination, including the recent Mission 2020 event and the upcoming formation of a new classis in Florida with pastors from around the world who want to join the RCA.
During our time together, we also continued to develop recommendations to bring to General Synod. 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.
- Being defined and connected is something Jesus modeled in his ministry. Read “How did Jesus deal with conflict?” on our blog, Faithward.
For people who are defined and choose to stay connected within the RCA, we are discussing options for how best to structure the RCA moving forward.
For people who choose to be defined and not stay connected within the RCA, we are preparing recommendations that will provide for a mutually generous exit.
We conferred with the Commission on Church Order (CCO) on both Thursday and Friday, seeking input about our emerging recommendations. The CCO helped us understand the nuances around how our recommendations might fit within our existing polity and what changes might be required. We also discussed possible ways of framing those proposals.
We talked at length about the denomination’s response to the Vision 2020 process, including contingency planning that we know has been going on in preparation for the future. In January, a group of 30 RCA leaders—which included two members of our team—met for an annual gathering. During the course of the meeting, conversations arose related to the report from our October meeting and recent proposed solutions to the divisions within the United Methodist Church. Those conversations sparked the realization among those leaders that most of them are interested in exploring mutually generous separation from the RCA, and they began to talk about planning for that future.
This was a hard conversation for our team. It was hard because there is a lot of misinformation circulating about what happened at the gathering and because there are a lot of emotions involved. Throughout this challenging conversation, our team engaged with honesty and respect. We practiced the things we’ve encouraged you in the denomination to do: we defined ourselves, stayed connected, and leaned into the trust we’ve built with each other. We wrestled with God and with each other, with honesty and respect.
We have known since our group was formed in 2018 that this process will involve loss, so while this is hard, it is not surprising. We know that other churches and groups have been having similar conversations. Many people are speculating about the number—how many churches will leave?—but there is no way to know those numbers until recommendations are made and voted on. We don’t know the number. The people having the conversations don’t know the number. Nobody knows the number. As a team, we are holding the possibility of loss in tension with a large number of congregations who are committed to staying in the RCA, defining themselves clearly and staying connected to others who define themselves differently.
Throughout this process, our team has consulted with a number of people representing different parts of the church, and we will continue doing so. We will pursue conversations with groups of churches that are seeking a generous exit. We will also seek conversations with ethnic council leaders, seminary presidents, Global Mission staff, and others.
Our team will next meet April 20-21. In the meantime, sub-teams will continue to develop our recommendations. In March, we will send a report to the General Synod Council, the board of the RCA, and in June will present a report and recommendations to General Synod. It is our hope to have this report and recommendations available to the denomination as early as possible prior to the General Synod gathering. As we continue our work, our trust continues to be in our God, who is faithful and who can do more than we can ask or imagine.
Please join us in praying for this process and for our beloved RCA.
- Pray for health. This is the middle of cold and flu season, and several members of our team were sick during the meeting. Pray for good health so that we can continue this work well and complete our other ministry and family roles. Pray for good time management as we balance this work with family and ministry.
- Pray for stamina. We still have a lot of work to do to finalize recommendations and our report.
- Pray for courage. We believe that clarity is essential but sometimes we fear that clarity will create conflict. Pray that we can state our convictions with clarity and then trust the RCA constituency to respond in a God-honoring manner.
- Pray for our ongoing relationships as a team, that we continue to stay defined and connected, honest and respectful in our work.
- Thank God for guiding our work, and pray for continued wisdom and insight. In an emotionally charged and complex setting, our team continues to be hopeful for the future.
- Pray that we as a team, and that leaders and members in RCA churches, will remember that we are not our own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ.
- Praise God with us for wonderful things God is doing in our denomination, including the encouraging reports we heard at this meeting about Mission 2020 and the developing classis in Florida.
Vision 2020 Team
Eddy Alemán, ex officio
Diane Smith Faubion
Don Poest, ex officio
Read more about being defined and connected with this blog post by Trisha Taylor on Faithward.org.