On Friday evening, four of the eleven members of the Restructuring Team—Gildo Vieira, Andrea Godwin-Stremler, Greg Brower, and Michelle Chahine—gave the delegation an update on their work, which began in March 2022, following the members’ appointments in February. The Restructuring Team was established by General Synod 2021 to “optimize the RCA’s sustained spiritual and organizational health” in response to the report of the Vision 2020 Team.
Vieira began with an overview of the discernment process that the team has committed to. He also invited the delegates to join the team in reading Pursuing God’s Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton and pleaded with the denomination to add the team to their daily prayers.
Godwin-Stremler spoke to the unity and calling of the team.
“We are called to serve God and the church and to seek understanding that we may not have at this time,” she said. “Our team—your team—committed ourselves to the process of listening to the Holy Spirit and fulfilling the mandate from General Synod 2021. We do this work of reforming in love, for we love her, the church of Christ. And we believe that God has indeed called us together at this time to pray, to listen, to discern, and then to lead into a future that God has already prepared for all of us, the RCA, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to make disciples of all people.
“Nothing is too big for God and those who are called according to his purposes. God’s got this. God’s got this. Be excited. Be hope-filled. Have anticipation for God to reveal to us, to reveal to all of us, in this room and across our many countries, what he has in store for us. With your partnership in prayer and God’s guidance and blessing, this will be done to the glory of God.”
During his portion of the presentation, Brower shared a story of discernment from his own congregation, Zion Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
“This little congregation had begun to believe that our time had passed, that there was nothing they could contribute and what little they had wouldn’t amount to much anyway. And yet some of them discerned that God wasn’t done with them yet. And they had to resist two different temptations in that moment. Some of them weren’t so sure God wasn’t done with them, and they wanted to give up and they walked away. Others of them just wanted to do anything to lower the anxiety so they could say they had tried something. Wisely, some of the pillars of the church said, let’s slow down and listen to what God is calling and telling us to do.” They discerned that God was calling them to be a church for their neighborhood. Eighteen years later, Zion has grown to plant churches, feed thousands of kids, and serve its neighborhood in big ways.
“I feel that same sense of discouragement, sometimes even despair, among our denomination that I felt among some in this little congregation 18 years ago,” he said. “We as a restructuring team know that God is not done with the RCA yet. So we do this work confident that our God will lead us together in fruitful ministry in this world that we know God loves and whom he has sent us to.”
Chahine concluded the evening by leading the General Synod in a spiritual discernment exercise for leaders. Together, the synod read aloud a prayer of transformation, practiced listening prayer—and complete silence—for ten minutes, then spent a half hour in group listening and reflection.
This exercise mirrored one the Restructuring Team undertook during their in-person May meeting.
Related updates to the team’s work
The Restructuring Team’s primary task is to consider the best option for sustainable ministry for a smaller denomination, and make proposals for consideration at General Synod 2024. The Vision 2020 Team, which recommended the Restructuring Team as a step forward, suggested that the new team consider affinity synods among the options for a denominational restructure. The Commission on Theology has prepared a paper, “Blest Be the Tie that Binds,” digging into the theological implications of affinity synods. Read the full paper here.
In addition to establishing a restructuring team, General Synod 2021 approved a pathway for “mutually generous separation” for churches and pastors that wish to leave the RCA. In his report this morning, general secretary Eddy Alemán reported that 68 churches have left the RCA since General Synod 2021, 4 have disbanded, and an additional 60 are in the process of leaving the denomination. (721 churches will remain in the RCA.) Alemán named that separation has not always been as generous in spirit as it has been generous in resources, and called all involved to recommit themselves to generosity of spirit. His address was rooted in lament and hope.
To help live out generous separation, the Commission on Christian Unity encouraged classes to develop a liturgy of blessing to use when releasing churches. “The commission encourages members of the Reformed Church in America to maintain fraternal relationships characterized by a deep and abiding love for those individuals and congregations who go out from our midst. We desire to be bridge builders rather than bridge burners,” states their report.
In his report on Friday afternoon, General Synod president Phil Assink urged all churches—including departing congregations—to continue their support of RCA Global Mission, to sustain its kingdom witness.
After Assink’s report, delegates spent time in small groups. As an act of lament, they wrote letters of blessing to departing churches and prayed for those churches and for the churches represented by the people in their groups.
As part of the ongoing conversations of the impacts of departing churches, the Commission on Church Order offered clarity about the status of ministers who maintain their RCA ordination, even though their church leaves the denomination. See the full details in the commission’s report to General Synod.
On Saturday morning, delegates voted to request that the team add a “foundational report” to come to General Synod 2023, ahead of its final report in 2024, “for the purpose of lessening the sense of uncertainty and to build upon the vision going forward.”
General Synod Council moderator Ned Beadel reported on the RCA’s finances Monday morning. “The GSC staff, led by the general secretary, are taking a proactive approach to reducing the GSC’s budget in anticipation of a decline in assessment revenue and contributions due to departing churches,” he said. “The staff is also pursuing other ways to generate income.”
Beadel shared that $1.9 million has already been cut from the annual operating budget, and further reductions are expected as departing churches in the process of leaving complete their departure. To generate income, the General Synod Council has approved a new board-designated Operations Endowment Fund using excess reserves. This fund, Beadel says, will help offset declining assessment revenue due to departing churches and minimize future increases in assessments for remaining churches.