08 Jul GS 2019 art 139
GS 2019 Article 139 – URCNA (United Reformed Churches in North America)
- 1.1 Report of the Committee for Church Unity – Coordinators (CCU-C) (126.96.36.199), Report of Subcommittee for Liturgical Forms and Confessions (CCU-SLFC) (188.8.131.52), Report of Subcommittee for Theological Education (CCU-STE) (184.108.40.206). (Post-synod it became clear that the report of the Subcommittee for the Church Order (CCU-SCO) had been missed. The reason is possibly that the CCU-SCO report was only available digitally while the CCU-SLFC report was only available in print.)
- 1.2 Letters from the following churches: Winnipeg-Redeemer (220.127.116.11), Barrhead (18.104.22.168), Attercliffe (22.214.171.124), Lynden (126.96.36.199)
- 2.1 GS 2016 (Art. 77) decided regarding the URCNA:
- [4.1] That the Coordinators for the Committee of Church Unity (CCU-C) have completed their mandate given by GS 2013;
- [4.2] To continue Ecclesiastical Fellowship (EF) (Phase 2) with the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) under the adopted rules;
- [4.3] To encourage the churches to continue to foster relationships with local URCNA churches. These activities could include, but are not limited to, pulpit exchanges, joint community and mission projects, and joint study opportunities;
- [4.4] To reappoint the CCU-C, adding two additional coordinators, and mandating them;
- [4.4.1] To seek ways to facilitate the work of building unity on the local levels, as well as visiting churches and classes of the URCNA, particularly in the United States;
- [4.4.2] To discuss with CERCU how to make progress towards federative unity should Synod Wyoming mandate CERCU to pursue this;
- [4.4.3] To monitor any developments in the URCNA with respect to “doctrinal affirmations.”
- 2.2 Activities of the Coordinators
- 2.2.1 The Rev. W. den Hollander and the Rev. C.J. VanderVelde attended a breakfast meeting consisting of Niagara-area CanRC and URCNA ministers in Jordan, Ontario to discuss the decisions of GS 2016 pertaining to unity efforts, as well as to discuss what was on the agenda of Synod Wyoming 2016 of the URCNA pertaining to unity efforts. They also attended a few days of Synod Wyoming 2016, in which Rev. VanderVelde brought fraternal greetings.
- 2.2.2 The four coordinators appointed by GS 2016 met for the first time after Synod on Sept 9, 2016 for a meeting together at Binbrook, Ontario. They reviewed their mandate as coordinators for the CCU, reviewed the decisions of Synod Wyoming 2016 and how they impacted their work as coordinators, discussed how to deal with invitations from URCNA classes, to send a fraternal delegate to their classes.
- 2.2.3 One or more of the coordinators attended a variety of meetings in the effort to promote unity. This included the following: Classis Southwestern Ontario Sept 21, 2016, held at Sheffield, CERCU on Nov 9, 2016 held in conjunction with NAPARC, Synod Wheaton of the URCNA, June 11-15, 2018, breakfast meeting with the Rev. John Bouwers and the Rev. Steve Swets, both members of the URCNA’s CERCU, at their invitation, and Rev. den Hollander and Rev. W.B. Slomp were scheduled to meet with CERCU at the occasion of the upcoming NAPARC meeting at Philadelphia in Nov, 2018.
- 2.2.4 Several coordinators had opportunity to fill the pulpit in URCNA churches far from home and even to serve in an interim ministry in a URCNA congregation.
- 2.3 Other Developments. Classis Manitoba of the CanRC was held concurrently with Classis Central US of the URCNA on April 3-4 at Christ Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Classis Niagara of the CanRC did the same with Classis Ontario-East of the URCNA at Wellandport United Reformed Church. Classis Ontario West of the CanRC was scheduled to the do the same with Classis Southwestern Ontario of the URCNA, but this was postponed.
- 2.4 Synod Wyoming on Unity Matters. There were three important overtures on the agenda of Synod Wyoming 2016 in relation to unity efforts. In one or another, these overtures would significantly slow down the unity process, if not halt it altogether for the foreseeable future. The first and third overtures were defeated. The second overture coming from Classis Pacific Northwest Oct 14-15, 2014 asked Synod “to declare that the Proposed Joint Church Order is unusable for that purpose.” Synod Wyoming did not declare it “unusable” – as the overture requested – but that Synod took the hard edge off the overture by deciding that it “is in need of further revision.” This is a disappointing conclusion and shows that we are far away from agreement on some church polity matters. The coordinators note that since Synod London 2010, every successive URCNA Synod has taken steam out of merger efforts: all committees were gradually dismissed, it was decided to work with the OPC on a common songbook rather than with the CanRC, a decision was made to “table indefinitely” any encouragement for CERCU to move toward proposing to enter Phase 3A, and it was decided to have a breather of at least six years before CERCU makes a Phase 3A recommendation. It further notes: it is hard not to be discouraged by all these developments. And yet the coordinators are thankful that the less formal aspects of the unity pursuit continued to take steps forward. CanRC-URCNA brothers and sisters are involved with one another and working together at the local level in many places as evident for example from coordinated youth events, Christian education, outreach efforts and concurrent Classes taking place. The process of getting to know one another better continues and there has been much mutual encouragement.
- 2.5 Synod Wyoming on Other Matters. Synod Wyoming 2016 unanimously adopted the proposed hymns to be the hymn portion of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal and this means the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was ready to be published. It was published in 2018. Synod Wyoming made a number of decisions with respect to contact with churches abroad. They agreed to the recommendation of the Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Church Abroad (CECCA) and decided to remain in Ecumenical Contact (Phase One of ecumenical relations) with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKv), to enter into Ecumenical Contact with the Reformed Churches in Indonesia (GGRI-NTT) and the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA). They also agreed to enter into Ecumenical Fellowship (EF) (Phase Two) with the Reformed Calvinist Churches [in Indonesia] (GGRC), the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA) and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) (FCC).
- 2.6 Synod Wheaton on Unity and Other Matters. Synod Wheaton 2018 of the URCNA met concurrently with the general Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In a combined meeting, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was presented, received joyfully, and the churches of both the URCNA and OPC were encouraged to make use of it. Synod also adopted a number of recommendations submitted by CERCU. Among them, Synod “encouraged local churches and classes to take advantage of the opportunity presented with the Canadian Reformed Committee for Church Unity being supplemented with more members who can help answer questions, speak at local churches and at classes, and promote the unity of our churches.” The Rev. W. Den Hollander and the Rev. W.B. Slomp were received as fraternal delegates and the address by the latter was well received. Synod Wheaton entered into Ecumenical Contact (Phase 1) with the African Evangelical Presbyterian Church as well as entered into Ecumenical Fellowship (Phase 2) with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales (EPCEW.) It also decided to discontinue the relationship of Ecumenical Contact with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKv) due to their decision to open all offices in the church to women, regardless of many and repeated admonitions. The same Synod, at different times, also paid attention to the work of mission (both domestic and foreign) executed by the respective federations of churches. Synod Wheaton also adopted without dissent the “Affirmations Regarding Marriage” as a doctrinal affirmation. No other doctrinal affirmations were adopted since the CCU report to GS 2016.
- 2.7 Considerations from CCU-C. CCU-C requests GS 2019 to consider the following with a view to disbanding the CCU – including the coordinators, the subcommittees and related committees – and handing the URCNA portfolio over to the Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA).
- 2.7.1 Synod Wyoming 2016 decided to enter into a breather of at least six years, during which CERCU will not propose entering into Phase 3A with the CanRC leading to merger. In its report to Synod Wheaton 2018, CERCU wrote the following: “Given this commitment, our interaction as CERCU with our Canadian Reformed counterparts has been reduced at the committee level. As matters stand, it appears to us that a Phase Three, Step A recommendation would also be unlikely by Synod 2022. Of course, the Lord’s ways are not our ways, but we believe much would have to change before we could be confident of our churches’ readiness and willingness to take the next step on the path toward church union with the Canadian Reformed Churches. While we do see it as our task to encourage and assist the churches in the pursuit of our ecumenical calling toward greater unity, we have also become convinced through our years of engagement together that such unity must finally be given by God in a way that is clear to all the churches. As such, when the churches are ready and enthusiastic about moving forward, we believe such a recommendation should come from the churches” (Provisional Agenda, p.138). This means that there will be four more years of breather, and probably longer. It also noteworthy that the CERCU reports says that the initiative to move along in the unity process in a formal way will have to come from the local churches – which suggests that things are not likely to happen soon.
- 2.7.2 All URCNA sub-committees created to work toward church unity have been disbanded for some time already, with the last committee disbanded by Synod Wyoming 2016. Our sub-committees and related committees have no counterparts with whom to discuss matters.
- 2.7.3 In the past two years since Synod Wyoming 2016, we as coordinators for the CCU have been largely idle, in the sense that invitations to come to churches and Classes of the URCNA for presentations have not been forthcoming.
- 2.7.4 Giving the URCNA portfolio to the CCCNA will take the pressure off the URCNA in the sense that whatever talks will take place within that context will not have the pressure of being conducted by a CanRC committee created to achieve organic unity. In the end, this may prove to be beneficial to progress in our relationship as churches. The CCCNA can deal with the URCNA as a federation with which we are in Ecclesiastical Fellowship, and can raise the matter of church unity, as the occasion warrants.
- 2.7.5 The URCNA never had a special committee devoted to the unity efforts with the CanRC, while the CanRC did have a special committee devoted to the unity efforts with the URCNA. Handing the URCNA portfolio to the CCCNA levels the playing field.
- 2.8 Recommendations from CCU-C. They recommend
- [1.] That Synod Edmonton-Immanuel 2019 decide that the Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity have completed their mandate given by Synod Dunnville 2016 to seek ways to facilitate the work of building unity on the local level, as well as visiting churches and Classes of the URCNA, particularly in the United States.
- [2.] That Synod Edmonton-Immanuel 2019 decide that the Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity have completed their mandate given by Synod Dunnville 2016 to discuss with CERCU how to make progress towards federative unity should Synod Wyoming mandate CERCU to pursue this.
- [3.] That Synod Edmonton-Immanuel 2019 decide that the Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity have completed their mandate given by Synod Dunnville 2016 to monitor any developments in the URCNA with respect to ‘doctrinal affirmations.’
- [4.] That Synod Edmonton-Immanuel 2019 decide to disband the Committee for Church Unity (CCU) – including the coordinators, the sub-committees, and related committees (Church Order, Theological Education, Common Songbook, and Creeds and Forms) – and to hand the URCNA portfolio over to the Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA).
- [5.] That if Synod Edmonton-Immanuel 2019 decides to maintain the Committee for Church Unity (CCU), Synod note that, after having served on the committee for nine years, Rev. William den Hollander and Rev. Clarence VanderVelde do not wish to be reappointed to the committee. There is no end-of-term date for any CCU members, but nine years is the usual term for other committees and Rev. den Hollander and Rev. VanderVelde would like to have that applied to them.
- 2.9 Winnipeg-Redeemer supports the CCU recommendations and requests Synod to indicate strongly that this does not mean that the Canadian Reformed Churches are abandoning their desire to proceed toward full and complete unity with the URCNA. Barrhead and Attercliffe also support the CCU recommendations. Lynden supports the CCU recommendations and requests GS 2019 to respect the decision of Synod Wyoming 2016 and take a breather of 6 years from unity talks.
- 2.10 Subcommittee for Liturgical Forms and Confessions received the following mandate from Synod Dunnville: “to be available to review and compare the Creeds, Confessions, Forms and Prayers of the CanRC and the URCNA with a view to merger.” The subcommittee learned the following from the Acts of the URCNA Synods. 1. Synod Wyoming 2016 adopted amendments to the wording of the Ecumenical Creeds, the Three Forms of Unity, the Liturgical Forms, and Prayers, as proposed by its Liturgical Forms Committee and variously amended at Synod. 2. Synod decided to publish the liturgical forms in a stand-alone book, distinct from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. 3. The Agenda of Synod Wheaton 2018 of the URCNA calls the new stand alone book on the liturgical forms their “Forms and Prayers Book.” 4. Unlike earlier Synods, Synod Wyoming 2016 and Synod Wheaton 2018 opted not to appoint committee that could liaise with Canadian Reformed counterparts as our committee. The Subcommittee was not consulted by a Liturgical Forms Committee of the URCNA on the developments described in the first three points above. Their analysis is: our experience supports the commendation made by the Committee for Church Unity with the URCNA that Synod Edmonton not appoint new committees such as theirs. And their recommendation is for: Synod Edmonton not to appoint a subcommittee for Liturgical Forms and Confessions.
- 2.11 Subcommittee for Theological Education received the following mandate from GS 2016:
- “To mandate the CCU-STE to re-examine and discuss with our brothers in the URCNA the possibilities of operating at least one theological seminary by and for the churches, to ensure that such a seminary is accountable to and properly governed by the churches. Further, that the committee promote adequate funding for such an institution(s) by means of assessment per communicant member.” Since neither Synod Wyoming 2016 nor Synod Wheaton 2018 of the URCNA reappointed a corresponding subcommittee, they did not convene, as they had no conversation partners. Therefore they report that no progress toward church unity has been made by this sub-committee.
- 3.1 Synod agrees with the considerations provided by the CCU-C as provided above in observation 2.7. It does not make sense to reappoint coordinators for unity and subcommittees when the URCNA is taking a “breather” from these matters.
- 3.2 Synod agrees with the analysis provided by the Subcommittee for Liturgical Forms and Confessions as provided above in observation 2.10. The same applies to the Subcommittee for Theological Education.
- 3.3 Synod wishes to express that the CanRC remain committed to the pursuit of unity with the United Reformed Churches and are looking forward to reengaging in this discussion when the URCNA is ready.
That Synod decide:
- 4.1 The Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity (CCU-C) have completed their mandate given by GS 2016 to seek ways to facilitate the work of building unity on the local level, as well as visiting churches and Classes of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), particularly in the United States.
- 4.2 The CCU-C have completed their mandate given by Synod Dunnville 2016 to discuss with Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU) of the URCNA how to make progress toward federative unity should Synod Wyoming mandate CERCU to pursue this.
- 4.3 The CCU-C have completed their mandate given by GS 2016 to monitor any developments in the URCNA with respect to ‘doctrinal affirmations.’
- 4.4 To not reappoint the Committee for Church Unity (CCU – including the coordinators, the sub-committees, and related committees (Church Order, Theological Education, Common Songbook, and Creeds and Forms).
- 4.5 To thank the coordinators and members of the various subcommittees for their work.
- 4.6 To continue Ecclesiastical Fellowship (phase 2) with the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) under the adopted rules;
- 4.7 To mandate the Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA):
- 4.7.1 To send a delegation to the synods of the URCNA;
- 4.7.2 To encourage the churches to continue to foster relationships with local URCNA churches. These activities could include, but are not limited to, pulpit exchanges, joint community and mission projects, and study opportunities;
- 4.7.3 To submit its report to the churches 5 months prior to the convening of the next general synod.