The Faith Formation Committee appointed by Synod 2007 ended its work at Synod 2013—quietly and without much fanfare. And that’s just fine with committee chair, Rev. John Witvliet (pictured left), and committee secretary, Rev. Howard Vanderwell.
“We as a committee talked about how this is like running a race where we have to hand the baton off,” Witvliet said. “We’re grateful to see the baton being picked up.”
As the committee wrapped up six years of work—a year later than originally mandated—Vanderwell and Witvliet sat down with The Banner to talk about the journey that had turned the committee into “a family.”
A year before the committee was appointed, Synod 2006 proposed that children be allowed to take communion without a profession of faith. Synod 2007 decided not to adopt that. Instead they appointed the Faith Formation Committee to examine that issue as well as other issues connected to life-long faith formation such as baptism and profession of faith.
Synod asked Faith Formation to be a “shepherding” committee—one that would listen across the denomination, gather the wisdom already in the churches, and report its progress to synod each year, rather than following a traditional model of quietly researching an issue for two or three years and then coming to synod with a single report.
“We were not called to generate a solution but rather to gather up wisdom in the local context,” Witvliet said.
The committee knew at its first meeting already that the mandate was impossible, said Vanderwell, “but in the best sense. We did not know the kind of synodical action we would be recommending because we didn’t know what wisdom we would be getting. It required more trust or risk in some ways, but it also gave us a sense of freedom.”
As the committee worked through its mandate from year to year, Witvliet said, it was gratifying that consensus emerged quite quickly, both in the committee and with the churches. He noted that each year at synod, when the committee reported the direction it was taking, synod supported them unanimously. “That gave us the space to really think about the larger questions of what the denomination needs, going forward,” he said. “Faith formation is not a problem to be solved by committee. It’s a permanent journey.”
Another value of the shepherding approach was an acknowledgment of and comfort with the diversity within the CRC. “We could hold up a mirror to the church and say, well there is diversity now in many different areas on many of these subject, so when guidelines are given, we shouldn’t entertain the fantasy that all are the same,” Vanderwell said. “The comfort level with that developed well with no suspicion or accusations.”
Witvliet and Vanderwell also pointed out the wonderful partnership the committee has enjoyed with Faith Alive, even as Faith Alive’s board is dissolved. As functions from Faith Alive and other ministries are realigned, they said, “We’re grateful that faith formation is one of the central motifs” in that work.
They also noted that the work is continuing in the faith formation pilot project headed by Syd Hielema, as a network of coaches and encouragers will be working with congregations on faith formation practices. “[That] is the most tangible place people will see this work going forward.”
And so the committee passes the baton to new hands, with some regret at having to let it go. “Sounds funny to say,” they said, “but after six years, we’ve become a family. We grieved the passing away of two of our members. It’s a part of who we are.”
But they will let go, as Witvliet said, with a profound gratitude.
Synod 2013 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. from June 7-14. For continuous Banner coverage of Synod 2013, please follow The Banner on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at www.thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit www.crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.