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RCA’s Vision 2020 Report Recommends Restructuring, New Mission Agency, and ‘Mutually Generous Separation’

RCA’s Vision 2020 Report

The Vision 2020 team for the Reformed Church in America released its anticipated report this past June. Meant to have been aired at the RCA’s 2020 General Synod, but postponed due to the cancellation of that synod amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the report proposes a way forward for the denomination that has found its member churches at odds on matters of sexuality, approach to social justice, and more.

The report makes three recommendations, with the authors noting their conclusions are a combination of the three possible future scenarios they were originally asked to consider: staying together, reorganizing, or dividing.

They recommend a restructuring, as yet to be determined by the members who choose to stay with the denomination; the formation of a new, independent mission agency; and changes to the RCA’s Book of Church Order that would make generosity in separating—a reality the report sees as “inevitable” in some cases—“prescribed rather than simply permitted.”

The first recommendation, in part, reads, “To direct the General Synod Council to appoint a team of at least 10 but no more than 15 people tasked with the specific work of developing a restructuring plan for the denomination with a view to optimizing the RCA’s sustained spiritual and organizational health.”

The Vision 2020 team declined to map out the restructuring, though it did provide suggestions it believes will provide “the best chance for success.” These include the following:  “Classes are reorganized as affinity-based rather than geographically based. … Classes are responsible for decisions related to ordination and marriage. … Discipline of individual consistories occurs at the classis level.”

For its second recommendation, the RCA’s Vision 2020 team writes, “We recommend that a new non-profit mission agency be formed independent of the RCA (but in partnership with the RCA) to house what currently makes up the RCA’s work in global missions. … We see this as a way to preserve and expand on the ways that God has blessed us and to invite even more people to take part in that work. We also see this as a way that everyone, regardless of their decision to leave or stay, could continue to be connected to that legacy.”

This new agency could be seeded, the report suggests, from the current RCA Global Mission budget.

Two team members differed from the majority on this recommendation. Their minority opinion, that assigning RCA global missions to an extra-ecclesial body "weakens our Reformed practice of keeping covenant promises to each other," is included with the report.

The Vision 2020 team’s third recommendation recognizes “that some separation is inevitable,” and calls on the RCA “to act in an exemplary way by providing a generous exit path for those churches which decide to leave and by inviting those churches to also act generously.” It lays out necessary changes to the Book of Church Order to make that possible and describes some potential scenarios, including provisions that departing churches “retain their property and other assets and would be solely responsible for any liabilities.”

Regional gatherings to discuss the report, being convened mostly by video conference, have taken place this fall and will continue until May. Led by Vision 2020 team members, officers of the RCA’s General Synod, and by the RCA’s executive leadership team, “The gatherings are creating space for processing, listening, and Q & A,” said Christina Tazelaar, the RCA’s director of communication. 

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