Two ecumenical guests from denominations in communion with the Christian Reformed Church and two guests from ecumenical groups greeted Synod 2022 with updates, words of hope, and prayer.
Mark Rietkerk, ecumenical coordinator from the Netherlands Reformed Church attended synod with Rinze IJbema, from the Reformed Churches Liberated (Gereformeerde Kerk vrijgemaakt). Rietkerk said, “Our two denominations, Lord willing, will be merging back into one denomination as of next year: the Dutch Reformed Churches (Nederlandse Gereformeerde Kerken).”
Rietkerk said that with a history of brokenness the re-connecting as one church in a very secular country is a blessing. In the Netherlands last year polls showed for the first time in history less than 50% of the people felt a connection to any religion. And less than 10% will attend a Christian church regularly. “That’s the context in which we work and try to preach the gospel and reach out,” Rietkerk said.
And he noted that the world watches what churches do. “People are watching, they know you’re here, they know what you’re discussing, and they’re paying attention.”
Laura Osborne, coordinator for Interreligious Relations from the Reformed Church in America, greeted synod from “general secretary Eddy Alemán, from the General Synod, and your friends and family in the Reformed Church in America.”
Osborne shared about the experience of having similar conversations to the Christian Reformed Church within the RCA saying, “Courageous and honest conversations are hard. Admitting things we wish were different is hard. Disagreeing respectfully is hard.”
Osborne shared about the RCA’s Vision 2020 team, who were called to “explore options for the future, including separation, restructuring, and staying together.” The team spent thousands of hours over three years researching and creating a report that was presented at the RCA’s General Synod in October 2021. The synod “did not change anything about the RCA’s historic stance of sexuality, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that all people are welcome in the church and deserve pastoral care,” and that the ordaining of pastors is discerned at the classis, Osborne said. But they did agree to work on restructuring of the RCA, and granting gracious separation to churches who wish to leave.
“The loss of each other is particularly hard—pastors who went to seminary together and have supported each other for years are now serving in different denominations,” Osborne said.
But she also encouraged Synod 2022: “Division does not mean God has abandoned us. Disagreeing does not mean God’s Spirit has left us. Even through the painful farewells and the beginning of our restructuring work, God is surprising us.”
Two ecumenical groups of which the CRC is a member also greeted synod.
Peter Noteboom, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, told synod that the Council, guided by the biblical texts of John 17 and Ephesians 4, “responds to Christ’s call for unity and peace, seeks Christ’s truth with an affection for diversity, and acts in love through prayer, dialogue and witness to the gospel.”
He offered synod a blessing, “May the presence and love of Christ guide us all. May we strive to imitate Christ in all we say and do in that spirit of kenosis, of self-emptying. May Christ’s love compel us to deep listening, walking together, acting in love. Now and in the future.”
Philip Vinod Peacock, executive for justice and witness from the World Communion of Reformed Churches , was unable to attend the session in person because the airline moved the departure time for his flight home.
Through a pre-recorded video message, Peacock brought greetings from the WCRC and reminded synod that the WCRC has 235 member churches in 109 countries representing 100 million Christians from the Reformed background.
Peacock shared about how it was a blessing to worship at synod. Peacock said, “to know that even though we are separated by cultures and continents, we are united in our one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. United in mission and service.”
Executive director Colin Watson Sr. noted the presence of other ecumenical guests who did not bring greetings, welcoming Lala Haja Rasendrahasina from Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Phil Tanis, from the World Communion of Reformed Churches and William Zulu and Clement Mwanza from the Reformed Church in Zambia.
William Koopmans, chair of the CRC's Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee told delegates that many other churches in fellowship also sent written greetings.
Synod 2022 is meeting at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook. On Twitter follow #crcsynod or twitter.com/crcna. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church (it did not gather in 2020 or 2021). Connect to the meeting’s livestream, read advisory committee reports, and find other resources at crcna.org/synod.