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Council of Delegates Members Share Impressions of ‘Gather’

“We are part of something bigger than our local church,” Rob Toonstra, Classis Columbia
Alissa Vernon

The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates meeting May 1-3 in Grand Rapids, Mich., heard a report from Zachary King, the CRC’s general secretary. He focused many of his remarks on the first Gather event, an initiative approved at the Council of Delegates’ February meeting, to begin hearing from one another in the Christian Reformed Church how God is working to bring renewal.

Four Council of Delegates members attended Gather-Minneapolis, which took place April 19-21 in St. Paul, Minn., part of 61 participants from five invited classes.

Joyce Jackson, Classis Hackensack, said a highlight was connecting the group’s reflections to the scriptural account of Jesus meeting two disciples on the Emmaus road, following his resurrection. Jackson said the thing she took back home is “God is still on the throne, he’s not finished with us, and he’s going to do a new thing in our churches.”

Rob Toonstra, Classis Columbia, shared how inviting a newer member of his church to the event helped her to recognize “we are part of something bigger than our local church.” He said the diversity of the five “pretty different” classes coming together was “really exciting to witness.” Matt Ackerman, Classis Lake Erie, didn’t attend the event himself but brought the testimony of a parishioner who had been refreshed by the approach, which he said helped participants move "from thinking through a corporate framework of decision-making based on data into a discernment process based on the leading of God through Scripture in our context."

Elaine May, who works with Thrive and is leading the Gather initiative, said feedback from the first event is helping to shape the future iterations of Gather, scheduled into the spring of 2025, including shifting the dates so they don’t include a Sunday. About 22% of the first gathering’s participants were pastors.

Herb Schreur, Classis Northcentral Iowa, commented that although that was a good development, he wouldn’t want any fewer lay participants than had been at the first gathering, noting that a greater overall percentage of “smart, experienced lay people” is more representative of the full membership of the church than just its clergy. “I like that you’re getting away from Sundays,” he said. “I hope that you don’t let in any more pastors.”

Gather is one response to the 2023 synodical assignment to foster a plan toward church renewal and reversing membership decline. Four Gather events are scheduled for the fall of 2024: Sept. 19-21 in Vancouver, Sept. 23-25 in Calgary, Oct. 7-9 in Boston, and Nov. 18-20 in Niagara.

Five different classes are invited to each event, with 15 representatives from each regional group. The initiative will conclude in April 2025 after a total of 10 events.

“This is one experience to discover how God is renewing the church,” May said. The results and findings from all 10 events can “inform future initiatives in church renewal,” she said.

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