The Christian Reformed Church in North America will hold three Gatherings in 2016 — one in Canada and two in the U.S. — for the purpose of bringing churches together to stimulate conversations about the mission and purpose God has for local congregations and the CRCNA at large.
“Historically, the church gathers once a year at synod, but these are different,” said Colin Watson, the CRC’s director of ministries and administration.
“These will be special events designed to be more inclusive of members of our congregations. They will provide an opportunity for churches to gather as a body to talk about ministry and what we are doing together.”
The Gatherings spring from a report, “Cultivating Binationality in the CRCNA,” that was adopted by the Board of Trustees in May 2014.
The report, among other things, states that the CRCNA in the U.S. and Canada should “intentionally and regularly gather in our respective national contexts to understand trends that are happening, the culture in which we are doing our living, and the implications for our ministry as a church.”
The Gathering in Canada, which will be a national event, is set for May 6-8 at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
The initial Gathering in the U.S., the first of three regional events, will occur June 8-10 just before Synod 2016 that meets June 10-17 on the campus of Calvin College.
Another US regional Gathering will be held later in 2016, while the other will occur early in 2017. Likely, one will be held on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast of the U.S. The locations and dates are to be determined.
A large binational Gathering will occur in 2017.
In Canada, participants from all over the country “will gather for a time of discernment to try to discern how the Holy Spirit is guiding the church in Canada through the next three to five years,” said Darren Roorda, director of Canadian Ministries.
“We hope to have at least two-thirds of the congregations across Canada represented for a time of discernment, worship, prayer, participatory breakouts, and connecting between the local church and denominational ministries. ”
Although agencies and denominational leadership will be represented at the National Gathering, the focus will be on the local churches and seeking to discover “what is going on in their local context and how we as a church can come alongside them in the ministry that they do,” said Roorda.
Roorda also said that a goal of the Gathering will be to help shape and express the voice of the CRC in Canada in relation to the denomination as a whole.
“The Gatherings are one of the strategies we have of embracing the special contexts out of which we are conducting ministry in our two nations,” said Roorda.
In Canada, three guest speakers will share local and regional stories, as well as the biblical story, at the event. Various local and regional ministry representatives will also share their stories.
The National Gathering will end with a Sunday morning commissioning and communion service.
The regional events in the U.S. will focus on themes. The first will have an emphasis on the diverse and multiethnic identity of the CRC, said Watson.
The second will focus on global and local ministry, and the third on leadership with a special emphasis on leadership among young people, said Watson.
Included in the June U.S. Gathering will be the biennial Multiethnic Conference that will present speakers and seminars on issues related to diversity in the church.
Meanwhile, participants from the Gathering and delegates to Synod 2016, along with attendees of the CRC’s 2016 Chaplain’s conference that will be going on at the same time, will come together for a joint worship service on the evening of June 10.
About 100 churches have indicated that they hope to send two individuals to take part in the Gathering, said Watson.
At the event, he said, “We will have a panel discussion talking about the hope and desires that church members have for the future.”
There will also be keynote speakers, workshops on such topics as the changing role of deacons, the intersection of science and the Bible, and the transition of Christian Reformed Home Missions and Christian Reformed World Missions into one agency for ministry.
“We will also talk about our new Ministry Plan and about the vision we all have together as we restate our calling to be salt and light as followers of Jesus Christ in a turbulent world,” said Watson.
Over time, Watson said, he would love to see most of the congregations in the U.S. send representatives to these and future Gatherings as a continuing demonstration of unity in Christ.
“We know that Christ’s prayer for us is that ‘they may all be one … so that the world may believe’ that He is Christ — and out of this unity will come our work of ministry.”