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Photo: Reformed Church in America
Photo by Reformed Church in America

Two years and a few weeks ago, General Synod 2018 of the Reformed Church in America approved the formation of a Vision 2020 Team.

After two years of meetings and wide-ranging discussion and discernment, the team came up with a report suggesting ways in which the church can move ahead as it faces an uncertain future.

The report was supposed to have been submitted to and discussed by delegates to the general synod this year. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the synod is not meeting this year. As a result the report will go before and be discussed by the RCA’s General Synod 2021.

Because the report won’t be addressed until General Synod 2021, members of the CRCNA are being asked to join the RCA in prayer for the general synod planned for next year.

Don Poest served as interim general secretary of the RCA in 2018, and he recommended that a vision team be named to address deep divisions he saw within the RCA, including, but not limited to, views on sexuality. The general synod agreed. (Poest’s report is a helpful primer to the content of the Vision 2020 report, providing lots of context and some helpful reminders.)

In the report, Poest writes: “As I was considering how to propose a solution to this [divisions in the church], keeping in mind the seeming roadblock of the human sexuality question, the Holy Spirit seemed to be doing some alignment work ahead of me. First, when the Council of Synod Executives (COSE) met, they committed to working on a new day for themselves in spite of their significant disagreements.

“These eight regional synod leaders [also] sent a pastoral letter to the church and then met with the General Synod Council. At that latter meeting, they shared with us their sense of current realities, widely divergent as they were. They shared their sense of our default future—that if we do nothing to address our current divisions, within two to five years, so many churches, classes, and even regions will have left the RCA that it would create ‘an organizational, ecclesiological, and economic crisis for the remaining churches and mission partners.” And they [the General Synod] called for a start on a radical new vision and action.”

The Vision 2020 team initially looked into three “future scenarios” for the RCA: staying together, radical restructure, and grace-filled separation. After thousands of hours of research, discernment, and feedback, they arrived at a combination of the three.

Along with its report, the Vision 2020 Team has released a brief discussion guide, which includes this note to church leaders and others:

“Grace and peace to you in Jesus. We, as the Vision 2020 Team, recognize that with this report our work is largely over for now and your work is just beginning. We know that everyone has deep and valid feelings about the future of the RCA, and about the work we have done—we have those feelings ourselves. We are asking for you to take our work and use it in your own reflection and discernment as you prepare for General Synod 2021. We hope you are able both to make space for personal reflection and to create discussion forums with your congregations, leadership teams, and colleagues.”

The RCA’s Vision 2020 Team asks people to consider a few suggestions for interacting with the report:

  1. “We hand this over to you now with a mixture of gratitude, love, hope, fatigue, and concern. Please remember that we are human beings who have done our best, and we are committed to praying for you and for the RCA as we all take on this next phase of the work together.
  2. “Please accept our work as the result of a genuine process of discernment. We didn’t get everything right, but we did sense the presence of God in our work and we worked hard to listen to God’s guidance.
  3. “We know that we couldn’t say everything. If you notice something is missing, please consider that we probably thought about it but it didn't make the final edit for a number of reasons (length being the biggest factor). We conducted interviews with dozens of people and spent hundreds of hours discussing the issues that they presented to us. Something may have been discussed at length and may have deeply influenced us and still not be explicitly named in the report.
  4. “We are acutely aware that not everybody will be happy or comfortable with everything that is being proposed. Even our own group did not always agree. Please understand that as a group we tried to discern God’s best for all involved and with an eye on the future of the RCA and God’s Church, over our own individual preferences.
  5. “We have a strong value around the discernment of God's will taking place within the faith community. Although the recommendations have now been made, please still consider yourselves to be part of that discernment, as we all reflect and offer feedback throughout the coming year. We value your opinions and look forward to a year of community prayer, listening, asking questions, considering new ideas, speaking the truth in love, and ultimately planning together for the future of the RCA.”

Read their report.

People across the RCA are asked to review the report and gain a clear sense of what they think of it and its recommendations. They can do this by reviewing discussion questions from the Vision 2020 Team.

In the meantime, pray. Talk to your friends in the denomination, including people who share your perspective and people who see things differently. . . . Over the coming year there will be opportunities for discussing the report with others in your region. These gatherings will be held from October to May, organized and led by Vision 2020 Team members, general synod officers, and the RCA’s Executive Leadership Team. Depending on pandemic conditions, these events may be held in person with an online option, or exclusively online.

Also in the meantime, a subcommittee of the Vision 2020 Team will work with the Commission on Church Order on the proposed changes to the Book of Church Order referenced in the Vision 2020 Team’s report.

A handful of podcasts are included in a press release with the goal of having people dig deeper and gain a working knowledge of the report.

Look here for resources and information about RCA's Vision Report 2020.