Rev. Joel Boot, executive director of the Christian Reformed Church, and Rev. Tom De Vries, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, held "spaghetti dinners" in a dozen cities in the first months of this year, discussing the many ways in which the denominations are working together.
To groups in the U.S. and Canada, they talked about what is called the Reformed Collaborative, an initiative that highlights the many ways that the CRC and RCA are already working together.
The denominations are sharing resources in such areas as disability concerns, disaster response and development, seminary education, leadership training, church planting and urban ministry, information technology services, employee health care services, and joint publications.
“We have been talking about the many places where engagement in missions is happening between us," said De Vries, speaking at the last “spaghetti dinner” in late April at the Prince Center on the campus of Calvin College.
"Collaborations are significant. As we share in many activities, we are able to more clearly see our foundation and that we are committed to a common cause."
Boot said he and De Vries were having coffee last fall at the home of Rich DeVos, co-founder of the Amway corporation in West Michigan, and his wife, Helen, when the idea for a tour like this came up.
With ties to the two denominations, DeVos and his wife have supported efforts for the CRC and RCA to work together, especially through the Reformed Collaborative.
As they had coffee, DeVos said CRC and RCA congregations have long been known for holding informal spaghetti dinners at which church members could gather and talk about and celebrate their lives together.
Why not do something like this as a way for the denominations to let their churches know about the Reformed Collaborative? De Vos asked, adding that the Rich and Helen DeVos Foundation would help underwrite the venture.
Boot and De Vries liked the idea. Although they called it the "Spaghetti Dinner Tour,” they didn't really eat spaghetti.
But they did travel to several cities to meet informally with pastors, church leaders and others, telling them about the more 60 areas in which they are sharing a common witness.
Also at these events, they shared stories and asked people to talk about their faith, touching on how by joining with members of the other denomination they can be “better together.”
In addition, they showed a video describing the Reformed Collaborative.
At the gatherings, said Boot, “We talked about what can happen if we put our hearts and souls into making a difference for God.
"Here we are at our 12th, geographical location, and this whole tour has had an aura of the beginning of a family reunion."
It is a reunion in which he sees the denominations coming together to continue to do mission, not a reunion leading to a merger of some kind between the churches.
“We are focusing on the ‘m’ word, but that word is ‘mission’,” said Boot.
De Vries said the denominations have come a long way since the mid 18th Century when the CRC was formed by churches that had broken away from the RCA.
“Our history was birthed in conflict over such issues as open communion, Christian schools, teaching the Heidelberg catechism, singing psalms or hymns, or belonging to the Masons," he said.
A brochure handed out during the Spaghetti Dinner Tour touches on how the denominations began to slowly move back together in the 20th Century.
It says: "As the culture shifted over time and the number of unreached people in North America grew, churches in both denominations began to expand their focus on the redemptive and reconciliatory opportunities within their communities. This compelling mission began to soften the sense of independence."
Now that the tour is over, the collaboration itself will continue. Likely, the effort will take on a lower profile which focuses on encouraging classes in various areas to find ways in which they can work together.
In addition, the denominations are looking forward to next month when their respective synods meet for joint worship and other activities on the campus of Central College in Pella, Iowa.
At the recent lunch, Boot and De Vries asked people to write suggestions for the future of, and prayers for, the Reformed Collaborative on little cards that will be placed on a bulletin board during the meeting of the synods.
"We are asking people to give their comments on this Reformed Collaborative and on the common mission we share as Reformed people of God," said De Vries.