May 18-21, 2015
The 269th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States officially convened on a cool Monday, May 18th in Menno, SD. The host church, Zion Reformed, treated the incoming delegates and visitors to a scrumptious meal of barbequed brisket, scalloped potatoes, homemade rolls, and other sides. Fellowship was sweet as old friendships were rekindled and new ones forged. During the meal, Rev. Travis Grassmid brought a short devotional and welcomed the delegates.
Following the meal, Rev. Matt Powell led the evening worship, which included the vigorous singing of several Psalter selections. Rev. Frank Walker delivered a fine exposition of 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, in which he emphasized both the scandal and power of the gospel message, urging the ministers of the Synod to proclaim it faithfully.
After the benediction, Rev. Jim Sawtelle called the Synod to order and had the roll called. A little more than 70 delegates were present along with numerous visitors and fraternal delegates from other denominations. Following the calling of the roll, Synod recessed from about 8:30 PM until the following morning.
Synod reconvened at 8 AM on Tuesday with a devotional brought by Rev. Sawtelle on 1 Peter 5:1-3. In it, he urged ministers and elders to engage in ministry with humility. Synod then proceeded to business with the definition of the Bar of the House, the appointment of tellers, and the election of officers.
Rev. Sawtelle was elected as President, Rev. Walker as Vice-President, and Rev. David Fagrey was elected as Stated Clerk. Though this was only my third attendance at Synod, I was honored to be appointed as the reporter for the 269th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States.
Synod was pleased to recognize its visitors, after which Rev. Valentin Alpuche and the Covenant Reformed Church of Gettysburg, PA, pastored by Rev. Jay Fluck, were welcomed into the denomination.
Upon the order of the day, delegates recessed for refreshments and visiting, though were a bit slow coming back together. Rev. Sawtelle reminded the body of the need for punctuality and proceeded to appoint Standing Committees. A few committees gave direct presentations of their reports after which Synod went in to recess to begin committee work.
Synod reconvened shortly before noon to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the noon meal and to intercede for needs within the Church. Lunch was traditional German fare of brats and sauerkraut with good fellowship to accompany it. Lunch also included a brief devotional on 2 Peter 2:1-5 that urged delegates to base their lives and ministries on Christ, the Chief Cornerstone.
Following lunch, Synod went into recess to continue committee work. This took up the balance of the day. Synod reconvened for a dinner of sloppy joes at 5:30 and then recessed, except for the committees that still had work. Many delegates met at a local club to unwind and fellowship following the day’s activities.
Wednesday morning, Rev. Travis Grassmid led the Synod in a brief devotional based on Romans 12:19-21. Committee reports followed and took up the rest of Synod. While most were very routine, a few deserve note. To begin with, the Treasurer’s Report sounded a note of caution about the denomination’s finances. While they are currently in good shape, some trends were troubling and the financial implications of the report colored many of the subsequent deliberations of the Synod.
The President’s report sounded an overall positive evaluation of the RCUS, however it also noted some areas that needed to be addressed. For instance, is the denomination being deliberate enough in its strategy for home missions? Could we be doing better here? The report also reflected on the needs of churches in semi-rural areas that are in decline and how the denomination can better serve them. It also called on the church to consider the implications of the redefinition of marriage by the larger culture and what threats that might pose to the Church.
In that vein, a very significant report came from the Special Judicial Committee on a proposed change to the Constitution and Standing Rules, designed to address the expected legalization of same-sex marriage later this summer. The changes would explicitly affirm the denomination’s commitment to defining marriage as a life-long covenant between one man and one woman. They would require that RCUS ministers and facilities only be used for biblical marriages as well as empower ministers to refuse to perform same-sex weddings. The idea behind the changes would be to provide churches and ministers legal “cover” in the event they were sued for refusing to perform or make facilities available for same-sex weddings. The changes passed without dissent and now go to the classes for confirmation.
With regards to foreign missions, Synod did vote to send two representatives to oversee our work with the Reformed Fellowship Church of Kenya. RCUS members and congregations were also reminded that Reformed Faith and Life is looking for donations to support FM radio broadcasts into the Congo. After a great deal of discussion, much of which dealt with synodical finances, Synod adopted a job description and budget for a part-time Foreign Missions Coordinator for the RCUS. No one was appointed to the post at this time. Looking at home missions, Synod approved continuing funding for the works in Casper, WY, Omaha, NE (once a minister is found for the work), Rogers, AR, Dickinson, ND, Los Angeles, CA, Shafter, CA (for a new, Spanish-speaking work), and Stockton, CA. Synod also noted and commended the Emmaus Road Reformed Church of Eden Prairie, MN, for becoming self-sustaining and no longer needing synodical funding. The church which had planted Emmaus Road, Redeemer in Minneapolis, asked for and received funding for another minister at Redeemer so that they can prepare to plant another RCUS congregation in the Minneapolis area in the next 3-5 years, Lord willing.
Synod also voted to erect a study committee to look into whether or not cremation is an acceptable Christian alternative to burial. Given the rapid increase of cremations in the nation, it was felt necessary not only to explore the theological question but the pastoral implications of it as well.
Wednesday night’s dinner was a delicious one of roast ham with all the trimmings. Afterward the Synod reconvened for worship, which was led by Rev. Lee Johnson. A men’s chorale of Synod delegates sang a lovely rendition of How Great Thou Art and Rev. Wes Brice preached a fine message.
A weary Synod reconvened Thursday morning to complete reports and other business and to share a final meal of cheeseburgers together. We adjourned about 2 PM with a final devotion by Elder Dan Mettler on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Doxology, and a benediction.
This is now the third Synod I have attended and I have always been impressed with the genuine sense of brotherhood to be found there. In many ways, Synod is like a family reunion and as I get to know more and more of the ministers and elders in it, it only continues to become sweeter to attend. We didn’t always agree on everything, but the Lord’s work got done and the church is at rest. As a friend of mine summed up the synod meeting:
“It is a good thing to lose almost every vote, and still come away from Synod thinking it was good and feeling unified with your brothers. No danger of liberalism, no fear of heresy, no real worries at all. It is good to be a part of the Reformed Church in the United States. Best denomination around.”
I could not have said it better. Grace and peace.