I have for a while put off going to General Synod, and not necessarily for any good or particular reason. I am not ordinarily the type of person who enjoys large church gatherings apart from church, fellowship hour, classis meetings, and activities like that, and while I love my church, the people in it and so on, I am not entirely certain whether I am so whetted to go to a gathering of people from the denomination for a lengthy period of time.
Lets put it out there, if it hasn’t already been determined that I am some part introvert and some part extrovert, with a smattering of other personality traits (as we all are), and spending any prolonged period of time in an enclosed space without an exist strategy (i.e. a car, plane, boat, train, etc.) sounds like sheer torture to me frankly. Perhaps this is the reason that I have avoided going to General Synod. Who knows, only someone who can dig deep into my neuroses can dig that one out.
But now down into the nitty gritty of the matter – General Synod, or GS, is a week (or less, for non-delegates), where all the people serving RCA congregations (not RCA churches, lets be clear about this up front! RCA churches is redundant…RCA congregations isn’t…) come together to discuss the matters of polity, policy, theology and other such issues that are facing their various churches, both little, small and everything in between. Over the course of this time, issues are brought before the Classes (the plural of Classis, which are the RCA equivalent of the Presbyterian Presbytery – a gathering of ordained ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and Lay Elders) from all over the US (wherever RCA congregations have been planted and have gathered together and organized as Classes). In order to make changes to the Polity and Policy of the RCA, there must be a 2/3 vote of all Classes present (which is much harder than it seems – 66.666666% repeating is much harder to gather among Christians than it is to gather among US politicians, you’d be surprised), and various issues to be addressed can range the ordination of women to Gay/Lesbian clergy to dissolving and merging congregations to individual congregations leaving the RCA to join another denomination (which means their leaving the property & endowment with the RCA). All this stuff happens over the course of a week and then some, and sometimes civilly, and other times not so much. For example, at the 2013 GS, 2/3 vote was gathered to remove the “Conscience Clause” from the Book of Church Order; the Conscience Clause is what allowed individual churches to decide whether it was in their conscience to call a woman to the pulpit, even though the RCA has allowed the ordination of women since 1979 (in other words, in actuality, the RCA has really only ordained women for the last 11 months). It took 34 years to equally ordain women, or to hold women in equal stead as men in the RCA, and to get 2/3 vote to say so.
I am not a big fan of conflict, and frankly, I run in the opposite direction from it, and perhaps GS represents a lack of progress, a lack of desire for progress much in the same way that a dog doesn’t wish to go back inside after a great walk to the dog park, or a desire to argue for argument’s sake. Perhaps it represents a lack of true Christian community, or a shortsighted vision of the Gospel – one that isn’t able to read the Red Letters of Christ in a new and progressive way (a 21st century way that includes more people, but rather a way that excludes and harms).
I am both fearful of a week in Pella, Iowa and excited. I am fearful of what I will see, the people I will meet and the surroundings I will be a part of. I am not afraid of conservativism, as even at PTS, I have been impacted by such a church, by such at times hate and close-mindedness, and by such a lack of progress. Conservativism doesn’t frighten me, a church that doesn’t want me because I am a woman doesn’t frighten me, because God has called me just as much as a man, and calls come not from a church but from the One who has created the church in the beginning. What I am most afraid of is a fear of progress and a fear of growth – I see potential for my church, the church that has nurtured my faith, and has nurtured me. I see growth and a future for it, but it needs to see the same for itself, and for all its members – the arms, legs, eyes, feet, toes, noses, ears and everything in between. A church is not a church if it doesn’t see progress as something of a necessity, and an imperative for right here and right now. Perfect agreement doesn’t have to be reached, but respect and a posture of “we shall agree to disagree because God created you just as perfectly as He created me” must be taken. I fear that such a level of maturity is impossible, especially after living in community with Christians after three years where such a posture of respect was lacking.
I am also excited for GS (not for Pella, Iowa – that’s too much to ask of this city girl…and I’m not sorry) – I’m excited to meet some people that I’ve never encountered before, excited to see what God has in store for those I don’t know about yet, and to see the future of the church I have a lot of stock in and do genuinely care a great deal about.
So long story short, I’m heading to Pella, with more questions than answers, more fears than excitement, and hopefully, I’ll come back with more excitement and answers than questions and fear.