Pictured above: My view from table #48 at General Synod 2013. I was blessed to sit at a fantastic table! I had the opportunity to sit with four ministers of word and sacrament who were sharp-minded, gentle-spirited, and passionate about the future of the denomination.
Yesterday evening I returned home after spending several days in Pella, Iowa at the General Synod meeting of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). For those of you who are not part of the RCA, the General Synod is our highest governing body. It is not higher in terms of power, but higher in terms of broadness of geographical representation. This year’s meeting marked the 207th gathering of the General Synod of the RCA, and the agenda was filled to the brim with items that could easily lead to heated and divisive discussion.
In this first post after General Synod (and I’m certain more will follow), I want to say that, as a whole, I found the climate of the gathering to be mostly encouraging. Of course there were moments of tension, moments where I am sure people wanted to throw something (or at the very least turn off the microphone of someone speaking a bit over-zealously about a hot topic), and moments of deep sorrow when brothers and sisters in Christ treated each other in shameful ways. But, our times of business were mostly collegial, mostly painless, and mostly fair (in my estimation, of course). Times of worship were meaningful, and were centered around our unity and commonality in Christ. In our opening worship, we were challenged to remember that Jesus was present among us in all that we would do as we were gathered as a Synod, and I do believe that challenge helped our assembly to think harder about our conduct towards one another.
By way of initial posting, I wanted to share a few photos, two short top/bottom experiences lists, and share a few items that are popping up in my mind like little Midwest thunderstorms.
First, a summary of low lights and highlights (in no particular order).
1. Heat. The fieldhouse where our main plenary sessions were conducted did not have air conditioning. At one point during a particularly muggy plenary session, it was 91.5 degrees and 88% humidity in the room. Suffice it to say, focus was difficult on that particular evening.
2. Shock. Sometimes in the little bubble where I live, I forget how rough the world can be for women ordained to the office of minister. At a few key moments during Synod, I was harshly reminded of that reality. Thankfully 98% of my experiences were affirming and a blessing to me. But that 2% stings sometimes.
3. Sleep. With days packed full of sessions and committee meetings, every moment available for sleep was necessary. Unfortunately, my body has forgotten what it is like to sleep on an extra firm college dorm mattress. Let’s just say I slept 10 hours last night, and it will take a few more such days before I’m back to normal.
4. Home. This General Synod was the first time I was away from either of my kids for more than one night. I thought about them a lot, and even though I knew they were having so much fun with my husband and my parents, I missed them a ton.
5. Goodbyes. I got to see some wonderful people I have not seen in years – some in almost a decade. I was so thankful to see these people, and to meet in person some who have been tremendous sources of encouragement to me, that it was bittersweet as we said goodbye. I’m so glad we had the time we did at General Synod, and I hope it won’t be quite so long before we see each other again! I had so much fun (especially in moments like the one below with my friend Trazy) that goodbye wasn’t an easy thing to say.
1. Women’s dinner. One of the evening meals was held in a conference room, and it was for any women who were present at the General Synod. It was a wonderful time of encouragement, fellowship, and affirmation as we reconnected both with women we already knew and with women we were meeting for the first time.
2. Advisory committee. I took part in one (out of 20) advisory committees tasked with discerning God’s leading for the Reformed Church in America for the next fifteen years of ministry. My advisory committee session was fantastic as we processed together the document “Transformed and Transforming” and considered what it might mean for the future of our life together in the denomination.
3. Leadership Rising workshop. This workshop was amazing. Claudette Reid was an amazing teacher and facilitator as she challenged us to think about ways we can empower women in our congregations to be the kinds of leaders God has called them to be. My favorite part of the workshop, though, was hearing from a man who deeply believes women can be called into positions of leadership. This man has such a wonderful heart, and I’m praying that he will continue to be the empowering and encouraging person he feels led to be.
4. Wal-Mart. I intend to write about this in another blog post. By way of summary: me, a dear friend, 2.6 miles of walking in bad shoes over rocky roads, carrying large quantities of fruit. Doesn’t sound pleasant? Maybe not what we had in mind, but it was a bonding experience I won’t forget.
5. Affirmation. I heard some words that were so encouraging, so affirming, and so life-giving, that they might propel me for the next decade of ministry. Connecting with such grace-filled, amazing people who turned and said amazingly beautiful and humbling things about me was a gift.
6. World Vision Kit Build. We put together 500 backpacks with school supplies for kids in Newton, Iowa who may not be able to afford the school supplies they need. We also put together 500 Promise Packs filled with personal care items for children in Nicaragua.
Each backpack also included a hand-written note from the person who packed it. It was only an hour of our time, but it touched me in a big way. If you are interested in more information about the Kit Build, or if you might be interested in hosting a Kit Build in your own area, check out this story on the RCA page.
7. Worship. We got to worship together in a variety of places and in a variety of ways. On Sunday, I attended First Reformed Church and heard Rev. Dr. Tim Brown preach on the raising of Lazarus.
Closing worship was in a tall, airy space. I loved the simplicity of it, and the sound reverberated around the room, perhaps like how worship may sound in heaven.
And though it wasn’t an organized worship service, walks near beautiful things like this garden and pond in the center of campus created a space for me to worship.
1. It is time for me to engage in some intentional, missional listening in my community. I’m not sure what the fruit of that will be, but I suspect it will be an eye-opening process.
2. Some of the painful moments I referenced earlier have given rise to some self-reflection. I am realizing more and more that I am no longer the insecure, teenage girl I remember being. I am a much stronger person now. I only need to trust my instinct and speak out more regularly. Easier said than done.
3. I have questions about what the growing closeness of the RCA and the the Christian Reformed Church in North America might mean for the future. I had heard anxiety expressed by many of my colleagues in ministry about a possible combining of ministries in the future, but at General Synod, the word “merger” was used in an “if this happens, we’ll give God the glory” kind of way. While there could be promise (and necessity) behind this kind of language, it also brings a load of uncertainty with it.
4. I had the opportunity to see in two videos shown at General Synod the amazing kinds of ministries two particular churches in my classis have started. At the next opportunity I get, I will be picking the brains of the pastors of these congregations.
5. I was able to bring home a copy of the new hymnal Lift Up Your Hearts. I have got some ideas percolating in my mind involving this new hymnal and the praise team of my church. Some great music will be happening in the future!
As I integrate back into real life and ministry, I will share more as I continue unpacking my General Synod experience. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to attend, and it will be interesting to see what God may do both in my own life and ministry and in the wider RCA through this experience.