On the evening of Sunday, June 1, I was landing in San Francisco on the way home from a three-week choir tour in southeast Asia. Less than a day later and only a few hundred miles away, pastors and elders from each congregation in the United Reformed Churches in North America would be gathering at Trinity URC in Visalia, CA, for the federation’s ninth synod meeting.
If it weren’t for the jetlag and the pressing need to spend some quality time with my family after a year away at college, I would have loved to hitch a ride down to Visalia and be a fly on the wall at the meeting. Although Synod 2014 adjourned a day ahead of schedule, it included many significant—even historic—decisions by our federation of churches. Under the adage “Better late than never,” I’ll attempt to summarize here some of the synod’s most important decisions.
Our first Director of Missions
The URCNA entered a new stage in its growth with the hiring of Rev. Richard Bout as the federation’s Director of Missions on June 5. Not only is this a huge step in solidifying our mission efforts, but Rev. Bout will be the first full-time employee of our federation. A former missionary to Mexico, Rev. Bout will probably carry out his new job from his home in southern Ontario.
Looking ahead to retirement
Synod 2014 moved forward in ensuring that retiring ministers are adequately provided for by the churches that hold their credentials. Action was taken to remind the congregations of the URCNA of their duty to provide for the needs of retired pastors who have spent a lifetime in Christ’s service. This, too, shows that the URCNA’s long-term outlook is broadening.
Careful steps toward unity
Talks about the United Reformed Churches in North America merging with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanRC) have been going on since 2001, and although prospects still remain promising, Synod 2014 tabled (postponed indefinitely) a motion for the merger process to begin in 2016. Most URCNA members seem to favor taking at least a little more time to work out remaining kinks in doctrine and practice between the two groups of churches.
On another front, the URCNA’s fellowship with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is growing ever closer. The OPC is one of only five denominations with which the URCNA maintains “Phase Two” ecumenical relations, signifying that we consider them a true and faithful branch of Christ’s church and desire to pursue further unity with them. In fact, Synod 2014 extended an invitation to the OPC to hold our next synod in 2016 concurrently with their General Assembly. This serves many purposes, but one of the main reasons for a joint ecclesiastical assembly brings us to the topic most closely connected to this blog . . .
The new Psalter Hymnal
At Synod 2014 the URCNA unanimously (and the OPC later overwhelmingly) approved the psalm section of the proposed Psalter Hymnal on which our two denominations are collaborating. The vote to move forward shows a recognition of the quantity and the quality of the work that has already been done on the new Psalter Hymnal, and perhaps too a realization that the time has come to finish this project. The committees report that they expect to have a new and revised Hymn Proposal ready for the churches’ review in the spring of 2015, and that the finished collection will be presented to the joint Synod and General Assembly in 2016. Lord willing, the new Psalter Hymnal of the URCNA and OPC could be in our hands by as early as 2017!
Another remarkable feature of Synod 2014: The devotions at the beginning of each session included singing from the Psalm Proposal by all the delegates. Here is a video taken by Rev. Zac Wyse of Westside Reformed Church in Cincinnati of the delegates singing Psalm 1 as it appears in the proposal:[youtube http://youtu.be/EpzJRj7HWHk]
More resources for news and information on Synod 2014:
- Press releases summarizing each day’s decisions and deliberations (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) are available at URCNA.org.
- Christian Renewal’s June 25 issue contains a wealth of reports and commentary on this synod meeting. Their Facebook page also includes some pictures of the gathering.
- The collection of songs approved to form the URCNA/OPC Psalm Proposal is available at PsalterHymnal.org.
May God continue to bless the United Reformed Churches in North America as we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV).