The 2nd synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) convened on Tuesday, October 21, 1997 at 1:30 p.m. at the Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. Delegates from 57 churches were present as well as fraternal observers and many visitors. Although the majority of discussions and decisions at this Synod was related to church order concerns, there was an ecumenical pulse throughout. Beginning Wednesday morning and at various times throughout the remainder of the meeting, fraternal observers from other denominations brought greetings and words of encouragement. Greetings were received from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Canadian Reformed Church, the Free Reformed Church, the Reformed Church in the United States, the Protestant Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church of Myanmar, the Independent Reformed Church of Mexico, and the Alliance of Reformed Churches.
The General Assembly of the OPC, at their meeting in June of this year had extended an invitation to the United Reformed Churches to enter into “Corresponding Relations” with them (a first step toward full “Ecclesiastical Fellowship”). Synod enthusiastically voted to accept the invitation and a study committee was appointed to investigate ecclesiastical unity with the OPC. This committee was asked to study the OPC confessional standards, form of church government, Book of Discipline and Directory of Worship with regard to similarities and differences between them and the Church Order and confessional standards of the URCNA.
Furthermore, the delegates joyfully received news that the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC), which had met in Seoul, Korea the previous week, had accepted the URCNA into full membership.
The largest number of overtures sent to Synod requested changes to the Church Order. The delegates approved about twenty-five such changes including the addition of two new articles. However, many of these were merely editorial changes for consistency or clarity. Some editorial changes were also made to the Church Order appendices. A revised statement on ecumenical activities among local churches was also approved. It now reads: “Churches are encouraged to pursue ecumenical relations with Reformed congregations outside of the federation which manifest the marks of the true church and demonstrate faithful allegiance to Scripture as summarized in the Three Forms of Unity. Each church is to give an account of its ecumenical activities to classis. Fraternal activities between congregations which need not be reported to classis may include occasional pulpit exchanges and table fellowship, as well as other means of manifesting unity.” An extension of the deadline for new churches to join without sponsorship or examination of their minister(s) was granted to two southern California churches: Escondido CRC and First Chino CRC. A provision was also granted that any church which joins the URC which has an ordained evangelist may allow that evangelist to continue in office within that local congregation even though the URC Church Order does not recognize a separate office for evangelists.
Several churches indicated that they are or soon will be in need of good, Reformed hymnals. Synod appointed a committee to explore what is required to produce, reproduce or obtain a Psalter Hymnal.
All the churcnes of the federation, now numbering 62, were divided into six new classes. These are: Western Canada, Southwest US, Central US, Michigan, Eastern US and Southern Ontario.
Cornerstone URC of Hudsonville, Michigan will be the convening church for the next synod which is scheduled to begin June 15, 1999.
The delegates demonstrated a deep respect for each other when differing opinions were raised, and there was a true sense of unity in the faith throughout the meeting. In their prayers the delegates repeatedly gave thanks to the Lord for His kindness to the URCNA as congregations and federation, and with hopeful anticipation they look: forward to continued blessings from His hand.
Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen is pastor of Bethel United Reformed Church (URC) in Jenison, Ml.