The Regional Synod of Mid-America Annual Session met May 3, 2016. Minutes of that session are available HERE. At that annual session, the Synod Assembly voted to provisionally approve the formation of The New Thing Classis.
Glenn Sterrett leads us in devotions.
Past President Jimmie Stevenson is honored for his service.
New Thing Classis discussions.
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The report of the RCA’s special council on human sexuality, which met in Chicago April 15–18, is now available. The council was tasked with describing a constitutional pathway forward for the RCA regarding questions of human sexuality and ordination and marriage. Throughout four days of discernment, the 74 participants spent time in worship, prayer, and small group discussion. This summary report from the special council was prepared by the Group of Five, who were appointed by General Synod 2015 to prepare and moderate the meeting and to inform the church of the results. The Group of Five is made up of five past presidents of the RCA’s General Synod, chosen for their wisdom and history of leadership in the denomination: Brad Lewis, Carol Mutch, Irving Rivera, Chuck Van Engen, and Tony Vis. The report includes four “recommended actions” of General Synod. These actions “emerged as the conceptual framework for further deliberation by the General Synod 2016,” the report says. “In the weeks to come, the Group of Five will put these recommended actions into an appropriate General Synod format,” it says. Those recommended actions, in their final form, will be included in the final special council report presented to General Synod; that report will be made publicly available when it is complete. General Synod 2016 will be held June 9–14 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois.
News from Camp Manitoqua
Save the Date for Camp Manitoqua & Retreat Center’s Spring into Summer Festivities, June 4. Enjoy an early start to the event with the 12,000’ Run – a family friendly obstacle course. Stay for swimming, food, jumpies, kids activities and a chance to meet the 2016 Summer Staff. This is an ideal chance for you to visit our grounds and enjoy some relaxing time with your family. More information available at manitoqua.org/springintosummer.
Blood Drive – June 4, 11am – 2pm. We will be partnering with Heartland Blood Center to host a blood drive on their mobile coach. Free gift card to Baskin Robbins for donating! To sign up for a time slot, please call Leah Meskis at 815.469.2319. Walk-ins are welcome also!
Renewal. Reprieve. Retreat. Come to Camp Manitoqua & Retreat Center for your next retreat. Whether the event is for women, men or youth, we have a variety of day and overnight facilities and programs to accommodate your needs. From paintball, ropes course, food service and amenities, we can work with your group to build a memorable experience. Ask about the RCA discount available upon inquiry. Contact Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815.469.2319.
STORIES OF CELEBRATION
We share stories of celebration to glorify God. We hope these stories inspire and encourage others in our region. This month’s story comes from Pastor Rob Ford – First Reformed Church of Friesland, WI
Since I was in high school I’ve been going on mission trips. Getting out of your immediate area with a group of people has a way of forcing you to grow…but only if you are willing.
When I arrived at 1st Reformed Friesland the church had been on a few mission trips but it was not something on the regular annual schedule. Right after I arrived we combined with 1st Reformed Randolph and took a busload down to New Orleans, LA to do hurricane relief work. A year or two later when I learned of the tornado that wiped out most of the town of Parkersburg, IA, which was part of the classis I ministered in before coming to Wisconsin, we took a few people down for a few days to do construction. When you witness destruction in person it has a deeper effect on you than just seeing photos or a video. When you can be a part of the renewal of life for just one family it is also life changing…if you let it.
I began to learn when there were personal connections to the area targeted to serve that is was easier to promote participation. I also learned that while I desired an annual trip cycle to begin in my church, I didn’t have the time to do all the administrative things that need to happen for a successful trip (months of planning, picking a date, picking a location, getting people signed up, estimating costs for travel, food, lodging, building supplies, coordinating people’s abilities with proposed projects, ect.).
So instead of trying to do it all myself I made a bold request of my home church Grace Church in Lansing, IL. I knew they had been going to Mexico for several years and had established Grace Beyond Borders, a whole separate non-profit within the church to facilitate their growing ministry. I asked them if we could partner with them and join in their annual trip. Quickly they said, “YES!” So…as I promoted the trip to our church I had 12-15 people show up for the meeting. I was pumped up!
Unfortunately over the next weeks the pressure of schedules and challenge of personal finances dominated leaving the preacher as the only one willing and able to go. I was conflicted about whether I should just drop it or go with the Grace group all by myself. My Consistory was in support of me going and so off I went to Reynosa, Mexico and Mission, TX for a week of mission work. We had a great week. I came back and showed the pictures and told my stories of what God had done. That was January of 2010.
In the next years I’ve had one regular guy join me every year with as many as four others coming along. Most of the administration is done by the GBB board, with a little bit my me. Just one part of the GBB mission trip is taking Christmas gifts down to children in several churches in Mexico and Texas. GBB has built relationships with pastors and churches over the last 15 years which grow every year as we visit. Three years ago GBB ask me if our church would be willing to do gifts for children as well. The quick answer was: of course we would. This past trip in January of 2016 each of our churches had 80 kids to buy gifts for. Yes it is work for the GBB team to send someone down to take pictures of 160 kids and get their gift request. Yes it is work to print up individual request cards for the kids. Yes it is work for our families to purchase gifts. Yes it is work to get those gifts transported down south. And yes it is all worth it to worship with the churches and present the Gospel to the children and their families before giving them a gift from a person in Wisconsin or Illinois or Indiana who loves Jesus and is praying for them all year long. And worshipping and gift distribution is just our Sunday activity at the beginning of the trip. The last three years we spent most of our week building a house for a family in Texas. We got to know them and we are not just sisters and brothers in Christ, we are considered family to them. Relationships matter.
This trip is one of the highlights of my year because I get to witness God work in special ways. Without fail, every year we encounter joyful Christians in Mexico and Texas who have little to nothing in terms of this world; but are extremely wealthy when it comes to their spiritual portfolios. No matter how many pictures or stories are told back home after the trip, the experience cannot be adequately communicated. I always pray for more people to take the time to experience what God can do we one risks going away for a mission trip. I can’t wait for January of 2017 to come!
LINKS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL
How Can Clergy Achieve Positive Mental Health? – A new study of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina has found that certain conditions correspond to both a lower likelihood of depression and anxiety and to higher levels of positive mental health. By promoting these, churches can help their clergy thrive.
Put Down the Church Attendance Scorecard – Certainly most leaders have honorable motives and take their responsibilities seriously; they want to see those in their care moving toward spiritual maturity. If their words come off harsh, implying a lackluster attendance record reflects a gap in character or commitment, pastors may simply need a little coaching in the art of gracious communication—or a frank reminder that spotty church attendance isn’t always the result of lazy Sunday mornings or loose affiliations. Faithful people still get tied down by chronic illness, caregiving responsibilities, or shift work. Perfect attendance is not a reliable metric of one’s fidelity to Jesus.
Disciplism – we need to reframe evangelism within the context of discipleship rather than the other way around. This is what it means to put evangelism back where it really belongs, as part the Great Commission given to the church to make disciples of the nations. If we fail to practice discipleship from the get go, then as experience has taught us, discipleship as a lifelong pursuit of becoming more like Jesus, simply drops off the agenda. Instead we now become the preachy Bible pushers and guerilla evangelists that everyone seeks to avoid. Discipleship (as the famous Engels Scale indicates) starts way before people are fully converted or born again.
How A Texas Church Drove Out the Predatory Loan Industry – Payday lenders have been having a tough time in Garland, Texas. Their storefronts have closed, their gaudy signs spray-painted over in black. In recent months, about a third have left the city of 230,000, situated 18 miles northeast of Dallas. Nobody could be more delighted at their demise than Keith Stewart, senior pastor of Springcreek, Garland’s largest church. Springcreek will not tolerate what Stewart calls the “predatory loan business.” Stewart estimates something like a third of his congregation of 1,700 have been put through the wringer after they (or their family members) secured loans with interest rates easily within the range of 200 to 500 percent.
Vulnerability: A Forgotten Virtue of Great Leadership – Deciding to become vulnerable is risky. As church leaders, there will be people in our congregations who don’t want us to be human. They would prefer that we wear a halo and pretend that we’re never really tempted to sin in the same ways that they are. They feel safer if we, as spiritual leaders, are immune to the crass realities of life. But when we hide our weaknesses, three big problems arise