Tuesday, October 7, 2008

PASTORAL LETTER URCSA GENERAL SYNOD 2008

PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE FIFTH GENERAL SYNOD OF URCSA TO THE CONGREGATIONS OF URCSA IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

Dear Sisters and brothers

We greet you in the Name of our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who gathers, protects and cares for his Church by his Word and his Spirit, as He has done since the beginning of the world and will do so to the end.
One hundred and eighty-five delegates from all the regional Synods and presbyteries in South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia met at Prestige College near Hammanskraal. The theme for this fifth General Synod was: “Unity in diversity.” Our Moderator, Prof. Thias Kgatla in the opening service reminded us from 1 Cor 12 that we as a church is the body of Christ and that in Christ body there is unity in diversity. We as members of the body of Christ are diverse but our diversity is necessary to serve one another in order that the body can be one. All of us are important in the church. No one should ever feel inferior. God has given every member of his church a gift to serve the rest of the body. We had the privilege that Prof. Daan Cloete led us every morning in Bible study to expound this theme according to the gospel of John. Congregations will soon be able to buy this bible studies in book form so that all may reflect together on this important issue.
The delegates represented the diversity of URCSA members. Young and old, male and female, people with a range of educational background, from different economical backgrounds, different language groups and representing different race groups met as one in Christ.
Together we asked God to guide us to give answers to the challenges facing the congregations in Southern Africa.
We would like to share with you the important issues that we had to deal with.
Church unity within the DRC family was on our table. We had to take a difficult decision regarding our unity with the DRC. Over the past years we were covenanting with the DRC to unite and many meetings were held to find a way forward. The decisions of Achterberg on how we should proceed with unity were given to the congregations of both churches for their comments. We took note with sadness that in the DRC congregations responded negatively towards the acceptance of the Belhar Confession in a new church and their understanding of a church unification model of a Joint General synod is not acceptable to us. We have always maintained that church unity should be an organic model in which we are one church. It was in the light of the DRC decisions that we felt that their decisions has placed an unbearable burden on the integrity of the church and brings into question our deepest held convictions on the call of the Gospel with regards to the unity of the church and our faith as expressed in the Confession of Belhar.
We therefore decided to put a moratorium on the re-unification talks between the URCSA and DRC on a national level until the DRC is serious committed and ready for unity talks, but we also decided that we will invite the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to come and facilitate the process of re-unification between URCSA and DRC.
Because we are serious about unity we did not close the door to congregations and members of the DRC who eagerly wants to unite with URCSA. Regional Synods, presbyteries and congregations are still encouraged to continue with the existing efforts towards unification that are done in faith and with integrity, in obedience to the call of Christ and on the basis of the acceptance of the Confession of Belhar so that these efforts can remain as signs of hope, reconciliation and love to the fulfilment of justice, the edification and witness of the church and the glory of God.
We will also arrange for a public occasions where members and ministers of the DRC and the rest of the DRC can publicly support, identify with and undersign the confession of Belhar. We propose this as a way to continue meaningful progress with regard to church unification as URCSA understand it. This will open new possibilities for our walking this road together.
We also approved the memorandum of understanding between URCSA and the DRCA in which we will try and find a way out of the deadlock of court cases.
Internal unity
We as a synod took time to reflect on our internal unity and in the light of the positive experience we had when we openly talked about what is happening within URCSA, the synod decided that it will appoint a task team to provide the church with a strategic plan regarding the process of internal unity that will include clear guidelines to all levels of the church (from congregations to Synods) as well as ministries. It is our prayer that the delegates to this synod will bring back to congregations, presbyteries and regional synods the knowledge and experience that they have gained in this regard.
Scales of Remuneration
The General Synod approved the remunerations scale as presented and further decided to mandate the permanent SMFA to draw up formula/guideline on the scale. Congregations are encouraged to remunerate ministers not below the recommended scales.
Greetings from overseas churches
Meeting at Hammanskraal we had the privilege that delegates from churches in Europe and America attended and brought greetings. Amongst our guests were: Rev Marc Loos of the United Protestant Church in Belgium; Prof James Seawood from the Reformed Church in America; Rev Dietmar Arends from the Evangelical Reformed Church in Germany; Dr Gerard Dykstra, Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and Dr Bas Plaisier of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. All our guests came to tell how they accepted Belhar and how Belhar is guiding them in their situations. This brings the question: Why is the DRC reluctant to accept Belhar while other churches praise Belhar?
Challenges for URCSA.
We invited speakers to help us reflect on important challenges we are facing. Rev Basil Manning addressed us on racism and what we should do. He gave us the OUMA way. Take Ownership of racism; Understand what we mean by racism and how it is functioning in our church; Motivation - The command to love should motivate us; and Action. What is it what we should do?
Dr Johan Burger addressed us on crime and challenged us to make a difference. Bongiwe Dumezweni-Ntakumba helped us to understand the importance of leadership in the church and rev Averell Rust directed us how we should respond to economic justice. Our delegates have been given handouts on these topics that we urge them to use in the local congregations and presbyteries.
Theological training
This year we celebrate centenary of theological training for black ministers and evangelists. Prof Kritzinger has helped us to reflect on the past 100 years of theological training but also to look forward. Delegates will be bringing with them a booklet in this regard that can help congregations to reflect. The synod approved that besides theological training at Stellenbosch and Pretoria, a ministerial formation centre can be established in Bloemfontein at the University of the Free State.

Homosexuality
The synod tabled this important issue with a report by a task team led by Dr Alan Boesak. A Thorough debate took place and in the end he synod decided to re-affirm its decisions of Pietermaritzburg (2005). As a church we acknowledge the diversity of positions regarding homosexuality and plead that differences be dealt with in a spirit of love, patience, tolerance and respect. We again confirm that homosexual people are members of the church through the faith in Jesus Christ. We again rejected homophobia and any form of discrimination against homosexual persons. We appeal to URCSA members to reach out with love and empathy to our homosexual brothers and sisters and embrace them as members of the body of Christ in our midst.
The synod also decided: to refer the report and its recommendations to the Regional Synods, Presbyteries and local congregations for discussion. Please make sure you read the report and discuss it.
Yearbook
The General Synod urges congregations, Presbyteries and Regional Synods to send the correct information between 1st August and 31st September every year for publication in the Yearbook.
General Secretary for URCSA
The synod in principle approved that such a position be created to help the church in its daily operations.

We greet you in the precious name of Christ our Lord! Celebrate the unity in diversity!!!!

The executive is also representing the regions AND FOR THE FIRST TIME A LADY ON THE EXECUTIVE!!!! We are proud that the executive also represent unity in diversity.
Moderator:Prof ST Kgatla (Northern)
Assesor: Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies - van Huffel(Cape)
Scribe: Dr Dawid Kuyler (Free State and Lesotho)
Actuarius: Rev Godfrey Betha(Phororo)
Rev Reggie Nel (Southern Transvaal)
Rev MP Moloi (KZN)
Dr Henry Platt (Namibia)
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