The general secretaries of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) gave their final reports June 19 as the day-old World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) took flight.
Richard van Houten, who is retiring after 21 years as REC general secretary, and Setri Nyomi, WARC’s general secretary who will continue as the head of WCRC, mixed accounts of their organizations' progress since their last meeting with an optimistic look to the future of WCRC, which unites 80 million Reformed Christians worldwide.
The historic emphases REC brings to the union are biblical and confessional integrity, Reformed piety, mutual care and a commitment to social justice based on biblical principles, van Houten said. He urged WCRC delegates to maintain those emphases by continuing "personal ministry visits" to member churches, efforts to overcome racial and ethnic discrimination and youth ministry.
Nyomi said if he were asked 10 years ago when he became WARC general secretary if WARC and REC would ever unite, his answer would have been "impossible!"
Quoting Matt. 19:26, Nyomi said, "Today the God who makes all things possible, and who has brought together two Reformed bodies, calls us to a new level of embracing an impossible future ... But we can dare to move forward together because with God all things are possible."
Nyomi outlined WARC’s seven "core callings" that will continue to guide WCRC: economic and environmental justice; spiritual and worship renewal; ecumenical unity; contemporary understandings of the Reformed tradition; mission unity, renewal and empowerment; inclusivity and partnership; and enabling churches to witness for justice and peace.
Delegates also heard from the outgoing REC and WARC presidents. WARC's Clifton Kirkpatrick — former General Assembly stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — acknowledged "there have been struggles along the way … Throughout the Global North our movement is in decline numerically and financially, and far too many of our congregations are living on the edge of survival."
But in his six years as president, Kirkpatrick said he has seen great strengths of the Reformed tradition: last year's John Calvin quincentennial, the engagement of churches in the struggle for justice, the growing inclusion and influence of women in church leadership, growing ecumenical engagement and the vitality of many churches.
REC's Peter Borgdorff also alluded to the struggles his organization has faced. For example, he acknowledged that his organization "erred" in 2005 when it admitted an all-white South African church — which was under suspension by WARC for refusing to renounce apartheid — "based on a promise for changed behavior rather than on evidence that such changed behavior had actually been demonstrated."
Noting REC's agreement that WARC's suspension "remain in force" through WCRC, Bergdorff said, "As members of the WCRC, we speak with singular voice and with heart-felt commitment to stand for what is right and true, just and obedient, biblical and Reformed."
Kirkpatrick said the union achieved Friday "is due to the peerless devotion to unity of our respective leaders, Setri Nyomi and Richard van Houten."
Jerry Van Marter is serving as English-language reporter for the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, June 18-26. For complete coverage of the meeting, visit the website.