The president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), Jerry Pillay has commended South Africa’s Reformed churches, saying, “We give thanks to God for the progress made by churches of the Reformed family in overcoming major hurdles on the path to unity in the last two years.”
Pillay praised the leaders of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and the Dutch Reformed Church for their commitment to the vision and the hard work it takes to respond to God’s gift and calling for unity.
Pillay was speaking at the end of the Sept. 29-Oct. 2 visit to South Africa by the WCRC South Africa Task Team. The team led by Pillay also included WCRC General Secretary Setri Nyomi, as well as Sabine Dressler of The Reformed Alliance in Germany and Oscar McCloud of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The team met with the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA), the Dutch Reformed Church (NGKA), the Reformed Church in Africa (RCA) and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRC). These four churches have been engaged in reunification talks for more than a decade.
The team felt encouraged about what they heard from the four churches. The major challenges that created mistrust and stalled the process for a long time seem to be dissipating.
The South African churches informed the visiting team that the URCSA and DRC had signed a memorandum of agreement in April 2013 which outlines clearly the way forward and takes full account of the Belhar Confession’s emphasis on restorative justice and reconciliation.
The leaders of both churches acknowledged the work of mediation carried out by Pillay over the last four years as cardinal for the breakthroughs that have been achieved.
In the presence of the WCRC task team, URCSA and DRC reassured RCA and DRCA representatives of their commitment to journey together with them in a spirit of respect and sensitivity so that once their governing bodies confirm that they can be on the way towards reunification, the process will be healthy for all four churches.
Commenting on the meetings, WCRC team member Dressler said, “Although there are still some points of challenge and difficulty between URCSA and the DRC, I am encouraged by their enthusiasm in the decision to go ahead with unification. The attitude expressed by the leaders makes a difference.”
The Task team also held discussions with the leadership of the Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk van Afrika (NHKA), a church that remains suspended from the WCRC.
NHKA Moderator Wim Dreyer welcomed the team warmly and informed it of recent decisions that the NHKA has made. It was very clear that although the church has been through many painful challenges including the departure of about 13 congregations from the denomination, the NHKA has taken most of the key decisions needed to open the doors towards its readmission to the WCRC.
The decision to readmit the NHKA can only be taken by the Executive Committee of the WCRC.
According to McCloud, “The NHKA has come a long way, and they are struggling with pain in the process of doing the right thing. On condition that they continue on this path, a recommendation for their readmission into the WCRC would be helpful.”
Nyomi described both processes that the team engaged in while visiting South Africa as signs of the movement of the Holy Spirit. He said, “We will continue to journey with our sisters and brothers in South Africa as they move closer and closer towards being the post-apartheid church God has called them to be in South Africa today, proclaiming the Gospel faithfully and providing exemplary leadership in the quest for Christian unity and commitment to justice for all.”
The meetings made clear that the WCRC and its South Africa member churches are committed to journeying together for Christian unity, for overcoming the legacies of apartheid and for actions that usher in justice for all. They all made fresh commitment to continue in prayer for one another.
The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) represents 80 million Christians in 108 countries. Through WCRC, member churches engage in ecumenical dialogue, promotion of church unity, theological study and worldwide initiatives supporting climate, economic and gender justice and church mission.