URCNA Classis Western Canada: Many overtures and much advice

When Classis Western Canada of the URCNA met on October 13 & 14, 2011, at Emmanuel Reformed Church of Neerlandia, AB, most overtures on the agenda related to a federational songbook. Others proposed regional synods and sermons on the URCNA website. Classis also handled multiple matters of advice to the churches.

Emmanuel’s Rev. Ralph Pontier chaired the meeting. Rev. Gary Zekveld of the Orthodox Reformed Church of New Westminster, BC, served as vice chair. Classis Stated Clerk is Rev. William Van der Woerd of Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie, AB. According to Classis rules, the convening consistory appoints the chair while the assembled body elects the vice chair.

Four of the songbook-related overtures on the agenda suggested changes to the Hymn Proposal (HP). Two came from Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, BC. The first proposed removing a list of songs; the second requested retaining original wording in a few songs. Both overtures were adopted without any amendments.

Another songbook overture originated in Orthodox Reformed Church of Edmonton, AB. Classis adopted it after deleting two of its 16 suggestions. The overture recommended multiple removals, two replacements, and one verse addition. Each suggestion included the rationale behind it.

Thunder Bay URC of Thunder Bay, ON, submitted the fourth overture for the Songbook Committee. It suggested retaining gender specific language in selected songs and recommended for addition a list of hymns from the Psalter Hymnal. Delegates adopted it with a very minor amendment.

As mandated by Synod London 2010, these four overtures suggesting changes in the HP have been sent to the Songbook Committee. Two related overtures from Trinity Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, were addressed to Synod 2012 since they dealt with the work and mandate of the Songbook Committee rather than the content of the HP.

The first overture asked that the Songbook Committee be directed to “significantly modify and restrict its approach to the implementation of a new songbook and consider ways by which there may be the least amount of unrest and concern preceding and subsequent to the implementation of a new song book.” The organization of that overture was amended by moving six grounds listing specific examples into the body of the overture.

The six areas of concern are gender-neutral language, discontinued use of “Jehovah,” wording changes that appear “unnecessary or trivial,” numerous changes will hamper singing for those who have memorized songs over many years, an apparent “arbitrariness or inconsistency” indicating a possible basis of “preference rather than…principle,” and a lack of “track record” for some proposed songs.

“Among the delegates there appeared to be considerable agreement and unity in discussing the content of this overture,” Rev. Van der Woerd writes, “and when it came to the vote it passed unanimously and without dissent.”

The second overture from Lethbridge asked Synod 2012 to instruct the Songbook Committee to proceed toward publication of a songbook for URCNA use “without further delay,” to develop it based primarily on the 1976 Psalter Hymnal, to include approved liturgical forms and the URCNA Church Order, to minimize wording and music changes, and to utilize a transition process similar to the CRC’s introduction of the blue Psalter Hymnal.

This overture also was adopted unanimously and without dissent. Rev. Van der Woerd later wrote, “…it was clear that the concerns addressed by the overtures are concerns which are shared throughout the classis.”

Both overtures will come before Synod Pompton Plains in 2012.

Rev. Ralph Pontier reflected, “Although I am opposed to the gender changes in the proposed hymns, I am somewhat distressed by the amount of passion which the proposed hymnal has generated with regard to favorite songs from the blue Psalter Hymnal being dropped or modernized in ways other than gender changes.” 

“The reason I like certain hymns is because I’ve grown up with them and I’m used to them, which amounts to a matter of personal taste and is not a sufficient reason to oppose change,” he continues. “Philippians 2:3-4 says, ‘but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ I think that means I should be willing to forego my favorites and be willing to learn other people’s favorites for the sake of the peace and unity of the church (provided, of course, that all such songs are scripturally sound and appropriate for congregational singing).”

Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, BC, presented an overture requesting the establishment of regional synods for pre-advice prior to general synods. That overture was defeated.

Another Abbotsford overture asked that a collection of two reading sermons per URCNA minister be posted securely on the URCNA website. That overture, amended to include “appropriate songs,” was adopted.

Classis addressed a few matters of advice in general session. One question dealt with the matter of Christian liberty in regard to a church policy prohibiting its minister from officiating at weddings if the reception included dancing.

Another church requested advice regarding the membership of an ordained man. Having lost his charge in a non-Reformed denomination after embracing the Reformed faith, he has expressed his desire to minister in a Reformed church.

One consistory sought advice about procedure for admitting visitors to the Lord’s Table.

“All these churches showed that they are wrestling with how to apply the principles of the Reformed faith and church polity to real life situations,” says Rev. Pontier. “All desire to be faithful to our Reformed faith, but struggle with the reality that good men do not always agree on how the faith is to be applied.”

“We also gave informal advice to one consistory which is considering appealing a decision of Synod London 2010,” he continued. “They had appealed to Classis to appeal the decision of Synod. They were reminded that, according to the Regulations for Synodical Procedure, only consistories and individuals may appeal a decision, and…in the case of an appeal of a synodical decision, to the next synod. Because of this, Classis did not adjudicate the appeal, but a discussion was allowed in which the delegates expressed their opinions regarding the wisdom of the appeal. The consistory has until the March 2012 synodical deadline to decide whether to proceed….”

Discipline issues were discussed among the delegates privately in executive session.

“The clerk notes with sadness that this year classis dealt with a higher number of instances where consistories were seeking the advice of classis as they sought to move toward the exclusion of baptized members,” wrote Rev. Van der Woerd. “This step of discipline is usually requested when an adult who has not made profession of faith shows little or no interest in the church and lives a worldly lifestyle.”

“On a positive note,” he adds, “one delegate shared with the classis his consistory’s joy that where they had sought similar advice at a previous classis, they now saw the fruits of discipline and reported that repentance had become evident and lifestyle changes took place….”

Rev. Pontier relates that a highlight for local residents as well as delegates to Classis Western Canada was a presentation by Rev. Allen Vander Pol.

“Classis was privileged to end its Thursday session with a 40 minutes presentation, including pictures and a time for questions, from missionary Rev. Allen Vander Pol who works with the Miami International Seminary (MINTS), educating Reformed pastors in India, the Philippines and other areas of southeast Asia. Many visitors joined classis for the presentation since the time had been advertised in advance in several local bulletins.”

Classis concluded work by noon on Friday. As the next convening consistory, the Orthodox Reformed Church of New Westminster, BC, will determine if that will become necessary in March or wait until October of 2012.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-11 of the November 16, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.

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