A Report On the 219th General Synod of the ARP Church
These reports on the year’s Synod meetings have become somewhat of a tradition so, being that we are ARP, it would likely not be wise for me to forsake the work of the past. We met as is our usual pattern in the first full week of June, June 6-7 (more on that date range here in a second), at our heavenly camp and conference center, Bonclarken, nestled in the fair mountains of western North Carolina. We are immensely blessed by this facility and the director and all the administrators and workers at Bonclarken (One Fine Place). They along with our wonderful Central Services staff are to be commended and celebrated for their tireless ethic in making Synod run smoothly every year. We are treated as kings. Since I serve as Synod’s Bill Clerk I am blessed to stay on campus (which was a little more difficult this year given the quadrennial World Focus, more on that later as well) and the facilities are just perfect, and we are also blessed with a great cafeteria. On top of these mercies we also have great eateries, like the Flat Rock Bakery, Haus Heidelberg, Hannah Flannagan’s, and the world-famous Denny’s on 4 Seasons Boulevard to fill our bellies and support our fellowship. It pays to be ARP.
It is likely, however, that most of you who are reading this are not overly concerned with our dietary and sleep needs, yet it’s things like that which grant us ARP’s an advantage over our NAPARC brethren. Imagine being forced to endure the downtown warehouse and college gym assemblies when you can eat ice cream at the Back Porch and walk up the hill to the Nibble Nook? But I digress again back into the culinary delights of Synod. Back to the work.
If I was to describe the 219th General Synod of the ARP Church (dating back to 1803) it would be akin to a meteorologist’s false flag reporting of a coming hurricane. There was much fear about what was going to happen, and the Lord blessed us in that none of it did. While we were aware of the flapping monstrosities of an insignificant noisemaker, it had no effect on the work of the men gathered at the YAB or the chapel. We had more important things to do, and our great God gave witness that we had done the right thing as a Synod by the way the sun shined and we got through our work with no negativities and roistering speeches of inanity. There was a calm and balm upon this year’s Synod that we had not had in 50 years. That doesn’t mean we didn’t spend six hours passionately debating a special committee report on female deacons (that’s for Tim, he knows. 😊 ), but the acrimony which could have been part of that discussion was noticeably absent.
Our worship began with a stirring sermon from David Lauten, Associate Pastor of 1st Columbia. The focus of the excellent preaching this week centered on the means of grace, and especially the priority of worship, which is the Moderator’s theme for this year. It is our practice in the ARP to observe the Lord’s Supper as we open the meeting of Synod. Many spoke to me, and I agreed, that the fencing of the Table was not only spiritually deep, but it moved many to tears as we thought more on the sacrifice of our Savior, and the need not to approach Christ’s communion without proper consideration of our own sin, and His grace. Yet, we did something this year that had not been done at the ARP Synod since the early 20th century. There was a Memorial from Tennessee-Alabama Presbytery which was to be taken up later in the business of Synod, but the Principal Clerk and the Executive Board showed the love and care for the brethren which is a hallmark of the ARP, in that Tenn-Ala seeking redress of their conscience in the use of real wine, the Principal Clerk et al provided a split-tray which had the wine on the outside ring and grape juice in the middle.
This show of unity was a blessing to many of us.
After the service of recognition for those ministers and elders who had passed in the year between Synod meetings, the new Moderator’s Challenge (Rob Patrick) and a break for supper we entered into business. Yet before that I want to highlight the blessed sermon we heard from Jeff Kingswood. Such meat and devotion. God be praised! We had several discipline and appeal cases before us, and each one was handled cleanly and with care. But the big item on the agenda was a report from a Special Committee to take up a paper from First Presbytery, which had come to the floor at the 218th Synod, entreating the ARP to change its Form of Government allowance for local sessions to make the decision as to whether or not they would ordain women to the office of Deacon. There were many amendments, amendments to amendments, and much, much conversation about the various issues surrounding the Biblical and historical case either way. For those of you unfamiliar with the ARP’s history here, and without trying to prejudice one particular argument over another, the allowance has only been around since 1972. The numbers of female deacons has always remained a minority in the ARP, and the situation in the last couple of decades has seen their number diminish, even if the percentage of congregations which have them has remained static. Yet after much conversation (including my own amendment being defeated, sort of) we ended business Tuesday night without a decision made.
Up comes Wednesday morning. A particular highlight of Synod is that every day before breakfast a group meets at 7:15am in front of the Heidelberg Hotel for a Psalm sing. It’s probably my favorite part of Synod. As I noted before this year was a little unique in that our denomination takes time to celebrate and hear from our missionaries and our mission agency, World Witness, during an event called World Focus. Due to this we moved our meeting from the YAB to the chapel, which while presenting a few inconveniences is not that big a deal. Our business began Wednesday morning with a enriching message from Mackay Smith (whose dad, David, was serving as the Vice Moderator, and likewise did an excellent job). Back into the female deacon fray we went, with more talking and interaction both with the special report and the First Presbytery paper. After a couple more hours we came to a conclusion with the formation of a new special committee that will provide an answer to the larger question of what a deacon is, and what is to be understood as the scope, and focus of their work in order that we as a Synod can speak with our own voice on the matter. There was not given a specific date as to when they will return with recommendations, but it is normal operation for us to receive an update at the following Synod.
After lunch were given a stirring and moving address on the importance of family worship by James Hakim (I was so focused on the preaching that I let me ice cream cone melt on the pew. 🙂 When business returned the rest of the meeting sailed by like the SEC’s second bye week. Report after report was approved with unanimous consent. The only other matter of note was the Synod’s Theological and Social Concerns committee was dissolved. T&SC had only one matter left, the question concerning Secret Societies and the ARP, and in order to deal with that issue the Moderator will appoint a special committee to bring recommendations next year.
One of the hats I wear at Synod is that I am chair of our denominations Inter-Church Relations committee. As part of that I have the blessing of introducing our fraternal delegates. This year we were honored to have representatives from the RPCNA, OPC, EPC, CanRC, and the Presbyterian and Reformed Commission on Chaplains. The biggest item to report was that the ARP moved to entered into ecclesiastical fellowship with the CanRC and the URC. This will be a big help to our Canadian and Mississippi Valley Presbyteries especially. Also, the ARP is continuing to prayerfully consider our relationship with the EPC. Prayers welcome as we both discern the way forward on that front.
We ended our Synod with the singing of Psalm 133 at 5:30pm on Wednesday, June 7. A new modern day record for efficiency. While there can be some quibbles as to the lack of movement on the board/committee question, all things considered the ARP is in a great place moving forward. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has an opportunity to build and grow.
May the Lord grant this in His grace as we trust in Him for all things.
By His Strength,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church