The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church will meet on June 8-10 at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC. As we come together, we are facing several significant and potentially controversial issues. There is a proposal to freeze our retirement program and have an involuntary buy-out of those not of retirement age. The Committee on Restructuring the Synod will be giving a preliminary report. Several issues will be brought to or reported back to the Synod concerning theological and social positions. These issues and others will be before us, plus the regular work of the Synod. As a bonus challenge, we changed the location of the Synod meeting last month from our beloved Bonclarken to First Presbyterian Church due to the Covid Guidelines being better for us in South Carolina.
Despite all of these difficulties, I remain hopeful for the meeting of our General Synod. I have confidence in the pastors and elders of our Synod. We face a tough decision concerning the retirement program. But after many years of work, there is a clear answer before us. It is not a pleasant decision, but we must protect our retired ministers and give as much to those not retired as we can. There will be some discussion and debate. One challenge will be the proposed 2022 Budget. In an attempted to help, the Board of Stewardship has given most agencies zero Denominational Ministry Funds for 2022. They also have cut the budgets of committees. I serve on the Committee on Reallocations, which was created and tasked by the General Synod to find money to put toward the retirement deficit. We have been vocal about the need not to take DMF monies away from the agencies and committees. Here are several reasons for this:
- The agencies need the money to do the ministry that we asked them to perform.
- These agencies are not to blame for the retirement problem.
- It simply will not work because churches will not support the DMF if it does not support the work of the ARP Church.
- The 2020 General Synod agreed to direct 20% of the DMF to the retirement problem.
DMF is a voluntary giving program. Churches will stop giving to the DMF and will give directly to the agencies and committees. This action could have a tremendous impact on the future of DMF and how we fund our denominational ministries and services. We want to encourage churches to give to the DMF as it is part of our solution to the ongoing retirement problem. For whatever reasons the board did this, I have hope that the Synod will see the serious problems of not supporting the work of the church with DMF monies.
This Synod will be a crossroads for the ARP church. I am hopeful that we can start to build a consensus for the future of the denomination. We have an opportunity to end the partisan church politics that are a holdover from the 1980s and which continue to create an "Us vs. Them" mentality within the church. We as a denomination must take a hard look at our shrinking numbers, our aging population, and how these factors will soon affect the DMF. The Committee on Restructuring the Organization of Synod is working to optimize our ministry to be more efficient and effective. We have a great diversity of backgrounds and gifts. This diversity can be a strength if we work together, holding to our shared history, commitments to the Word of God, the means of grace, and the Confession. There is much that unites all of us.
The ARP church has seen tremendous changes in the last two decades, but it has been a growth and reformation of what has been. We must not lose who we are as ARPs. We must bring the whole church along as part of our reformation and growth. It means working together. It means building relationships and trust. It means addressing issues as brothers committed to the truth and each other. If we continue being partisan and do not unite as brothers, it will only bring us closer to becoming a micro-Presbyterian denomination making little impact on the world.
My most significant reason for hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the last decade, God has blessed our denomination. The ministers and elders actively working in the ministries of the ARP church are encouraged by what God is doing. The churches giving to the DMF are continuing in their support of our denominational ministries. I have been impressed by World Witness's willingness to seek wisdom from Synod and presbytery leaders. The Board of Outreach North America gave 2.7 million dollars to the Retirement deficit. Our agencies are a part of us, and we are a part of them.
Look at Erskine College. Here is an area where we came together. The SCONE has worked well. The Board and Administration is committed to the ARP Church. The potential at Erskine is excellent. But just like in many areas of the ARP church, we still have much work to do. To do it well, we will have to do it together. I hope that the Lord Jesus will answer his prayer and make us one and that we will get past the ambushes and ah-ha moments of previous Synods to work together as the church and not like the partisan bickering of Washington DC.
Yes, we are at a crossroads. But we are not here alone. We are here with Christ, and we are here, I pray, with brothers. Let us pray and seek the unity that Christ desires for his church. We know the great enemy Satan wants nothing more than to divide us. Let us resist Satan and trust the Word of God that the devil will flee us and leave us in peace, purity, unity, and prosperity in Christ. Please join me in prayer that God will bless the ARPC in our meeting next month.