A Historic Day

posted Nov 29, 2018, 7:53 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Grace and peace be with you this morning!

As I announced in worship a couple of weeks ago, November 29, 2018 will be a historic day in the life of our church. 

As many of you know, on January 9, 2017 the Consistory of Middletown Reformed Church met for their monthly Consistory meeting. After six months of prayer and discernment concerning the way forward for our congregation in regards to the non-welcoming and non-affirming climate for LGBTQ people in the Reformed Church in America, a motion was put forward and passed to begin to pursue dual affiliation with the United Church of Christ (UCC). 

Some background: The Consistory decided to pursue this action because of the possibility that the Consistory or I could be brought up on charges for our welcoming and affirming stance. That was one reason. But the more important reason for seeking dual affiliation is the matter of justice and love. We at MRC believe that our primary call is to live out the Greatest Commandment of Jesus to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two hang all the law and prophets. As Marilyn Robinson said, “I experience religious dread whenever I find myself thinking that I know the limits of God’s grace, since I am utterly certain it exceeds any imagination a human being might have of it.” Indeed, God’s unlimited grace for all people is at the center of our church’s vision statement, and is the primary reason we pursued dual affiliation. I am so grateful that we have been called to live out this grace at MRC. 

Later in January of 2017, MRC held its annual congregational meeting. Here the process of dual affiliation was discussed, as well as the Consistory’s vote to pursue dual affiliation. The congregation was provided with handouts of the six month long discussion the Consistory had concerning dual affiliation. After a period of question and answer, the congregation voted by 2/3 count, as is our polity, to support the vote of the Consistory to begin to pursue dual affiliation with the UCC.

This year on May 14, the Consistory invited Rev. Rusty Eidmann-Hicks, previously the pastor of Holmdel Community United Church of Christ to a meeting to discuss the history, theology, liturgy, and ethos of the UCC. From our discussion, we found that we share so much in common, as would be the case for the body of Christ, and we were grateful for his time and insights.

All of this background information is to state that the day for dual affiliation with the United Church of Christ has arrived. 

Tonight at 7, I and two of our elders, along with three other churches in our Classis, will meet with the New Jersey Association Ecclesiastical Council at the Community Church of Cedar Grove for a question and answer session to affirm our status as dually affiliated with the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ. Once we have an affirmative vote, we will then be a part of what is called the Reformed Caucus of the New Jersey Association. All members of our congregation will have this dual status, and I, as long as I am your pastor, will have dual standing as a minister. However, if I were to go to another church that is not dual affiliated, I would no longer have my dual standing. Don’t worry! I don’t have any plans to go elsewhere! 

I want to reassure you that our worship, theology, and polity won’t change. We will still be very much Reformed while having a more united partnership with one of our Formula of Agreementdenominations. For example, the document we received from the UCC states,“Per the United Church of Christ’s Constitution and By-Laws, each UCC congregation has the right to order their life in accordance with the SpiritThe dialogue affirms the right of dual affiliating RCA congregations to continue to employ RCA polity to order their life of faith. RCA polity invests the local church consistory with the authority to make congregational decisions.” And we will have a voice on their councils and commissions: “The Reformed Caucus will have the responsibility to nominate a dual affiliated RCA voice to the New Jersey Association Council, Church and Ministry Commission, and the Pre-Ordination Commission. Other members of the dual affiliated churches may serve on these leadership teams and on the various working groups of the NJ Association.” 

To be sure, dual affiliation is not uncommon in our denomination. In fact, all four of the Collegiate Churches in NYC have dual affiliation with the UCC, along with other churches in New York State and some in New Jersey. And, one of our most historic churches, Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan has dual affiliation with the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church. 

Let me add that the people of the UCC with whom Pastor Dawn Seaman and I have been working have been nothing but absolutely gracious in the care of us during such a difficult time in our denomination. And the leaders of the UCC have assured us that if the climate changes in the RCA concerning LGBTQ people, and we would like to “just be RCA” again, they would give us their blessing. They have repeatedly said that they are not trying to take churches away from the RCA, but see themselves as a safe and welcoming space for us at a time of uncertainty and grief.

Beloved, this has been a long and arduous process (since August 2016), but one that has been filled with the Spirit's advocacy and hope. We have practiced due and careful diligence, and everything has been in decent and proper order. As much as I celebrate our soon-coming dual affiliation where we will have the opportunity to share in ministry with the UCC and live out more fully what it means to be the body of Christ, I continue to pray for the day when the Reformed Church in America will welcome all people — especially LGBTQ people — into the full life of the church.

Come this Sunday at 10:30 AM to experience the unlimited grace of Christ’s light of hope on the First Sunday of Advent. Our Joyful Noise Adult Choir will be singing “An Advent Credo”  and I will be preaching from Jeremiah 33.14-16 and 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13. My sermon title is Share Your Light! We will also gather around God’s table of welcome as we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. After worship, we will continue the feast as we break bread together at our First Sunday Brunch. A free will offering will be taken to support the ministries of the church.

Of course, as I’ve often said, if you have any questions about the process and what I’ve discussed above, I would be happy to meet with you for conversation.

In gratitude for the privilege of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish