Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
We greet you in the Name of the Head of this Church, Jesus Christ. Our Seventh General Synod (GS) of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) met from 3-9 October 2016 at the Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre, Benoni, under the theme Celebrating 30 years of the Belhar Confession: Unity, reconciliation and justice in obedience to Christ. This theme will remain the guiding vision of the URCSA during the four-year recess till the next general synod in 2020.It is with immense gratitude that the Moderamen wishes to write to you and provide feedback on some of the key issues discussed and decision taken.
Already in his opening remarks, based on 1 Peter 2:1-5, the Assessor of synod, Rev. Betha, reminded us that Jesus is the Lord of the church and whatever direction the church takes, should be in obedience to Christ, the cornerstone on whom the church is build. The moderator of synod, Prof. Plaatjies-van Huffel challenged synod with the notion that God, as a God of justice and mercy, seeks from God’s church the same justice and mercy. Prof. Allan Boesak, one of the co-authors of the Belhar Confession, in his reflection of the Confession challenged Synod with what it means to walk with God. Boesak helped to rekindle the spirit of Belhar – who we are, how we speak and how we act Is done from the stance that the church is the possession of God. The Confession of Belhar was more than a political response to the legitimized gross violations of our human dignity during the apartheid years. Belhar, rather, was a faith response to the issue of Apartheid and its impacts. In the light of the spirit of the Confession, reconciliation is not an option, but an obligation, a calling and a ministry entrusted to us by God.
As the church of Christ, the “ultimate stranger” (Prof. M A Plaatjie-van Huffel), we are called to be a church on the margins for the margins. Hence, the General Synod of the URCSA have no choice but to reflect on the marginalized in our societies which includes the poor, the stateless refugees, those affected by xenophobia, gender equality, sexuality issues, issues of inclusivity, justice, unity and reconciliation. The URCSA fully acknowledges that issues of oppression, abuse, injustice and conflict are global issues and hence also reflected on the Israel-Palestine situation and the challenges of Christian Zionism for the ministry of justice. As the result of deliberations on the above, the GS of the URCSA would like to share the following:
First deaf ministerial candidate with full status at Synod
GS was blessed with the presence of proponent Betty Wanza, who lost her hearing at the age of 5. Proponent Wanza was licensed in 2013 as a Candidate of the Word with full status in the URCSA. Her presence affirmed to Synod that inclusiveness is possible, yet on the other hand it challenged Synod with the reality that on so many levels we are failing the ministry of inclusiveness and at the same time our witness to the releasing and revealing power of the Belhar Confession. This General Synod affirmed the URCSA’s commitment to assist differently-abled members, who have the calling for ministry in the church, with the necessary training and mentoring that will enable them to be licensed in the URCSA as ministers with full status. Hence, Synods calls on vacant congregations to consider calling proponent Wanza.
GS acknowledged the presence of proponent Betty Wanza, the first deaf ministerial candidate in the history of the URCSA. Wanza’s story affirms to GS the possibilities of inclusiveness, yet continues to challenge GS on embodying the Belhar Confession on the many different levels.
With regards to a just and inclusive community the URCSA recommits herself to actively work towards becoming and even more inclusive faith community as well as towards a more inclusive society. The URCSA commits to creating an enabling environment for people with disabilities to share in the calling of the church. The URCSA rejects any form of violence and injustice and commits to working for the elimination of violent and unjust practices in society.
The Gift of Diversity
Prof. David Xolile Simon presented Synod not only with a theological imperative for multi-cultural ministries that goes beyond the mere tentativeness of “cooperation”, but also shared his own experience with congregations who have braved this route now for several years. Synod acknowledge the array of challenges faced in respect of multi-cultural ministries, but cannot condone a position where these challenges serve to deter this confessing church from an earnest and obedient strive towards the embodiment of a multi-cultural church.
The General Synod re-affirms that diversity is a gift and commits to (1) embracing the cultural diversity of the URCSA and in the world, we live in, and (2) to actively work towards the expansion of the inclusive identity of the church.
Free, Decolonized and Quality Education
With regards to the current plight for free, decolonized and quality education as witness in the #Feesmustfall movement in South Africa, the General Synod resolved the following:
“Due to our prophetic calling we should respond to the demands of the Gospel. The Belhar Confession inspires us to act in accordance to the Word of God and adhere to the Biblical imperative to stand where God stand and to walk with God. Therefore, GS declare that we:
- Believe tertiary education is not a privilege, but a right enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa;
- Condemn all forms of violence;
- Also condemn the violence of poverty towards the poor students of South Africa;
- Continue to fundraise for students as funds are available;
- Affirm the issue of equity when addressing the struggle of students pertaining to student fees;
- Support that parents who are in the position to contribute proportionally to the paying of fees, do so;
- Support fully that free education be made available to all financially needy students as well as the lost-middle
Immediate action proposed:
- The Executive of URCSA meet the student leadership of #feesmustfall before the end of 2016;
- To act on our Confession that calls us to physically stand with the oppressed and the marginalized”
The questions of restorative justice and equality are questions inherently implied by the Confession of Belhar and cannot be ignore by the church of Christ.
Synod univocally confesses that the church of Christ is one church. Synod confesses that Scripture remains clear about the unity of the church and hence, URCSA cannot abandon the biblical call to strive for the unification, at first, of the churches from the Dutch Reformed church family. The God of Belhar compels us to remain obedient and faithful to His call for the unity of the Church of Christ, and hence we remain committed to the process. We acknowledge that we cannot control the processes of others, but it is our duty to provide as far as possible the enabling environment for it to take form on ground level. In this respect Synod adopted a provisional church order that allows for joint ministry which goes beyond mere agreements of cooperation.
Nuclear Energy Development
Synod took note of the plans of the Government of the Republic of South Africa to go ahead with a nuclear procurement plan. Synod realizes that this is a complex matter that cannot be dealt with in a superficial manner. As a church who confess to the Lordship of Christ and who embrace the God-given mandate for stewardship of the created environment. Synod does not condone the continuation of the current coal-dependent energy generation paradigm. Synod however expresses concern with regards to the huge costs associated with planned nuclear energy projects as well as with regards to issues related to safety and the safe disposal of nuclear waste. In addition to this, Synod pleads for a transparent process to be followed in every step during this process.
This General Synod resolved:
That the URCSA align herself with the Astana declaration
To call on the Faith Community and Civil Community in Southern Africa to oppose the governments’ nuclear programme.
To engage with the governments in the region on the issues of cleaner and affordable technology in the energy generation.
The Israel-Palestine situation and Christian Zionism
Synod was reminded of the context of oppression and apartheid in South Africa during the 1980’s, a context within which the Belhar Confession was born. Synod acknowledges the significant similarities between that context and that of occupied Palestine today. The URCSA stands with the people of Palestine against the practices of abuse, oppression, marginalization and dehumanization directed towards them by the state of Israel. Synod also expresses concern about the ease with which Christian faith communities proclaims a Zionist agenda justified from Scripture, and calls on URCSA congregations to refrain from such Christian Zionism. In the spirit of the Belhar Confession, the URCSA have no other option but stand with our sisters and brothers in Palestine as they continue to suffer the atrocities of occupation and oppression.
The position of the URCSA regarding homosexuality
After discussions on this matter, General Synod decided to refer the matter regarding homosexuality back to congregations, presbyteries and regional synods for dialogue and engagement. Congregations, presbyteries and regional synods are requested to seriously engage on this matter during the following four years till the next General Synod.
Newly Leadership Elected: 2016-2020
The URCSA General Synod elected the following Executive Committee to serve the church as new leadership until the next General Synod in 2020.
- Moderator: Prof. Rev. LJ Modise from the Southern Synod
- Assessor: Rev. MG Betha from the Phororo Synod
- Scribe: Rev. WJ Julius from the Namibia Synod.
- Actuarius: Rev. DP Carelse from the Cape Synod.
- 5.Additional Member: Prof. Rev C Landman from the Northern Synod.
- 6.Additional Member: Rev. LP Fokase from the Free State & Lesotho Synod.
- 7.Additional Member: Rev. TE Ngema from the KZN Synod.
May God continue to guide us through His Spirit and may we continue to remain an ever-confessing church, walking with God in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ.
On behalf of the Moderamen of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA).
Rev W J Julius
Scribe: General Synod
Vision: A Committed and United Church in service of unity, reconciliation and justice to all people through Christ