The Dutch Reformed Church (Pretoria) and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (Melodi ya Tshwane) in search for unity
On 5 November 2017 the DRC Pretoria and the URCSA Melodi ya Tshwane publicly expressed their intention to establish a single united congregation. An elaborate statement of intent outlining the two congregation’s commitment to concretize the unity process was signed during a joint communion service commemorating 500 years of the Reformation under the theme: Standing where God stands.
The stories of these two congregations have been weaved together for many years, but in 2016 as ministers of the two churches we started having regular meetings about specific ministries in which we committed ourselves to join hands and work together for unity, justice and reconciliation in the city. After some time of working on this concept, we found ourselves confronted with the question: why not take the decisive step and unite once and for all? Sitting around the table, we realised that we all agree that this is indeed what we believe should happen.
Being convinced that this is what we were called to do, we suddenly realised that we had no idea what this would mean broadly speaking. How do we unite a congregation of the Uniting Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed Church? What decisions do we need to take? What do we need to think about? So many things came to our minds like the relationship between ministers, the processes, buildings, personnel, liturgy, language, pension funds and finances. These were some of the tough but genuine issues that we needed to tackle head-on.
The Interim Church Order came at the right time, and provided a very helpful framework within which we found our way. However, congregations are also unique and there is a lot that the Interim Church Order did not stipulate, answers had to emerge from own contexts. While we agreed on the clear process, we also realised that this is a step of faith in which we cannot wait until we have answers on every bit of detail. Truly, we needed to proceed in obedience to our calling and the scriptures.
Concerning the way forward, we decided that at our next church councils’ meetings, there should be observers from the other church council in attendance. We told ourselves that God willing, by 31 October 2020 there will be a single unified church council. Furthermore we will also form two committees. One will work out details around property, finances, personnel and other support ministries, the other will start to work on our joint ministries.
We are aware that for many years the process of church unity has been paralyzed and we felt that if we don’t take the initiative, no one will do it on our behalf. For this reason we invited leadership from our general synods to come and witness this wonderful occasion which they themselves encouraged in one of their recent pastoral letters. Our hope is that others can see that it is possible to take the next step. But in this time of deep divisions and bitter rivalry in our country, this journey is also our commitment to respond faithfully to Jesus’ prayer for unity. Just like Paul, we are unshaken in our conviction that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).
Rev. Cobus van Wyngaard & Dr. Jacob Nthakhe