“What is it about?”
A few hours before I left for the Inspire2017 conference I chatted with my mother. She said “Oh you’re going. What’s it about? I’m not really sure.”
I said I wasn’t either but I’m going to find out.
So that’s what I’m trying to do, find out what it’s about.
First Things are Hard and Important
Inspire2017 is an entirely new thing the denomination is trying. This evening we had our first plenary session or “Gathering session”. There was a worship segment and a speech given by Rich Mouw. There were some brief comments from Steve Timmermans the Executive Director. Rich Mouw was introduced by Darren Roorda.
It’s too early to have any conclusions but I’ll offer some observations.
When I heard we were meeting in Detroit I was curious why. It makes a great deal of sense when you’re keeping bi-nationality in mind. Bi-nationality is one of the plates the denomination (sy-board) has to keep spinning. Initial impressions is that the event is well attended by Canadian pastors and church members. Detroit makes a lot of sense on that score. A good amount of the CRC can drive here quite easily. Some Canadians can attend the conference during the day and drive home and sleep in their own beds at night.
My sense is that there are a good number of pastors and their spouses. That’s not a surprise. Pastors have a special relationship with the denomination.
There are a good number of the most committed church members and those who feel most self-consciously CRC. Transportation, room and board, and time all express commitment to the CRCNA. Many gathered here are pillars of their local churches and pillars of the denomination.
What we’ll do here
Timmermans in his introductory comments noted that when the church gets together we usually do so for business meaning Synod. You almost get the sense that his is all the fun of Synod (worship, networking, meeting old friends, making new, learning, etc.) without the work.
The Vision 20/20 got early mention. The Timmermans administration has now been in long enough to have developed plans and implemented them. Part of what this grew out of were the listening sessions that the denomination held even before the new ED was selected. This has grown out of that. This is an opportunity for the “new day” of the CRCNA sy-board to do some work on vision, teaching, implementation, culture building.
What I’ll be Paying Attention To
The questions rolling around in my mind will have to do with who the CRCNA is today and where the “powers that be” are leading, imagining or using this new tool to default us towards. What are the major “felt needs” or spinning plates the denomination feels it needs to pay attention to?
- Bi-nationality: already noted in the decision to meet in Detroit
- “Diversity”: what has probably become the dominant preoccupation since the 1970s. Mouw made reference to this in his talk.
- “Retooling”: The breakout sessions (I’ll be leading one) tend to focus on equipping congregations and members.
- Promoting the 20/20 Vision
Rich Mouw gave a terrific talk. I hope it was recorded and will be put on YouTube. This was classic Mouw. In many ways he’s nails “CRC-ness” in a very unique way. His talk was inspiring, accessible, and meaningful. He, probably better than anyone else right now can embody what it has meant be CRC from the 1960s to today and with all of the credentials he brings to the table: binationality, Calvin College and strong ties to the broader neo-evangelical community via Fuller.
The far harder question is “how many times can the CRC go to this well? Does Mouw bring anything to the table for the CRC’s future? Can he or does he help us figure out what the next 20 years will look like?” Mouw was also the central speaker at the 150th Anniversary.
Two of the other “Gathering speakers” are not from the CRC and I doubt will contribute in that way. (One BTW is from the Evangelical Covenant, the same denom we adapted the basis of the Vision 20/20 from.) I don’t know what Ruth Padilla DeBorst will be speaking on. This leaves me to ask if the CRC has a bench behind Mouw and/or if we’re really paying enough attention to developing one.
Reading the Signals through the Factional Lens
After Synod 2017 I did a little “post-game show” on YouTube
To do cultural geology you look at artifacts that may be incidental or un-intentional to try to read what is beneath our assumptions. Here are a few artifacts.
- A “Sacramentalist” would see the gathering and the liturgy as evangelical. Dark room, stage lights, small band. It was decidedly “blended” with some worship elements (benediction, apostles creed) and mostly with hymns.
- A good number of people likely stumbled on “Be Thou My Vision” as “son” and other presumed male references were written out of the arrangement. This would likely have been noticed by confessionalists.
- Evangelicals would likely have felt affirmed by Mouw’s talk. Mouw again probably better than anyone today can find the center of the CRC Venn diagram sending out signals in his talk to all by the sacramentalists.
- A fair amount of diversity signaling for the progressives as well as remix of Be Thou My Vision.
The haunting question will be whether the CRC will keep trying to hold the center of the Venn diagram and still continue to drift along with tectonic movement or if it will find a new distinctive vision around which is can renew for another century. In other words the same big question we don’t know how to engage.