Disciples will convey their ongoing ecumenical commitment to a new religious organization – the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) this week at a meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich. The new organization represents the merger of two families of churches once divided from each other.
Several Disciples will gather in Grand Rapids, starting on June 18 with members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) as the two groups merge to become the World Communion of Reformed Churches. The merger means the two global churches based in 108 countries and representing 80 million people will work at a higher level of union than ever before, according to Richard van Houten, General Secretary of the REC.
About 475 delegates are expected to attend the council meeting, along with a nearly equal number of observers, guests, visitors and volunteers. The meeting will take place at the Calvin College campus and run from June 18-26.
Disciples attending include: Newell Williams, president of Brite Divinity School, Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Robert Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity, Laura Jennison Reed, a seminarian from the University of Chicago, Cathy Hubbard, who until recently served as regional minister in Canada and David Thompson of the United Reformed Church of England, a church with connections to the Stone-Campbell movement.
All of the Disciples attending will represent the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council (DECC), an international organization that brings together churches with their roots in the Stone-Campbell movement. Members of the DECC also include churches from New Zealand, India, Australia, Congo and Japan.
The DECC has been in ecumenical dialogue with one part of the new communion – the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) since the 1970s through an official partnership. DECC now seeks to move that partnership to the merged group.
"One way to signal that we are still in partnership is to enter into a more official relationship with the World Communion of Reformed Churches," said Robert Welsh of the Council on Christian Unity. "We will now be an associate member of that group’s executive council and involved in ongoing conversations."
Both founding organizations draw on Reformed commitment to Biblical tradition. However, REC is known for its emphasis on spiritual development and faithfulness to church ‘confessions.’ WARC is identified by its stances on such things as racial and gender issues and a just world economic order.
While in Grand Rapids, justice concerns will be highlighted, in particular matters affecting the lives and rights of indigenous people in the Americas. Among other activities, tribal chiefs from the Michigan area will exchange drums with selected delegates during opening ceremonies.
On Saturday, June 19, General Minister and President Watkins will moderate a discussion with panelists from Costa Rica, Korea, Germany and Guyana where such issues as justice and unity will be discussed. A full program listing is available at: www.reformedchurches.org
"We’re looking forward to continuing the relationship that we’ve had in the past and we are delighted that the reformed family is now one family," said Welsh.