Plans for the historic merger of the two largest Reformed church bodies in the world will be consolidated this week during a high-level, five-day meeting that opened Monday.
Members of the governing bodies of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) are meeting this week for the first time together in Utrecht, Netherlands, to work on finalizing a draft constitution, shaping the structure and vision of the soon-to-be-official World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and dealing with "numerous practical considerations."
"This important joint meeting demonstrates the commitment of these two Reformed bodies to grow together in the coming months," stated WARC general secretary Setri Nyomi in a public announcement last week. "It is a great opportunity to meet our sisters and brothers in REC and to make concrete our dream of a new truly vital Reformed communion that will meet the challenge of God's call to justice and unity in the 21st century."
Following the merger, WCRC will be the largest association of Reformed Churches in the world, representing 80 million Reformed Christians around the world. The new body brings together members of the 75-million-strong WARC and the 12-million-strong REC, including the 27 common member churches already affiliated with both groups.
"When the two organizations dare to journey together in God's mission, our member churches will be served better and, in fact, our witness as Reformed churches will be stronger," stated Nyomi when the REC initiated the invitation to merge in July 2005 after 7 years of bilateral talks.
Under the proposed agreement that the REC General Council passed three years ago, the REC had initially planned to become a subsidiary organization within the WARC while still maintaining its autonomous identity. This would open doors to joint projects and joint staffing, cutting costs for both groups and fostering a stronger spirit of ecumenism among the world's reformed churches.
Since then, the global church bodies had been formulating ways for the REC to maintain its distinct identity while going under the WARC banner. In January 2006, leaders of the two fellowships recommended putting the church bodies on a more even platform by forming a larger group to succeed both.
More than a year later, in March 2007, REC's executive committee approved the idea of a new Reformed body, tentatively called the World Reformed Communion, though the WARC requested more time to consider alternative names for the group.
According to Richard van Houten, general secretary of REC, this week's meeting is the first time the leaders of the two organizations will have to work together.
"[A]nd they can send an important message to our members about how the cultures of WARC and REC will blend together, working for the common mission God has given them," he added.
This week's historic gathering is being hosted and supported by the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the largest Protestant denomination in the Netherlands. A member of both WARC and REC, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands is the result of a 2004 merger of the Netherlands Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Both van Houten and Nyomi have expressed their gratitude to the Protestant Church in the Netherlands for hosting the meeting, which ends Friday and joins together WARC's officers and REC's Executive Committee.
After the official merger, the new Reformed body intends to invite movements, agencies and theological institutions of the Reformed movement to become affiliates of the group.
A uniting General Council will be held in June 2010 in Grand Rapids, Mich., under the banner "Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."