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Partnership in Quebec?

Partnership in Quebec.doc

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Partnership in Quebec?

The recent Synod in Smithers made a decision regarding the L’Eglise Reformee du Quebec (ERQ).  Synod decided “to enter into a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the ERQ”, and then instructed the Committee for Contact with Churches in North America to carry out the practical consequences of sister church relations.  Following on from this decision, Synod decided “to encourage the churches to seek out ways and means to develop contacts with individual ERQ churches as is done between Owen Sound and St. Georges” (Acts, Article 75; see www.canrc.org, and follow the links).  A number of comments should be made in relation to this decision. 


The ERQ is a small church, consisting of some six congregations and a number of preaching points, with a about 300 members altogether.  Even so, the chairman of Synod noted after the decision was made that this was a historic decision.  This marks the first time that the Canadian Reformed Churches have established sister relations with another church entirely within our own country.  (The URC, of course, exists also in the USA.)  It indeed gives reason for gratitude to note that we may see the marks of the church of Jesus Christ elsewhere in our land, be it amongst a people of different language, background and culture. 


One may wonder whether the decision to establish sister relations with the ERQ was a good one.  A Press Release of Yarrow’s Council meeting some weeks ago indicated that Yarrow would send a letter to Synod in relation to the ERQ.  Council considered a report to Synod about the ERQ recommending that Synod decide to “enter into a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the ERQ under the adopted rules.”  Yarrow council questioned whether this was the right thing to do.  We recommended to Synod that “the outstanding issues, namely, confessional membership, supervision of the Lord’s Supper and supervision of the pulpit should be concluded before we enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the ERQ.”

As it turns out, Synod Neerlandia (2001) had decided that the issues needing further discussion with the OPC (two of the three were the same; see Acts 2001, Art 45) should be further discussed after Ecclesiastical Fellowship had been established.  Several churches (not Yarrow) appealed this decision to next Synod (Chatham, 2004), but Synod Chatham was not persuaded that the decision of Neerlandia was wrong.  The committee responsible for contact with the ERQ, then, was acting consistently with the decisions of 2001 and 2004 when they came with the recommendation to “enter into a relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the ERQ,” and let the outstanding issues be discussed further within a sister church relationship.  Since the matter had been decided by the decision of the churches in 2001 and settled by the answer to the appeals presented to Synod 2004, Synod Smithers could do little else than proceed in the direction proposed in the report about the ERQ.

Owen Sound & St Georges

At the same time, Synod Smithers noted that the church in Owen Sound has had since 1999 a very fruitful relation with the St Georges congregation of the ERQ.  The St Georges congregation is the biggest in the ERQ federation, having some 65 members.  This congregation has two ministers, with the second supported by Owen Sound (with help from neighboring churches) and set apart to produce material that helps to build up the reformed character of the ERQ.  Through periodic visits by Owen Sound members to St Georges (in the vicinity of Montreal), as well as visits of St Georges members to Owen Sound, considerable cross fertilization has occurred – to the mutual benefit of both congregations.  Members of St Georges (and with them those of other ERQ congregations too) have been confronted with the wealth of reformed thinking, and the members of Owen Sound have in turn had to ask themselves why they believe what they believe and why it is worth sharing.  Admittedly, there has been a language barrier, but experience has shown that the Quebecois brothers and sisters know sufficient English, and English-speaking members of Owen Sound (especially the younger) know sufficient French, to make communication possible and beneficial.


Synod noted too that there is within the ERQ an appetite to tap into the reformed heritage God in His providence has granted us.  The ERQ began as a mission project of the Presbyterian Church of America, and later received help from the Christian Reformed Church.  Yet the ERQ was not satisfied with the signals received from the CRC, and contact grew with the Canadian Reformed Churches.  The ministers and members of the ERQ come from diverse theological backgrounds, and it takes time to develop full homogeneity on all topics.  Yet the brothers in the ERQ are working on it, and welcome CanRC input.  Rev Paul Bedard, fraternal delegate from the ERQ to Synod Smithers, brought along a copy of the Form for Profession of Faith the ERQ had just adopted, and it was clear from this Form not only that the ERQ is reformed but also welcomes Canadian Reformed input; in fact, this new form removed previous concerns our churches had expressed about confessional membership.  There exists, then, a working relation between our two federations of churches.  Said Synod Smithers, “Given the openings there are to stand beside one another in the struggles of faith in our common nation, it is fitting to formalize Ecclesiastical Fellowship at this time, and continue to assist one another under the rules of Ecclesiastical Fellowship.” 


The first and central of those “Rules of Ecclesiastical Fellowship” reads, “the churches shall assist each other in the maintenance, defense and promotion of the Reformed faith in doctrine, church polity, discipline, and liturgy, and be watchful for deviations.”  Accordingly, the committee charged with carrying out our relation of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the ERQ was mandated to “provide encouragement and assistance in the adoption of [further] liturgical forms,” as well as “to respond if specific requests for assistance and advice are made on further matters of confession, church polity, liturgy, and mission.”  As this encouragement and assistance is given, the committee is also to continue discussion “on existing differences in confession and practice with a particular focus on admission to the Lord’s Supper and the supervision of the pulpit.”


Would it be possible for us in Yarrow to develop a partnership with a congregation within the ERQ?  I really don’t know what the answer to that question might be.  More, would contact with an ERQ congregation increase awareness in our midst for mission work – or at least help us to think in terms of sharing the wealth we’ve received?  Given that these churches are looking for reformed input, and given that travel to and from Quebec is not a problem (compared to getting involved with work in, say, Brazil or Indonesia), and given that French is taught throughout our school system, and given that the ERQ and the CanRC seek to be a light within one country, perhaps some discussion as to what’s possible for us with the ERQ might be fitting.

At the very least, we do well to remember these churches in our prayers.

C Bouwman
8 June 2007