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International Society for the Study of Reformed Communities

International Society for the Study of Reformed Communities


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2003 ISSRC Conference

"Reformed Congregations Engage a Changing World "
University of Edinburgh, Edingurgh, Scotland
June 30-July 4, 2003


2003 Conference Pictures



The congregation is the centerpiece of corporate Christian engagement in the world. It is in congregations that Christians experience community, practice their religious rituals, witness to their personal beliefs, and renew their identity as faithful followers of Christ. While denominations, ecumenical councils, and other para-church agencies are often perceived as the political and social face of the church, it is in congregations that the believers live out their faith lives. For this reason, the focus of the 2003 Triennial Conference of the International Society for the Study of Reformed Communities was on congregations.

The theme of the conference, "Reformed Congregations Engage a Changing World," was intentionally broad. We looked for papers that approached the topic of the congregation from many disciplinary and experiential vantages. Historical accounts of individual congregations, case studies of representative congregations, sociological analyses of multiple congregations, theological reflections on the changing ecclesiology of congregations, pastoral reflections on what "works" and what doesn't "work" in a congregation's life, and cross-contextual comparisons of congregations in varied settings were all acceptable approaches.

Possible topics for consideration included:
- congregational identity and denominational loyalty
- congregational finances and stewardship patterns
- congregations and moral issues (AIDS, poverty, racism, immigration, capital punishment, and others)
- congregations and parachurch organizations
- congregations as niche boutiques in the shifting religious marketplace
- the (declining?) prophetic role of congregations
- church/state issues as they are experienced in the life of the congregation
- the professionalization of congregational services (or, alternatively, the resurgence of anti-clericalism/professionalism in the congregation)
- changing leadership styles in the congregation
- the impact of high tech innovations on congregational worship and relationship
- the amazing resilience of "small" congregations, and so on.

The first conference of the ISSRC (hosted by Calvin College in 1994) considered the theme of secularization in contemporary society (see the volume, Reconsidering Secularization: Reformed Encounters with Modernity). In that conference, it was suggested that the warnings of secularization's inevitability in the face of modernity's corrosive expansion were vastly overstated. The second triennial (held at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1997) focused on the church's vital signs (see the resulting volume, Reformed Vitality: Continuity and Change in the Face of Modernity). This discussion provided evidence that, while modernity's fragmenting and atomizing tendencies have had a profound impact on Reformed life, there has been significant resilience within that community. Further evidence of the resilience of the church under modernist assault was provided during the third triennial conference (held at the University of Stellenbosch, in South Africa, in 2000). Presenters from Europe, Africa, and North America shared their understandings of the impact of modernity (and post-modernity) on their communities (see the volume, Reformed Encounters with Modernity: Perspectives from Three Continents). (Copies of these earlier volumes are available; instructions for their purchase should be addressed to Dr. H. Jurgens Hendriks of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. His e-mail address is:

One of the consequences of modernity, especially in its individualizing and privatizing impulses, has been to continually reduce the institutional spheres of identification with which believers associate themselves. While denominations and national churches once commanded members' allegiances, churchgoers are increasingly congregation shoppers. To an unprecedented extent, congregations have been thrust into a volatile and fluid marketplace. The highly mobile population of the modern age, characterized by occupational mobility and economic migration on a global scale, has meant that congregations find themselves in a constant competitive mode for new members. The upshot of all of these changes is that congregations find themselves increasingly isolated; they are challenged to produce an attractive "religious product" in order to maintain their institutional life, but it may be at the cost of their heritage.

How does a "Reformed" congregation retain its theological and historical identity in the face of these modernist (and post-modernist) challenges? How does the voluntarist nature of modern faith speak to Reformed congregations? What is the future of the congregation in the life of the church? Will modernity further fragment the congregation so that sub-congregational units (shifting age cohort groups, family - and surrogate family - networks, interest groups, Bible study groups, neighborhood groups) become the future "carriers" of Reformed faith? Many of these and other related questions were brought to the fore during theFourth Triennial Conference, which was held June 27 through July 2, 2003 at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland.



“Reformed Congregations Engage a Changing World”

“The Scottish Reformed Tradition”
David Ferguson, New College, University of Edinburgh

“A Changing World Asks for Changing Congregations”
Gerard Dekker, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

“Temples of Loose Connection and Spiritual Practice: A Reformed Model of the Congregation for the 21st Century?”
Will Storrar, New College, University of Edinburgh

“Reformed Churches and Civil Society in the Netherlands”
Marten van der Meulen, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Hijme Stoffels, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

“Congregational Identity and Participation within the CRC and RCA Congregations”
Corwin Smidt, Calvin College, Michigan

“Challenges Facing the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe”
W. R. Runyowa, Zimuto Congregational Ref. Church, Zimbabwe
R. Rutoro, Murray Theological College, Zimbabwe

"The Geelkerken Case and Modern Culture"
George Harinck, Free University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

“Place and Nature Seen Through the Eyes of Faith: Understandings among Male and Female Seminarians”
Janel M. Curry, Calvin College, Michigan
Kathi Groenendyk, Calvin College, Michigan

“Congregational Life Cycles: The Case of the Reformed Church in America, 1818-2000”
Roger J. Nemeth, Hope College, Michigan
Donald A. Luidens, Hope College, Michigan

“A Tale of Two Congregations: Acculturation and Its Long-term Impact on Chicago’s West Side Reformed Churches”
Robert P. Swierenga, Hope College, Michigan

“Becoming Reformed: Congregational Transition from Baptist to United Church of Christ: An Atlanta Example”
Daryl White, Spelman College, Georgia
O. Kendall White Jr., Washington and Lee University, Virginia

“A Congregation in Transition: The Case of the Littlefield Church”
Ronald R. Stockton, University of Michigan – Dearborn

“A Century of Change and Adaptation in the First English-Speaking Congregation of the CRC in Holland, Michigan”
Jacob E. Nyenhuis, Hope College, Michigan

“A Dissonant Faith: The Exodus of Christian Reformed Churches from the South Side of Chicago”
Mark Mulder, Calvin College, Michigan

“The Congregational Leadership Crisis Facing the Japanese Church”
Mark R. Mullins, Sophia University, Tokoyo
Thomas Hastings, Tokoyo Union Theological Seminary

“Extreme Presbyterian Congregations: Some Social Characteristics of the Most Liberal and Most Conservative Presbyterian Congregations”
William (Beau) Weston, Centre College, Kentucky

“Why Can’t We Get Along? Conflict within CRC and RCA Congregations”
James M. Penning, Calvin College, Michigan

“The Notion of God-Images and Suffering within Africa Congregations: A Pastoral-Theological Problem”
Amon Eddie Kasambala, Justo Mwale Theological College, Zambia

“The Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and the Search for Peace in Northern Ireland”
Ronald A. Wells, Calvin College, Michigan

“Congregations as Providers of Social Service and HIV/AIDS Care: A Case Study from South Africa”
H. Jurgens Hendriks, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Johannes C. Erasmus, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Gerbrand G. Mans, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

“Engaging the World as Social Service Providers: A Comparative Analysis of North American CRC and RCA Congregations”
Melissa Keeley, Calvin College, Michigan
Donald Brown, Calvin College, Michigan

(Papers listed in order of presentation at conference)

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Last Updated: October 20, 2009