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Who goes to synod as voting delegates? What change did Synod 2023 adopt?

Synod, the annual assembly of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, includes four delegates from each of the 49 regional classes. Historically, each classis sent two ministers and two elders, but Synod 2015 changed the requirement to “one minister, one elder, one deacon, and one other officebearer” (Church Order, Art. 45) in response to two study committee reports that encouraged greater use of the office of deacon. While delegating deacons to classis meetings had been optional since 1997, Synod 2015 mandated that all classes include deacon delegates, with one minister, one elder, and one deacon from each church (Art. 40). This was to include full representation of the offices in the discussions and decisions of the broader assemblies (classis and synod), just as occurs in local church councils, which honors the parity of offices in our polity. 

The 2015 provision was implemented variously. Some classes had already been including deacons, others found deacons reluctant to volunteer, and some resisted the idea and even allowed churches exceptions to the rule, going against the Church Order. Those results extended to synod as well. Some classes rejoiced in sending deacons to synod, some had difficulty finding volunteers, and others resisted the idea altogether. So some classes did not send full delegations to synod. Synod 2023 was missing 11 delegates, eight of them deacons. Classes B.C. South-East, Hanmi, Hudson, Kalamazoo, Ko-Am, Lake Superior, Northcentral Iowa, Northern Michigan, and Rocky Mountain did not send full delegations. 

But Synod 2023 adopted a change to Article 45 that should lead to full delegations from all classes next year. The word “ordinarily” was inserted before the requirement for “one minister, one elder, one deacon, and one other officebearer,” and a sentence was added that no more than two officebearers from any office would be allowed from a classis. The intent is still to have all three offices represented, but classes will have more flexibility in choosing their delegates.

Having full delegations is the goal! But will there be fewer deacons at synod in the future? And what impact will this change have on synod’s decision-making process and the life and ministry of the CRC? That remains to be seen.

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