The voice over the public address system droned on as the votes were counted in loco: “Meyer” . . . “Meyer” . . . “De Moor” . . . “Meyer” . . . “Meyer” . . . “Meyer” . . . “DeMoor” . . .
Time: Synod 1989 (synod is the denomination’s annual leadership convention made up of delegates from across the continent).
Place: Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Occasion: Election of a new Banner editor.
Runaway winner: Galen Meyer.
Hiding under his chair: Yours truly.
Misery loves company. At that synod several other pretenders to denominational positions sought me out to voice their condolences. They too had endured an hour-long synodical interview punctuated by that publicly-tallied communal response.
Synods were more fun then—except for those in my shoes. But we knew the gig and got over it well enough.
Today our denomination uses a selection process that’s easier on the applicants’ egos but, I fear, not so good for the church.
What got me thinking about this was the election of Pope Francis—an event scrutinized around the world, at least until Msgr. Marini yelled “Extra omnes” (“Everybody out”) and the doors to the proceedings fell shut. It had to have integrity.
Francis was chosen by the many.
Those who did the choosing were readily known to all.
Those who chose had many to choose from and were not presented with a virtual fait accompli.
Granted, our denominational leaders carry nothing like the responsibility a pope is burdened with. But they still need our collective confidence, as does the process by which we choose them.
These days, for most senior positions in our denomination, synod doesn’t do the choosing anymore. Delegates get to vote on just a single nomination—a person already approved by the Board of Trustees, which also receives only a single nomination from a search committee appointed, no doubt, by good folks—but they are folks not known to the vast majority of the Christian Reformed faithful. And the search committee itself is “advised” by a top denominational functionary who has much at stake and lots of say (though no vote).
The problem with this process is that trustees and synodical delegates are understandably reticent to vote down a single name. Doing so would show disrespect to those vetting the candidate and require a whole other year to go through the process yet again.
Not gonna happen.
So a few people, known only to a few, actually choose our denominational leaders. And only those few know, and will ever get to know, the reasons why capable folks were screened out of the process.
The public drubbing I took at Synod 1989 wasn’t fun, but it was actually quite good for my soul. And if that process gives our churches more say and better ownership of the proceedings, then that’s worth an emotional lump or two.
We believe we have important stuff to teach our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers about church leadership. Maybe so. But we have a lot to learn from them as well.