In a Christian Reformed version of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, Dave Larsen had Synod 2010 delegates in stitches on Sunday night when he told tales of such things as the Cadet pine-wood derby.
His vintage opening line, “It was a quiet week in Palos Heights,” also turned out to be somewhat prophetic. Synod was almost over before delegates fully engaged in discussion during plenary sessions.
It was on the final day of synod that delegates held their most substantive discussion. It surrounded the issue of women’s ordination, a subject that continues to shadow the church even though women may now serve in all the ordained offices and be delegated to church assemblies at every level.
In this case the discussion—at times painful and emotional—centered on whether two Michigan churches could transfer to a geographically distant classis (regional group of churches) that does not allow women delegates. Synod said they couldn’t (see p. 30).
Synod also debated and commented appreciatively on a report from the Committee to Study Migration of Workers (p. 32). Other issues that raised at least some debate included climate change (p. 45), creation and human origins (p. 36), and ministry to abuse victims (p. 34).
Yet when presented with a denominational budget that included a 3 percent increase in ministry share (a per-member amount congregations pay to support the broader ministries of the CRC), delegates had no questions or even comments—though many churches have already cut staffing to meet their own budgets (p. 40).
And when the Faith Formation Committee brought forward its “guiding principle” that will lead to a proposal next year to allow children to participate in communion without a public profession of faith, discussion was minimal, even though this would mark a major change in church polity and practice (see p. 32).
Delegates did express some anger when the denomination’s Board of Trustees did not provide a report about what it is doing to include people of color in the senior leadership structure, as had been mandated by Synod 2009 (p. 35).
Yet a related report about how the board would handle significant structural change in the future, which had raised much discussion in 2009, passed without comment (p. 35).
What was the cat that had the tongues of this year’s delegates? The Banner asked around as the week progressed.
Delegates confirmed what we suspected. One factor was that 59 percent of this year’s delegates were first-timers, a higher percentage than usual.
Many delegates also said they felt rushed. Delegates were told from the get-go that it was hoped synod would wrap up by Thursday evening, allowing denominational staff and others to get back to Grand Rapids, Mich., for the Uniting General Council meeting that formed the World Communion of Reformed Churches (p. 26). Also, the chapel in which synod was meeting was needed on Friday morning for a funeral.
When synod changed from a two-week event to just one week back in 1997, it was understood that synod could last from Saturday to Saturday. After all, synods are supposed to be deliberative—studying and discussing issues, discerning common ground, and building consensus when possible. And that takes time.
Some committees this year were unable to reach consensus on matters they were discussing and had to present the plenary sessions with separate reports.
When The Banner asked why the committees didn’t spend more time trying to find agreement, one delegate said they were told that if they hadn’t reached agreement on the first day (Saturday), then they had to start writing separate reports Monday morning.
That first day of synod allows for only about six hours of committee work—hardly enough time to gain understanding of differing viewpoints and build consensus.
Already short on time, delegates rejected a proposal to spend time each year reflecting on an important topic facing the church—simply talking about it without the pressure of voting. Delegates said there just isn’t enough room in the schedule to include something like that (p. 31).
Calvin Seminary professor Rev. Henry De Moor, synod’s adviser on Church Order for the past 20 years, noted that synod used to have deliberations of great theological depth. “We have much less time,” he said. “Sometimes I bemoan moving to a one-week synod, but other times I rejoice. However, I’m cognizant that you don’t make good decisions with airline tickets burning in your pocket” (p. 43).
Despite their time constraints, this synod did some good work. Unlike 2007, when the topic of migrant workers was handled in a way that offended some Hispanic delegates, this year Rev. Eduardo Gonzalez told delegates he was moved almost to tears and proud to be Christian Reformed after the way Synod 2010 delegates talked about how to minister to undocumented workers.
Following discussion of the Abuse Victims Task Force report, Rev. Greg Schuringa spoke about how impressed he was with the work, the expertise, and the heart for bringing healing evidenced in the report.
In addition, Synod 2010’s work included appointing a new president for Calvin Theological Seminary (p. 42), the Christian Reformed Church’s official theological school.
Finally, delegates also approved promoting synod’s youth observers to “young adult advisers,” beginning next year—a status that will give them a voice on the synod floor (p. 36).
Today’s youth observers will likely be tomorrow’s delegates. And if the quality and ambition of this year’s observers are any indication, then whatever the shortcomings of synod’s format, the future looks very bright.
About the Author
Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.