Synod Opens the Way for Women

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Synod 2007 made a historic decision that allows women who are elders and ministers to be delegated to synod starting next year. Three decades after the often-divisive debate over women in ecclesiastical office started, it came to a peaceful resolution that emphasized the unity of the church.

“We will now be seating women delegates,” said Rev. Bruce Persenaire, Classis Central California. “There’s something historic about that on the 150th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church.”

Synod’s decision will still allow individual classes (regional groups of churches) to declare that women may not be delegated to their classis meetings.

Both supporters of women’s ordination and those who believe Scripture forbids it spoke in favor of the proposal.

“There will be many of us who continue to believe that biblical requirements involve gender, and it is impossible for us to surrender that component,” said Rev. Joel Nederhood, Classis Illiana. “But,” he added, “the issue is the unity of the church of Jesus Christ. I think that [allowing classes to restrict who may be delegated to classis] goes far in enabling us to work together in classes and the local church.”

Rev. George Vander Weit, Classis Grand Rapids East, called it a “tremendous moment” when synod called for removing the word male from the Church Order of the CRC.  “I’ve worked and prayed for this moment for years. I think [this resolution] gives space,” he said. “There’s a huge difference between delegating to classis and delegating to synod. Let’s have the classes look at us and say, ‘That’s the kind of unity we want.’”

A crowd of about 400 people showed up Tuesday night, June 12, to witness the historic decision. Many audience members wore a blue card distributed by a group called “Cloud of Witnesses” to show their support of full inclusion of women in the church. They observed the proceedings in silence, including when the decision was announced.

“We were determined to conduct ourselves in a dignified manner, to let our presence say it all,” said Shirley Roels, an organizer of the Cloud of Witnesses group.

“Women being delegated to synod was the highest and strongest wall, and it’s finally come tumbling down,” said Stephanie Baker Collins, who was on synod’s first panel of women advisers in 2001.

Synod’s decision included a provision that “delegates who believe that the seating of women delegates [at classis or synod] is in violation of the Word of God may record their protest on the appropriate credentials.”

“Thank you for a little bit of space,” said Rev. Warren Lammers, Classis Kalamazoo, in reference to the provision. “I’m very grateful for the toil that has gone into this.”

The decision confirmed Synod 2006’s decision to delete the word male from Church Order Article 3a and effectively reversed that synod’s decision to invoke a seven-year Sabbath rest on discussing the issue.

Synod 2007 president Rev. Joel Boot led the delegates in a concluding prayer. “Now we have made a far-reaching decision that will change a lot of things for our denomination for those on both sides,” he prayed. “Christ, make it possible for us who are different, disagreeing, and sometimes disagreeable to be one in you, that the world may see that we are one.”

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. She has reported on synod, the annual decision-making gathering of the CRC, for many years.

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