Canadian Forum Causes Both Appreciation and Frustration

For the first time in 10 years, Canadians from across the country met to talk about ministry in the Christian Reformed Church in Canada.

The C3-Canadian Catalytic Conversation was sponsored by Classis Toronto (a regional group of churches). The 120 people who attended included four delegates from each Canadian classis, denominational executives, members of the church’s Board of Trustees, and many people who just wanted to be part of the conversation.

Organizers noted at the beginning of the one-and-a-half-day meeting that even though every classis had sent a delegation, this was not an official denominational event and had no official standing, so even those delegated weren’t speaking on behalf of their classes. It was simply a conversation, with no decisions or planned next steps.

At the end, participants interviewed by The Banner expressed appreciation to Classis Toronto for organizing what they considered to be a much-needed conversation. Some expressed frustration that not enough time was spent discussing how the denominational structures are, in their view, preventing uniquely Canadian ministry initiatives from happening.

Albert Huizing of Classis Eastern Canada was one of those who appreciated the conversation about ministry. “We accomplished a lot and we did it in a positive and honoring manner,” he said. “We were able to . . . give big ideas to the small and local churches who are struggling in their own specific areas.”

James Dekker of Classis Niagara also appreciated the conversation. “I hoped that we would start talking right where we did: not with structure and organization but with what we as CRC folks in Canada were dealing with socially, demographically, religiously, and spiritually, and how that was different from how we perceive our American sisters’ and brothers’ climate and struggles.

But Cathy Tilstra of Classis Alberta South was less enthusiastic. “A positive, respectful discussion was had,” she said. “However, the question of what is our role as a Canadian arm of the CRC was asked so late in the forum [that] it did not allow ample time for us to thoroughly discuss all the challenges facing Canadian leadership within the binational context.”

Shiao Chong from Classis Toronto expressed similar sentiment. “The conference’s key question was, ‘What is God calling us to do in our unique Canadian context, and what are the leadership structure and strategies required to do this?’ I am not sure if the end result showed a clear connection between the first half of the question with its second half. This tension was named by both participants and facilitators but was never resolved.”

Ralph Koops, a retired pastor from Ontario, was very disappointed. “I had expected a totally different agenda. I thought we were coming to discuss our Reformed witness in our Canadian culture. I saw little in the agenda about our cultural communal witness,” he said. “I am really grateful that Classis Toronto initiated this conference, but we need to continue these discussions to strengthen our Canadian voice. To address the nation of Canada from out of Grand Rapids [Mich.] is ludicrous. Canada is a different nation from the U.S.”

Most agreed that the event was only a first step in what needs to be an ongoing conversation.

“Classes and churches should use the forum document(s) as a way to look further at this and ask questions about who we are on the Canadian side,” said Henry Kranenburg of Classis Hamilton.

One of the forum documents Kranenburg referred to was a statement written by a committee of Classis Toronto that many in attendance agreed accurately reflected the discussion.

The statement said, in part, that while supporting a binational church, Canadians need a unique voice to respond to a national context that is bilingual, secular, multicultural, and with different political systems that deeply impact ministries in public justice, health, education, and ecumenical relations.

Canadian churches and classes were invited to consider sending overtures to Synod 2013 (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) to strengthen the church’s witness in Canada. Those overtures could include a call for the Canada corporation members of the CRC Board of Trustees to be given the resources needed “to exercise robust governance for Canadian programs and Canadian donor dollars, also in response to growing Canadian legal requirements,” and a call to establish organizational structures that offer denominational leaders within Canada the authority and ability to faithfully respond to Canadian realities.

Synod 2013 will hear the results or at least updates of three different reviews currently underway: The Task Force to Study Structure and Culture, whose work includes looking at issues of binationality; the Strategic Planning Task Force; and a review of the role of the Director of Canadian Ministries.

“We must acknowledge the differences between Canada and the U.S. in order to be more deeply united,” said Nate Vandenend (pictured above) from Classis Toronto. “Otherwise we continue operating as a U.S.- based denomination with congregations in Canada, which drowns out the Canadian voices and does not seem to offer much of a way forward for distinctive Canadian ministry.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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