Synod 2013 is right around the corner. It would be easy for most of us to ignore it or to use its 400-plus page Agenda as a convenient doorstop. Sometimes it’s hard to see what difference this annual gathering of church leaders makes to those sitting in the pews (or chairs) in a thousand Christian Reformed congregations on Sunday mornings.
But as it turns out, there are quite a few items on this year’s docket that could change life in your local church.
To be sure, some items won’t matter much to anyone who doesn’t work directly for the denomination. That’s not to say they aren’t important for the orderly operation of our denominational structure!
For instance, there is another report coming from the task force looking at the structure and culture of the denomination’s administration. But the only way its work will really matter to my aunt sitting in her church in Grand Rapids, Mich., will be if it streamlines how easily her church can tap into resources for its local ministries, or if new ways of organizing the various denominational agencies and committees could save some money on ministry shares.
It had been expected that Synod 2013 would interview and appoint a new executive director. That plan fell through, and it’s a dilemma for the Board of Trustees and synod to deal with. But will it change church life for my friend in Nanaimo, British Columbia? Probably not so much.
So what does matter to local churches? Have a look at the report from the Diversity in Leadership Planning Group II. When the first iteration of this group reported in 2011, it primarily fulfilled its mandate to propose how to bring more ethnic diversity to the ranks of denominational leadership. This year’s report expands on that with recommendations on how to raise up leaders from ethnic minorities in the local churches. Whether the denomination needs to hire a person to implement those recommendations is up to Synod 2013 to decide.
The task force studying the role of deacons (Diakonia Remixed) is recommending widespread change to how deacons’ work is viewed and carried out at the synodical and regional level, but also the local level. It is proposing changes to everything from wording in the Church Order, to diaconal representation regionally and at synod, to the forms used for ordination, to how long a deacon’s term in office should or could be.
Every year, synod must study and approve the budget. The budget and the minister’s pension plan matter a great deal to local churches because it affects their own local budget.
But where the synod agenda really reflects the life of the local church is in the overtures (requests). Most overtures come from a classis (a regional group of churches), which means that whatever the issue is, that classis deemed it of such high need that it wants to involve the denomination.
There is a request for an affinity classis, a group of churches that believes the Bible mandates the exclusion of women from leadership roles in the church. How synod responds will mean a great deal to those congregations that are feeling like pariahs in their current classis.
Two overtures (and possibly a third) are bringing up (again) homosexuality and same-sex relationships. With same-sex marriage now legal in Canada and in an increasing number of states in the United States, people in local churches are looking for guidance on how to respond when their aunt or brother or friend wants to live in a life-long committed relationship with someone of the same sex and still be a fully embraced member of their congregation.
Other topics of overtures include capital punishment, religious persecution, eastern mysticism, and ministers’ pension plan rules, among others. It might seem like a random collection of topics, but these are the issues that are challenging local churches in their ministry.
So yes, much of what synod attends to falls under the category of minding the store. The work of the Board of Trustees and all the ministry agencies and educational institutions must be assessed, approved, and, yes, celebrated. Each year after synod, delegates (especially first-timers) express appreciation for the time they spent at synod. Even though the days are long, they come away with a new appreciation for the depth and breadth of the work we do together as the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
But for those hundreds of thousands of church members like my friend in Nanaimo and my aunt in Grand Rapids who won’t be at Synod 2013, there is much on this year’s agenda that will indeed matter as they sit in their pew or chair in one of a thousand congregations on Sunday morning.
Synod 2013 will be held in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 7-14. The Banner will post updated articles on its website, Facebook, and Twitter throughout synod. You can also follow synod by via webcast and synod news office press releases, all of which can be accessed via theSynod 2013 website.