If last year’s synod was one of longing to move forward, this year’s synod showed a church taking confident steps into the future. The face of synod, new leaders approved, letting agencies and institutions do what they do best, moving closer to a sister denomination that shares our views, as well as moving closer to yet another denomination with which we have stark differences, all showed Synod 2014 leading a church in transition.
Synod 2014 had a light agenda, allowing it to end a day earlier than planned. But its steps were not taken lightly.
A glance over the floor of Synod 2014 showed just how far transition has already happened. There were more delegates from ethnic minorities than ever before. The result is that for the first time since 1997, no ethnic advisors were appointed. However, the role will be retained if needed in the future. A symbol of that progress was embodied in the report from the Board of Trustees, delivered by Rev. Sheila Holmes, the first woman and the first African American to serve as board president.
On the other hand, the number of female delegates dropped to an historic low in the seven years that female delegates have been allowed.
Also this year, for the first time deacons served as advisors to synod. Their presence is perhaps a foretaste of what is to come. Synod 2015 will debate a report from the Task Force to Study the Offices of Elder and Deacon, which could lead to having deacons as delegates to synod starting in 2016.
Synod 2014 approved two new leaders after three years under interim leadership in both the U.S. and Canada. The interview with Dr. Steven Timmermans, enthusiastically appointed to be the Christian Reformed Church’s new executive director, was a highlight of the week. Synod also ratified the Board of Trustees’ appointment of Rev. Darren Roorda as Canadian Ministries director.
Another big delight, judging from delegates’ reaction, was the interview with Sarah Schreiber, characterized by some as an impromptu class on the Old Testament. She was appointed assistant professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary on the same day she was declared a candidate for the ministry, along with 48 others.
Synod 2014 showed confidence in the way its agencies and institutions are moving forward. After last year’s synod learned that Christian Reformed World Missions is moving toward having its career missionaries raise 90 percent of their own support, causing concern in some parts of the church, Synod 2014 affirmed that direction. Faced with a request to appoint a committee to study theologies denying the historicity of the Genesis account of creation and asserting that Adam and Eve are literary figures, Synod 2014 declared its confidence in scholars at Calvin College and other Reformed colleges supported by the CRC to do that work.
While Synod 2014 accepted the ongoing work of The Banner’sstaff and the Board of Trustees of adapting the magazine to address today’s issues, the lament over two controversial articles, followed by the apology of The Banner editor, showed a church unwilling or unsure of how to handle the magazine’s synodical mandate to stimulate critical thinking in the church. It ordered a review of that mandate.
Synod 2014 was a celebration of increasing cooperation with the Reformed Church in America. The RCA synod met at Central College, in Pella, Iowa, at the same time as the CRC synod. From delegates all wearing lapel pins that said “Together [again],” to combined worship and shared meals, the togetherness of the two denominations was an overarching theme. The delegates of both churches simultaneously and unanimously adopted a policy that made working together in ministry the default mode of both churches, except in cases where deeply held beliefs keep them from doing so. The display of unity of the two denominations was carefully orchestrated and included an extensive recounting of the many ways the two churches already work together. But there was no opportunity given to also note differences, such as differing perspectives on Christian education.
Working together with a denomination that shares much of our theological view is easier than working with a denomination that has sharp differences. But the CRC showed itself confident enough in its own theology to return to close ecclesiastical fellowship with the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, where starkly different views are held on some issues, including same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons, differences that were noted by synod delegates.
A subtle, almost unnoticed, change showed that synod is no longer just about policy but also about ministry on the ground. For the first time, the synod agenda included a slate of ministry workshops available for delegates, which many appreciated.
Synod 2015 will be faced with some possibly difficult choices regarding how the denomination’s leadership will be structured administratively. And it will have to decide on bringing deacons to synod as delegates. It will be a much fuller agenda than this year’s.
But if this year’s synod is any indication, Synod 2015 will show a church that continues to move forward in the confidence that, while it doesn’t know what the future holds, it knows Who holds that future.