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Delegates to Synod 2015 (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church) will have plenty to deliberate on for a week in June: from church structure to homosexuality and from representation of deacons to the underrepresentation of women at synod. For a second year, synod will also consider items related to The Banner. The 2015 Agenda for Synod is available online; print copies are sent to each church.

Two Task Force Reports

The reports and recommendations of two task forces will be the headliners. Reports from the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture and the Task Force to Study the Offices of Elder and Deacon have appeared on synod agendas for the past several years, but this year both task forces are to make their final report.

Talk of church structure may be sleep-inducing for many delegates, and it isn’t a topic that tends to  stir the hearts of many people in the pew. But the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture, appointed by Synod 2011, is making sweeping recommendations that, if adopted, would change how the denominational agencies will be governed, as well as recommendations that could lead to changes in how classes and synod itself operate. The task force is recommending changing the current 30-member Board of Trustees, which acts on behalf of synod, to a 60-member Council of Delegates. The boards of Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed Home Missions, and Christian Reformed World Missions would become subcommittees of a global missions committee that reports to the Council. (See also “Grand Rapids Dreaming.”)

The report from the Task Force to Study the Offices of Elders and Deacons will probably resonate more with delegates, if for no other reason that half of them are elders, and many have also served as deacons. If the recommendations of this task force are accepted, deacons will be delegates to classis (regional groups of churches) and to synod, starting next year. However, there are several overtures (requests) and communications about this report, some urging synod to adopt it, others requesting revisions or delays, and one asking that the recommendations be rejected. (See also “Synod 2016 May Include Deacons.”)

Issues Related to Homosexuality

Homosexuality and how the CRC deals with it will be part of several discussions. The Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-Sex Marriage, appointed in 2013, will present its interim report. It is not expected to make recommendations until 2016, but Classis Hamilton is raising concerns about the membership of that committee.

Classis Minnkota wants Synod 2015 to instruct the consistories of two churches in Grand Rapids, Mich., to exercise church discipline with respect to those in their congregations who are “publicly advocating homosexual practice” through their membership in All One Body, a group that promotes full participation in the church of all Christians, including those who are in monogamous, committed same-sex relationships. Minnkota also wants the consistories of those churches admonished for hosting meetings of the group.

In addition, homosexuality will be the subtext in any discussion about the CRC’s relationship with the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PCN). That relationship has been strained for many years, due in no small part to the fact that some PCN churches ordain practicing homosexuals. Last year, Synod 2014 voted to return to full ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCN, the closest form of ecumenical relationships.

Two overtures are protesting that change. The executive director’s office, which is in charge of preparing the Agenda, took the unusual step of including a note in the Agenda that informs readers that the overtures appear to present no new and sufficient reasons to reopen the issue as required by Church Order Article 31, and that Synod 2015 will first have to decide whether reconsideration of the issue is warranted. (The last time that kind of caveat was included in the Agenda was 1991. That year, many overtures were received asking Synod 1991 to rescind the 1990 decision to allow women to be ordained as elders and ministers. Rev. Leonard Hofman, general secretary at the time, noted that asking a synod to rescind a decision of a previous year without new grounds is in conflict with the Rules for Synodical Procedure.) One of the overtures does note that when the issue came before Synod 2014, it was after the printed Agenda had been published, so churches did not have sufficient time to study or respond to the recommendation that came from the denomination’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee.

Female Delegates

Since 2008, the first year women were allowed to be delegates to synod, the percentage of female delegates has not risen above 10 percent. Last year’s contingent was the lowest yet at 13 women, or 7 percent. One classis is asking synod to appoint female advisors to synod, patterned after the practice of appointing ethnic advisors. When the number of delegates of ethnic minorities does not reach 25, ethnic advisors are appointed to synod. Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan would like female advisors to be appointed whenever there are fewer than 25 women delegated to synod. The idea of female advisors is not new. There were female advisors starting 2001, but the practice was discontinued once synod allowed women to serve as delegates.

Religious Persecution, The Banner, and More

The Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, appointed in 2013, will give Synod 2015 an update of its work. Its report in the Synod 2015 Agenda gives a preview of what will come before Synod 2016 when it presents its final report and recommendations.

The Banner will get its share of attention from Synod 2015. After last year’s apology to synod from editor Rev. Bob De Moor and consternation expressed by some delegates about Banner content, De Moor will again be at the podium, this time to be recognized for his significant contributions to the life of the denomination. He will retire from The Banner in August. Delegates will also consider revisions to The Banner’smandate and decide on the process for the search for a new editor.

The proposed unification of Home Missions and World Missions is not part of the official Agenda, but if the boards of those two mission agencies decide at their spring meetings to move forward with the process, Synod 2015 will no doubt be asked for its blessing to pursue that direction.

A close reading of the Agenda shows that there are reports from two new ministries this year. Worship Ministries and Discipleship and Faith Formation Ministries are both making their synod debut. Both carry on part of the work that was previously done through Faith Alive Christian Resources, the publications ministry of the Christian Reformed Church.

Another debut will be that of Classis Ko-Am, a second classis that functions primarily in the Korean language. Synod 2014 approved dividing Classis Pacific Hanmi into Classis Hanmi and Classis Ko-Am.

Delegates will convene for Synod 2015 at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, from June 12-18. The Banner will post articles on its website throughout the week and keep readers updated via Twitter and Facebook. There will also be a live webcast and press releases from CRC Communications. The July/August 2015 issue of The Banner will contain a round-up of news from Synod 2015.

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