In a historic move, Synod 2015 voted to make deacons full participants in the broader decision-making bodies of the Christian Reformed Church. Synod is the CRC’s annual leadership meeting.
Throughout CRC history, only elders and ministers have been delegated to synod from classes (regional groups of churches), but now delegations will consist of a minister, an elder, a deacon, and, in the case of synod, one other officebearer who may be either a minister, an elder, or a deacon.
At the classis level, some classes have already included deacons in their deliberations. But with the Church Order changes adopted by this synod, each church will send an elder, a deacon, and a minister to classis meetings unless “great distance or other weighty reasons” prevent them from doing so.
The original impetus for the change was a request in 2010 that synod redefine the role of deacons by making changes to the Church Order. Since then, subsequent synods have heard from two task forces that studied the issue. The changes adopted by this synod were proposed by Synod 2013.
“We really want to see the diaconate be the agent of transformation in the community and a nurturing agent of the people in the church,” said Andrew Ryskamp, director of World Renew-U.S., who advised both task forces. “The diaconate as it exists now in many churches is not functioning in that way.”
“In our classis, deacons have been invited and welcomed for some time,” said Deacon Adviser Trena Boonstra. “My experience is that this has been a helpful and enriching thing. [We had some] deacons [who] were new to the CRC. . . . They came back from classis knowing more about our denomination and the possibility of working with others.”
Rev. Joel Zuidema, Classis Illiana, warned that having deacons serve as delegates would severely blur the lines between church offices. “What we have has been working for 150 years,” he said. “We don’t want deacons making decisions in our church boardrooms.”
Elder Herb Schreur, Classis Northcentral Iowa, was won over to the idea of deacon delegates through discussion at synod. “I don’t believe this does blur the lines,” Schreur said. “It does call everyone to help with everything, but it also calls certain people to help with certain things. One of the hard things I’ve learned in my life is that at some point I have to decide whether God’s speaking to me in my head or through the other 20 people in the room.”
Rev. John Hoekwater, Classis Northern Illinois, believes that the role of deacon must be expanded to fit the modern context. “We are looking at our communities and realizing that the ways we structured ourselves served our purposes in the past,” he said. “Deacons served primarily in their own congregations. Now people . . . want to hear what this church is doing in our community. The diaconal work is as important and deserving of energy as the elder work. We can’t segregate word from deed.”
An emotional Rev. Richard Bodini, Classis Toronto, told delegates, "This is a watershed moment. The description of the work of deacons has not changed in over 50 years. You have changed things for the better for diaconal work."
Synod 2015 is meeting at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, from June 12-18. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit crcna.org. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.