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Delegates to Synod 2016 participated in the Blanket Exercise on Saturday afternoon. Acting out the history of indigenous people in North America helped participants grasp the emotions involved.

The exercise begins with a beautiful picture: dozens of people move around barefoot over a floor covered by brightly-colored blankets. These represent indigenous peoples before Europeans arrived.

As the story progresses, the blankets are folded back and eventually removed by invading settlers. Through disease, heartache, and death, many of the indigenous people also leave the scene.

“At the end you are by yourself and no one is approaching you. There is a loss of community, a loss of connectedness,” said Sarah van Breda, a woman adviser to Synod.

From papal edicts designed to “vanquish pagans,” to indigenous children forced into white boarding schools, some participants felt the betrayal and the injustice. “My heart and mind screamed for God’s grace,” said Dick Mulder, Classis Holland.

Laws and declarations were read aloud, including a vague 2012 apology from the United States that ended with a disclaimer which stated that nothing in the apology was legally binding. “I wanted to dismiss that apology from the United States. It helped me appreciate that those words are hollow. Something else has to happen,” said John Aukema, Classis Zeeland.

Afterwards, delegates walked in silence back to their committee rooms, where they shared responses to the exercise. Some wept.

“I’m grateful that God is my judge, because if I were my judge I’d probably be in pretty deep trouble. I’m grateful and a little ashamed that the worst I have to face is a little bit of the grief for . . . that 1,600 years of sin,” said Daniel Zylstra, Classis Eastern Canada.

“I knew these things in an intellectual way, but this experience was so much different than reading a book,” said Karen Wynbeek, Classis Central California.


Synod 2016 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-17. 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 several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.

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