News

What to Watch for at Synod 2018

Perusal of the Agenda for Synod 2018 indicates that Synod 2018 may pick up where Synod 2017 left off, when fault lines appeared over how the Christian Reformed church carries out its mission to “do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.”

Nearly 200 delegates and advisors will gather from June 7-14 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.)

Justice

Church members agree that the denomination must promote mercy and justice, but there is disagreement about how that should happen. Two classes (regional groups of churches) are asking synod to tell CRC staff to stop lobbying on behalf of the denomination (Agenda, pp. 319-330). Another overture wants better discussion and education focused on biblical principles for public discipleship (pp. 317-319).

A report with input by staff of several denominational agencies, at the request of the executive director, commenting on the overtures noted that synod has a long history of providing the instructions for the activities found inappropriate in these overtures. It also noted that “our denomination has a history of leaning into an ecclesiology that embraces justice and reconciliation work. When synod provides an instruction relative to social justice action to its ministries, for example, the church assumes that such matters have moved into the ecclesiastical realm given their doctrinal and/or ethical gravitas.”

The Council of Delegates endorsed the report and is forwarding it to the synod advisory committee dealing with the overtures. It will not be distributed to all delegates or published in the supplementary synod agenda materials.

Reformed Church in America

This year, the annual synod of the Reformed Church in America, the CRC’s closest sister denomination, is meeting at the same time on the same campus. Delegates from both synods will spend a lot of time together in worship, workshops, plenary sessions, and advisory committee sessions. The joint nature of the two synods is one of ongoing results of the so-called Pella Accord struck in 2014. That year, both denominations agreed that the two denominations are to “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.”

The two denominations already have several joint church plants, combined ministries such as Disability Concerns, and joint grants for various projects. At this synod, delegates from both synods will gather in groups of 20 to address topics of interest in both churches. Last year, both synods viewed a video about options of further collaboration or the creation of a new denomination. Some delegates will see the same video and hear the feedback given then.

Classis and Commissioned Pastors

Of course, synod spends much time on internal issues. This year, delegates will take a closer look at the role of classis, including a request to change the definition of classis in the Church Order. (Agenda, pp. 44-50.)
There is now a denominational classis renewal group in place and it wants each classis to submit a ministry plan to be reported to synod. A few churches want to move to different classes based on whether the classis does or doesn’t allow women to be classis delegates. One classis wants synod to allow one classis to appeal directly to another rather than going through synod (Agenda, pp. 312-314).

Also related to classis are extensive changes to Church Order Article 23 being recommended by the CRC’s Candidacy Office. Article 23 deals with the position of commissioned pastors, people who are ordained to serve in a specific role within a specific classis (Agenda, pp. 203 -228).

Safe Church

Synod 2018 is receiving a request that it address patterns of abuse of power in the churches  (Agenda, pp. 282-307). In a related matter, the CRC’s Council of Delegates heard that the Safe Church office is getting increasing numbers of calls regarding incidents of abuse in the #MeToo culture creating heightened awareness of abuse in North America.

The Council of Delegates is sending a report to synod that points to the Abuse Victims Task Force report approved by Synod 2010. Among the recommendations in that report was one to allocate resources to provide support for pastoral care and healing (Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 862-866).

Faith Formation

Classis Huron wants Synod 2018 to approve funding for new curriculum development. The Council of Delegates previously approved curriculum proposals but said there was no money to fund it. Faith Formation Ministries has since then raised some money outside of ministry shares and hopes to receive money from a proposed ministry shares increase.

Classis Huron also wants synod to clarify the mandate of Faith Formation Ministries. When the Faith Alive board was disbanded in 2013, synod said that critical functions, such as Sunday school curricula, would be continued. But it never specified who would make that happen. This overture wants that specified.

Money

The Council of Delegates is recommending a ministry shares increase of $7 (2 percent). Ministry shares are the monies collected from churches for shared ministries. That would bring the per adult ministry shares amount to $346.48. There has been no increase since 2016.

Allocations of ministry shares to the major ministry agencies and educational institutions remain the same. The recommended increase would go entirely to Congregational Services, a collection of several ministries that includes Faith Formation Ministries and Safe Church. As noted, more than one of those ministries needs more resources to fulfill their mandates. The allocation within Congregational Services will be at the discretion of executive leadership.

Listen More, Speak Less

It will be a full week with some tough discussions. The question is whether delegates will heed the urging of Cor Pool, president Synod 2017. In his closing address, he urged delegates to “keep moving forward with humble hearts. Listen more. Speak less. Build oneness and unity.”

This story was changed on May 11, 2018 to correct the authorship of the report commenting on the overtures.

About the Author

See comments (8)

Comments

Fascinating.  Why would the entirety of the 2018 Agenda be published and available to all CRCers (and all 2018 delegates, and the world even), while the OSJ comments about just a few overtures be kept "confidential," given only to the 2018 advisory committee members?  (Except apparently the sentence (leaked to?) the Banner and quoted in this article?).

Sorry, but the appearance here is of a backdoor politics strategy.  Reminiscent of Synod 2012 perhaps.

Why don't we instead have an open, honest discussion about these issues, which can start by dropping the "top secret" classification status for parts of the conversation.

I'm wondering: do committee members have to have a security classification to receive these OSJ comments?  May they "leak" it?

This is no way to make important church decisions.

The concerns addressed in the noted overtures are held by many. Openly addressing these concerns is important! The defensive posture of OSJ is not helpful.

In the fourth paragraph of this article, the original sentence made it appear that the staff report was written only by OSJ staff. It was in fact written by staff from several offices, at the invitation of the executive director. The text now reflects that. I apologize for the error.

Gayla Postma

Doug, I just want to clarify here. The staff report referred to was written by several staff, as mentioned in my previous comment. It was contained in the materials for the recent meeting of the Council of Delegates, so was not a secret document. There were no back door politics here and I'm sorry if that is how it seemed from my writing. 
It was the choice of the council of delegates to send its comments only to the synod advisory committee. Staff involved in writing the report were not involved in that decision.
I hope that helps.

Thanks for the supplemental/corrective information Gayla, but am I correctly understanding that this is a communication (whoever the author) that still goes from COD to the advisory committee only?  That is, it is not published like the rest of the agenda items are?

Color me confused. :-) 

Ouch, Doug. It's 'never good when my writing leaves people confused! You are correct that the report endorsed by COD is going only to the advisory committee. 

[The COD endorsed the report and is sending it to synod, but only to the advisory committee dealing with the overtures. That means that other delegates will not see it, and it will not be included in the supplementary Agenda materials.

In setting this precedent, COD chairperson Paul DeVries said, “By making our comments directly to the advisory committee (as opposed to public comments through the agenda supplement), the COD can forward appropriate and helpful communications without unduly influencing the process. This allows synod itself, through its advisory committees, to be fully informed while maintaining the right of synod to determine what to do with the information."]

Thanks for that additional information, Gayla.  I'm still confused but not by your reporting. 

I can't figure out how or why the COD sending comments about specific overtures ONLY to the advisory committee, and not to all delegates, nor CRC members, nor even the classes sending the overtures (so they might respond?), can be seen as a strategy to "not unduly influence the process."  I would understand that to be a strategy to in fact unduly influence the process.

This perception is based on practicing law for 39 years, including involvement in a whole lot of contentious matters.  Ex parte communications to the judge are a big no-no because of the potential to "unduly influence the process."  Printing all the overtures and other agenda materials for the CRC world to see is great -- it's transparency.  The COD having ex parte communication with the advisory committee about two overtures is not transparency but the opposite.

If you really want to WATCH (and listen) I recommend these video conversations I hosted in anticipation of this Synod. You can find the three of them on my blog. https://paulvanderklay.me/2018/05/11/video-conversations-on-crc-synod2018-overtures/

I did a video last year I tongue in cheek called "a postgame show" https://youtu.be/ul1Z8NTMCE8 . Those were early days for my video making. I'll be interested to see if the faultlines hold true for this year as well. Here's a written version for the readers out there. https://www.thebanner.org/departments/2017/06/synod-2017-reflections-from-a-theological-geologist

X