After prompting lengthy discussions on addressing abuse at Synod 2018, the annual general gathering of the Christian Reformed Church, Bev Sterk, a member of Second CRC in Lynden, Wash., has had opportunities around the denomination to share her story and encourage people working on the issue. She was invited to Waterloo, Ont., where she spoke at the March 2 Inter-classis Safe Church Conference, an event that Classis Huron, a regional group of Christian Reformed congregations, has been holding for 20 years.
Sterk said she spent her time in Waterloo listening to people share their stories. “The conversations were listening to other people—what they had experienced or what they were struggling with,” Sterk said. She hopes that as the church addresses instances of misuse of power to harm another person in various ways, or to gain influence at the expense of another person, people, and women in particular, will have safe spaces to share.
Sterk has become a face for addressing the abuse of power partly because her request (overture) to synod came from her as an individual rather than from a classis or church council.
“In hindsight, I had no intention of having my name on the overture. I was thinking the council and/or classis would adopt it—or some form of it,” Sterk said. “But after [it wasn’t adopted] I prayed ‘Okay Lord, what do you want me to do?’ And it became clear to me to send it on.” Sterk believes that provided an unexpected opportunity for openness. “I have had people contact me directly,” she said. “I think . . . if it had been submitted by a council or a classis, that might not have happened.”
In Classis Pacific Northwest, where Sterk serves on the Classical Executive Committee, the March 7 and 8 classis meeting included a restorative practice presentation and review of safe church training resources. In October the classis adopted recommendations for four hours of annual abuse-prevention training for officebearers.
“The #metoo and the #churchtoo movements I think empowered women’s voices and people’s voices on the floor of synod to speak up. After synod there are two prongs going forward now: local and denominational,” Sterk said. “At the local classis level we are continuing to work on these recommendations, and we’re working somewhat in partnership and collaboration with the Abuse of Power Committee.”
The committee, mandated by Synod 2018 to bring recommendations to this year’s annual gathering, presented a draft to the CRC’s Council of Delegates in February. (The Council carries out the work of the church between synods.) The finalized version is expected to be included with the supplemental material for Synod 2019, available mid to late May.
Sterk said that eliminating abuse is not constrained to changing codes and practices. “There are two different aspects that need to change: systemic and culture attitudes. We can change systems and put policies in place, but if the heart hasn’t changed, it’s still there.”
At each level and for each church member, Sterk encourages prayerful action. “I believe that's God's design—that the priesthood of all believers rise up,” she said. “[We] need to step in to what the Lord is asking us to do. In a denomination there are some things that are most effective at the local level, there are some things that are most effective at a regional level, and there are some things that are most effective at a denominational level. And no level can abdicate their responsibility.”
If readers are interested in more about the background that led Sterk to write her 2018 overture to synod, see The Story behind the Abuse Overture.