Every year, synod (the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church) walks through a long list of names of pastors and official actions taken with respect to them over the course of a year. This year, the document was 31 pages long.
Except in very rare instances, synod simply ratifies these actions that are, for the most part, taken in the classes (regional assemblies of churches) and overseen by synodical deputies (people officially designated to represent synod and ensure good order). It would be easy to pass the document by as so much boring bureaucratic work required of synod.
But in each of the compact paragraphs written in the stuffy language of official documents, there is a story, some of occasions for celebration, some of pain.
The document begins with a simple list of ministers who have or are about to retire, about 44 of them this year. President of Synod 2019, William Koopmans, had the delegates pause for a moment to acknowledge the years of service given by these pastors noting their careers were filled with “joy, and at times struggle and agony."
Four pastors on the list are current delegates to synod: Daniel Mouw, Neil de Koning, Laryn Zoerhof, and Louis Korf. Koopmans asked them to stand, and they were applauded enthusiastically by the delegates.
Following the retirements are lists of newly appointed ministers, in a way replacements for those who are retiring. Sixteen came to the denomination from other denominations, while 43 others were candidates for the ministry who successfully sustained examinations in the classes and were declared ministers of the Word.
There are also lists of ministers who have been approved to serve in ministries outside of the institutional church, chaplains, professors, and the like; lists of ministers loaned to other denominations; and lists of ministers released from office, some honorably, some not.
Midway through the document is a list of what have come to be known as Article 17s. Article 17 in the denominational Church Order provides a way for congregations and pastors to part ways, often but not always in cases when the ministry is not going well. In the document, the language is antiseptic, but in the life of the minister and congregation going through the Article 17 process, the reality is often difficult and painful. These pages reek with personal agony.
At the end of the document, the lists turn from ministers of the Word to commissioned pastors. In another article, The Banner will cover the development of this new office, but its importance for the denomination is indicated by the 48 new positions opened up for commissioned pastors. The list also notes (because it requires approval by a local classis) commissioned pastors serving as sole pastors of formally organized churches, seven of them in two categories.
The list concludes with commissioned pastors who have ended their service, 19 in all.
At the end of its review of these pages, synod prayed, noting the many stories represented in these pages and the sum of human joy and human pain they chronicle.
Synod 2019 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 14-20. For continuous coverage from our award-winning news team, download the Banner app on your mobile device or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted on The Banner’s dedicated Synod web page several times daily. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.