Guide to the Agenda for Synod 2019 and Supplementary Reports

Guide to the Agenda for Synod 2019 and  Supplementary Reports

Welcome to The Banner’s first-ever guide to the Agenda for Synod and supplementary reports.

If you are new to the Christian Reformed Church or to synod, or if you’re a veteran who doesn’t feel like wading through a 521-page book plus its supplementary material (76,688 words in all, no pictures!), you’ve come to the right place. We hope our 7,350-word guide gives you a good overview.

Note that this is not an exhaustive guide to everything in the Agenda, and it is not published by the synodical services office of the Christian Reformed Church. For either of those, you will need to read the actual Agenda for Synod 2019 and 2019 Agenda Supplement.

Synod, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church, can be daunting for just about anyone, whether you are attending in some capacity or watching from afar on a webcast or just nominally following along via social media (Twitter and Facebook) or The Banner’s dedicated Synod web page.

Handing you a printed Agenda or sending you to the online version is akin to pushing you into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim.

We hope this guide will be a life jacket to keep you afloat in a sea of words, rules, and practices.

Before we dive in, have a look at the front of the Agenda for Synod 2019. It says,

“Responding to God’s gracious call.” That is true on so many levels at synod. It is evident in the worship, the prayers, the way delegates (usually) work together and speak to each other, and more. This Agenda shows how the Christian Reformed Church, in so many ways, through its ministries, committees, and agencies, responds to God’s gracious invitation into his redeeming work.

As you read this guide, we hope you will find a new appreciation for this home we call the Christian Reformed Church. And as synod gets underway, June 14 to 20, The Banner’s award-winning onsite news team will bring you the facts of synod decisions, along with the history and context around the important issues of the day.
Gayla R. Postma, Banner news editor


Table of Contents

Preface
    What is synod and why does it matter?
    Church Order
Let’s Get Started!
The Delegates
Council of Delegates Report (pp. 19-143) and the Supplementary Report
    Gender and Ethnic Diversity
    Chicago South Appeals Committee
    Changing the Church Order
    Judicial Code Committee
         Bible Translations
     Unresolved Conflict
     Abuse of Power
     Classis or Regional Assembly?
     Evaluation and Prioritization
     Immigrant Churches
     U.S. Committee to Guide and Support the Office of Social Justice (OSJ)
     Financial Matters
Ministry Shares
    Bivocational Task Force
Safe Church Reporting
Our Shared Ministries
Standing Committees
    Candidacy Committee
        Articles 23 and 24, and Supplements
        Articles 82-84
        Article 8, Church Order Supplement, sections E and F
       Persons Approved to be Called as Ministers of the Word
       Review of the Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy (EMPC)
    Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee
Historical Committee
     Who Runs Heritage Hall?
Study Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality
Synod Review Task Force
Overtures Communications & Appeals
Calvin College Supplement
Calvin Theological Seminary Supplement
Bonus Materials! How Synod Works


Preface

What is synod and why does it matter?

Before we dive into the Agenda, let’s talk a minute about some basics. As mentioned, synod is the annual leadership meeting, or general assembly, of the CRC. It is the broadest authority in the denomination.
Synod meets annually, in June, usually in Grand Rapids, Mich., though it does occasionally convene in other cities. This year it meets June 14-20, 2019, at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Each of 48 classes (regions) sends four delegates to synod where they will learn, celebrate, and make decisions about matters that concern the denomination.

Church Order

As you read this guide, you will find several references to the Church Order. That is the rule book, so to speak, that governs the denomination, its classes, and its congregations. We have all covenanted together to follow these rules.

I like to think of the Church Order like plumbing code. It isn’t exciting to talk about (unless you’re a plumber!), but it can prevent things from going wrong as you build. The rules were made over the years by people with long experience and for good reasons. They get changed only through extensive deliberation and consensus.


Let’s Get Started!

Like any hefty book, the front matter is pretty basic: copyright information, procedural and policy information, preface, table of contents, schedule, and more. It doesn’t change much from year to year.

The Delegates

Page 13 is where the fun starts, when we get to see who is actually coming to synod. Some people may take a quick peek to see if anyone they know is going. (“Hey, look, Aunt Judy is going to synod!”) Whether you read the list or not, whether you know anyone or not, remember that these are our folks. If you are a member of the CRC, you are part of a body of churches that selected these people to make the decisions on what is contained on this Agenda. Pray for them!

The real meat of the Agenda for many synod-watchers is

  • what the Council of Delegates has done over the past year, particularly in fulfilling the assignments given to it by previous synods;
  • what study committees and task forces appointed by synod are recommending;
  • the overtures (requests) coming from the councils and classes.

The Council of Delegates Report (pp. 19-143) & (Supplement pp. 1-10)

The following items were considered important enough for a synod to specify what it wanted done. Some of those actions have been reported in The Banner over the past year. Starting on p. 22, you’ll see those tasks. The tasks assigned by Synod 2018 included the following:

[ ] clarify expectations for denominational funding of Reformed curricula;
[ ] explore potential for enfolding immigrant churches into the CRC;
[ ] recommend a process to approve Bible translations for communal worship;
[ ] recommend how the CRC can best address patterns of abuse of power;
[ ] recommend clarifications of the Judicial Code;
[ ] reexamine the most appropriate language to use when reporting on ethnic and gender diversity;
[ ] create a committee to provide guidance and support to the Office of Social Justice;
[ ] publicize resources addressing unresolved conflict in our history and the need for reconciliation;
[ ] report annually the number of congregations and classes that have and don’t have Safe Church teams and policies;
[ ] figure out the costs involved in changing the title classis to regional assembly;
[ ] continue to evaluate and prioritize denominational ministries.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what some of these mean. We’ll get to all of them. And you can come back to this list and see how you think the Council did! *Hint: If you’ve been faithfully reading The Banner you’ll already know how they did!

But first, let’s get through what some see as the more mundane material.

The Council report includes a myriad of information that must be reported for the sake of transparency in governance. It is here that Agenda readers both new and vintage can be confounded. The COD report covers so many things: communicating to synod delegates what the Council has done since the last synod, how it has responded to assignments from previous synods, making a separate list of recommendations, and then adding on several Appendices to explain the background to much of the above.

Let’s see if we can decipher some of it to prevent wandering off the trail.

First, what is the Council of Delegates (COD for short)? COD is the governance body that conducts the business of synod for the denomination in between the annual meetings of synod. One delegate from each of the 48 regional groups of churches (known as classis), plus a few at-large delegates meet three times each year. More technical information is found on pp. 21-22.

Skip ahead to p. 25. See all those names listed on various pages? Just like synod delegates, these are our folks, delegated to make decisions on our behalf. Pray for them! If you have questions or comments, call them! You’ll see who is retiring and who is nominated to the various boards and committees. Because they act on behalf of synod, the people nominated to these bodies must be elected by synod. These names will come back again on p. 51 as individual recommendations D, E, F, M, and N. In the Supplement you’ll find more names. The recommendations are A and B on Supplement p.10.

Back to p. 28, you’ll see the salary disclosure information for the highest paid executives in the administration, followed by a list of administrative details and interim appointments, administrative details, and other information. Why is all this here? So that the work of our people on the Council is transparent to the people sitting in the pews from New Jersey to Vancouver Island. The actual recommendations are on pp. 51-52, G, H, and I. One tidbit is that Synod 2021 will leave Grand Rapids, Mich., for Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Gender and Ethnic Diversity

On p. 31, the COD reports on the gender and ethnic diversity on denominational boards. Synods over the years have asked that these statistics be tracked to hold the church accountable for keeping diversity a priority. Currently, of 174 appointees, 32% are women and 16% are people of color. This reflects an increase of 4% for women, and a decrease of 2% for people of color compared to the previous year.

Synods have set a goal of at least 25% ethnic minority membership on the various boards. Broken down by board, Calvin College currently has 11%, Calvin Theological Seminary is at 21%, World Renew is at 7%, and the COD is at 25%.

Synod 2019 will see a new style guide for terminology when reporting diversity. To see the Terminology for Diversity report, you need to jump ahead to p. 54 to Appendix A. Style guide changes regarding terms to describe various ethnic groups, pronouns referring to gender, etc., are all there. People of color is still the acceptable term for groups of people of a different race or ethnicity from the majority population. Jump back to p. 52, item J, to see the formal recommendation for Synod 2019 to adopt the style guide.

You’re going to start seeing a pattern here of brief information on one page, the Appendix about it further ahead, and then a jump back to actual recommendations. Still with me? Back to the bottom of p. 31!

Chicago South Appeals Committee

Classis Chicago South allowed Calvin CRC in Oak Lawn, Ill., to form a union congregation with Calvary RCA (Reformed Church in America) in Orland Park, Ill. One church council and two individuals disagreed and appealed the decision to Synod 2019. The appellants supported the union of the churches but disagreed with some of the procedures followed. Implementation of the classis decision was in April, so the COD had to act on behalf of synod. The Council did not sustain the appeal. You can find the whole report about that in Appendix B, pp. 59-64. And jumping back to p. 52, you’ll find the request that Synod 2019 approve the actions (recommendation K).

Changing the Church Order

Continuing on p. 32, item 10 notes the Church Order changes waiting for adoption by Synod 2019. As mentioned, the Church Order contains the rules that govern denominational life. No single synod can change the rules on its own. Any change must be proposed by a synod and subsequently adopted by a future synod before it can take effect.
The proposed changes are to Articles 42 and 39. Article 42 is about church visitors who visit local churches on behalf of the classis, and a proposed change adds text about regional pastors who support the pastors in the classis. Article 39 contains the definition of a classis, with expansion to that definition being proposed. For more detail, jump ahead to Appendix C starting on p. 64. On p. 52, L is the formal recommendation that synod adopt the changes.

If you want to delve further into the reasons Synod 2018 proposed these changes, see Agenda for Synod 2018, Appendix A, pp. 42-44 for Article 42. For Article 39, read Agenda for Synod 2018, Appendix B, pp. 44-50.

Judicial Code Committee

The Judicial Code Committee (JCC) hears appeals of decisions made by a local church council, a classis, or an agency of the Christian Reformed Church if the decision is alleged to contravene the Church Order. It’s a pretty mysterious entity to many because most of its work is done behind closed doors due to its confidential nature.

Synod 2018 told the COD to improve the ethnic and gender diversity of the JCC. You’ll see there a couple of nominations to the committee. Following that are some proposed changes to the Church Order Article 30 Supplement to codify the process to effect the desired diversity.

Synod 2018 also asked for recommendations to clarify the code regarding who may address synod when a case is being adjudicated and the criteria by which that is decided. The other requested clarification deals with the abuse panel process and when it can be deviated from in cases of abuse by a church official.

The executive director produced for the COD wording changes to the Church Order Supplement, to the Rules for Synodical Procedure, and to the Guidelines for Handling Abuse Allegations Against a Church Leader. Those wording changes should fulfill what Synod 2018 asked for. See Appendix D on starting on p. 65. And that is what the COD is recommending to Synod 2019 (O and P on p. 53.)

However, the JCC proposes more than wording changes. It asks that a task force be assigned to study these issues and much more. Acknowledging that it could raise eyebrows, the JCC said it observed “a significant ‘mismatch’” between the complexity of the JCC case taken up at Synod 2018 and “the capabilities (or lack thereof) of that body to adequately process it,” noting the large size of the group and the limited time available. You can find the JCC proposal in Appendix E starting on p. 69.

The COD is sending both proposals to Synod 2019 but is noting its “non-endorsement” of the JCC request.

Yes, it’s complicated. But you can read The Banner article that clarifies it here.

Bible Translations

Approving Bible translations for use in worship is the responsibility of synod. However, there has not been a committee to do this in many years. Last year, Synod 2018 instructed the Council to recommend a way to resume this task. COD is recommending that there once again be a standing committee of the Council to review translations. For more specifics on the mandate and make up of the committee, you can read the Banner article about it here. The formal recommendation is Q on p. 52. The COD recommended to Synod 2019 that the following people be approached to serve: Calvin Theological Seminary professors Sarah Schreiber, Mariano Avila, and Amanda Benckhuysen; Calvin College chaplain Mary Hulst; and pastor William Koopmans.

Unresolved Conflict

Synod 2018 asked the executive director to publicize existing resources related to unresolved conflict in our history and the need for reconciliation. (See “Synod Recognizes Conflict, Urges Reconciliation.”) The list can be found at crcna.org/Network.

Abuse of Power

This is a big one. Synod 2018 spent many hours on the topic of abuse and instructed the Council to bring recommendations to Synod 2019 about how the CRCNA can best address patterns of abuse at all levels of the denomination. See “Synod 2018 Confronts Abuse.”

The report is contained in the Supplement, pp. 50-68. In brief, the recommendations include a call for more training and accountability, better tracking of enquiries about abuse, and limits on the use of nondisclosure agreements. See also “Recommendations to Prevent Abuse of Power Coming to Synod 2019.”

The recommendations attached to this report are also found on Supplement pp. 12-16.

Classis or Regional Assembly?

After a request from a classis, Synod 2018 assigned the Council to figure out whether it is advisable to change classis to regional assembly. The Council in turn assigned it to a group of 10 people who came back with the results of a survey (Supplement pp. 39-49) and noted how inconclusive the results were. The Council is not recommending changing or keeping the same name, but instead asks synod to consider and respond to the report. Recommendation is on p. 11.

Evaluation and Prioritization

As part of its work, the Council evaluates and prioritizes the work of the agencies in a four-year cycle according to the ministry priorities identified. This past year, evaluation involved Faith Formation Ministries, Calvin College, and Worship Ministries (p. 43).

You’ll find the Calvin College evaluation in Appendix F, starting on p. 72. The Worship Ministries evaluation is in Appendix H (p. 93).

The Faith Formation Ministries evaluation (Appendix G, p. 83) includes an addition to its mandate, as requested by Synod 2018, to clarify expectations for denominational funding of Reformed curricula. (See also “Curriculum Solutions Approved, Little Funding Available” from March 2017 for some history on this.)

To that end, the COD approved three additions to the mandate:

  • regularly refreshing existing Faith Alive curricula;
  • providing training, support, and consultations for teachers;
  • providing guidance for assessing and adopting other (non-Faith Alive) curricular materials.

A note added to the mandate commits the denomination to include the need for these resources in upcoming budget processes. (p. 85)

Back on p. 53, S and T are the recommendations regarding the three ministries.

Immigrant Churches (p. 44)

Synod 2018 wanted exploration of potential processes and resources to enfold immigrant churches into the CRC. Staff of Resonate Global Mission and the Candidacy Committee report their findings in Appendix I on p. 101, endorsed by the COD as a “brief guide to discerning when and how a non-CRC congregation and pastor can affiliate with the CRC.” Back on p. 44, we see that the COD noted the need for a cadre of volunteers with the gift of hospitality and a knowledge of the Church Order to assist groups and their leaders. It also recommends setting clear annual goals for the number of immigrant congregation affiliations and church plants established by Resonate Global Mission. The formal recommendation is H on p. 53. See also an overture regarding immigrant pastors and churches on p. 513.

The Council has the right to comment on matters coming to synod and it is using that prerogative to comment on Overture 10, a request that the denomination provide legal counsel to help congregations with immigration matters. The Council asks Synod 2019 to consider the Council’s view that immigration issues are best dealt with by local congregations. That recommendation is found in the Supplement, p. 11.

U.S. Committee to Guide and Support the Office of Social Justice (OSJ)

This was another topic on the minds of delegates at Synod 2018. Some actions taken by OSJ bring kudos from many people in the pews but raise consternation from others. Synod 2018 instructed the Council to put together a committee to support and guide the ministry. Pages 45-46 lay out the mandate, process, and composition of the committee. Council appointed the following nominees to the committee: Violetta Diamond, Jane Bruin, Abdul Havougimana, Jack Koorman, Hillary Scholten, Claire McWilliams, Tom Ackerman, and Marie Ippel. The recommendation is V on p. 53. (See also “Synod 2018 Creates New Justice Committee.”)

Financial Matters (p. 50)

This Agenda contains condensed financial statements found in Appendix K, p. 119. These are provided as part of the transparency we talked about earlier. For some us, financial statements and budgets look like hieroglyphics. But there are usually some financial wizards at synod; we count on them to read, make sense of, and ask questions about this information to help us all.

For this guide, I also asked John Bolt, Director, Finance and Operations, for help. He said, “The Statement of Financial Position is sometimes called the Balance Sheet. This report details the Assets, Liabilities, and Net Assets of the agency as of June 30, 2018. The numbers reported are in thousands. The assets are reported on the top half of the page and note which funds are designated or restricted as to [to be used] in some way. For example, BTGMI has a total of $8,491,000 of assets detailed as shown. The liabilities of the organization total $1,024,000. The Net Assets are simply total assets less the liabilities. The $7,467,000 less the PP&E (plant, property, and equipment) are the reserve funds available to do ministry in the future.”

“The second page is the Income and Expense Report for the 12 months ended June 30, 2017 and 2016,” he continued. “Two years are commonly shown to provide comparison for the reader of the financial statements. Income is shown on the top half of the report and is detailed by source of funds. Expenses are shown below income and are separated between Program and Support Services (administration). This report shows not only the dollars spent in each area but indicates the percentage of total expenditures and the number of staff in each listed as FTEs or Full Time Equivalents.”

The recommendation to accept the financial statements is X on p. 54.

The most up-to-date financial information is provided in a separate document called the Agenda for Synod 2019—Business and Financial Supplement that gets distributed when synod convenes. It will contain financial disclosure information, agency budgets, and the recommended amount for ministry shares for 2020.

At its meeting in May, the Council approved the unified budget for the denomination’s ministries and educational institutions. The Council is recommending that Synod 2019 keep the ministry share amount at $346.48 per adult member for the coming fiscal year, the same as this past year.

As part of an instruction from Synod 2016 to reduce the denomination’s institutional footprint, the Council has instructed staff to explore radical remodeling of its U.S. headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Supplement p. 6)

Starting on Supplement p. 8 is a list of non-CRC ministry agencies and educational institutions that the Council has deemed appropriate to receive offerings from Christian Reformed Churches, a resource that can be used by deacons when they schedule offerings. Synod is asked to ratify the inclusion of the listed agencies, and also the removal of a couple of agencies from the list.

And on Supplement p. 10, Council notes that per-member assessments for the Ministers’ Pension Plan remain the same as last year.

The recommendations for these are found on Supplement p. 16.

Ministry Shares

Ministry shares is the term used for the money we all agree to pay toward the ministries we’ve agreed to do together. It is not a tax or a levy, as some think of it. It supports what we’ve all agreed we can do better together rather than separately.

Study after study has shown that ministry shares is the most efficient system of gathering that money (as opposed to sending mail, fundraisers, etc.). Over the years, the amount sent by the churches has continued to decline. The reasons for that are myriad, but the result is that the denominational budgets are now created expecting only 60% of that money coming in.

With that in mind Synod 2016 asked that all ministries be evaluated and prioritized, and that the calculations of ministry shares be simplified. The result is the “Reimagining Ministry Shares” report, found in Appendix J (p. 111). The recommendations about this are on p. 53, W. They include changing the ministry shares year to a fiscal year that starts July 1 and asking churches to work together within each classis to pledge the amount they will send for shared ministries, so budgets can be created with that information rather than on a best guess. (See also “Council of Delegates Discusses Reimagining Ministry Shares.”)

The Council recommended to Synod 2019 that the ministry shares rate for Fiscal 2020 remain at $346.48.

Bivocational Task Force (Supplement p. 3)

The COD is recommending that the work of a Bivocational Task Force continue. The original task force grew out of work being funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. to explore economic challenges facing pastoral leaders. In addition to establishing the Financial Shalom Project of the CRC, an ad hoc committee did some initial exploration of challenges and opportunities for bivocational pastors (pastors who support themselves with additional paid employment apart from their ministry). As a result, the Council is recommending that Synod 2019 appoint a task force to “to examine and provide guidelines for understanding what it means to be a pastor today.” The suggested task force would consider the definition of the pastorate, funding balance, educational requirements and more. For further explanation, see Appendix A, Supplement pp. 17-38. The recommendation for this is found on p. 11.

Safe Church Reporting (Supplement, p. 6)

Synod 2018 asked that the Safe Church ministry start reporting to synod which classes have safe church teams and which ones have a safe church coordinator. The report from the Safe Church office is found on Supplement pp. 79-82. The recommendation for this is on Supplement p. 15.

Recommendations (p. 51)

If you have hopped, skipped, and jumped around with us so far, you’ll know that almost all the recommendations have been covered already! A is rather pro forma and you’ll see it a few more times in the Agenda; it simply asks that synod grant the “privilege of the floor” to the chair of the Council, the executive director, and executive staff members when Council matters are discussed. “Privilege” simply means they are allowed to speak.

Our Shared Ministries (pp. 145-247)

This is the section where you can read about our shared ministries, the agencies and educational institutions that we all support. It can be tempting to skip over this in the Agenda. Those who do will miss out on knowing the wonderful kingdom work happening in our ministries. You can also learn more about our ministries in the “Our Shared Ministry” section of The Banner.

Standing Committees

Synod has three standing committees: The Candidacy Committee, the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, and the Historical Committee. These three committees work together in collaboration with the other ministries in the CRC but they report directly to synod, not through the Council of Delegates.

Candidacy Committee (p. 251 and Supplement p. 129)

The Candidacy Committee is the gatekeeper of entry into ordained ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. Whether a prospective pastor comes from our own Calvin Theological Seminary, another seminary, another denomination, or is entering ministry as a commissioned pastor, the requirements and expectations are kept consistent through the work of the committee, with the approval of synod. Its report this year is very lengthy and covers a lot of territory. It also requires some hopping around, similar to the COD report.

Articles 23 and 24, and Supplements:

The committee has been facilitating denominational discussion of the Church Order Articles 23 and 24, which govern the role of commissioned pastor. Synod 2018 proposed changes to the Church Order for Synod 2019 to adopt. You can see those changes starting on p. 253. Changes to the Church Order Supplements to these Articles start on p. 255. The formal recommendations are C 1 and 2 on p. 266. Synod 2018 affirmed a plan to gather various documents and Church Order Supplement material into an expanded and reformatted Commissioned Pastor Handbook. You will find the proposed new version of that in Appendix A on p. 267. The recommendation to approve it is on p. 266, C, 7.

Synod 2018 also discussed accountability and discipline relating to pastors in general. The committee proposes that a statement be inserted in proposed Supplement Article 24-d, noting that “Synod also instructs classes to make an appropriate declaration reflecting the status of any commissioned pastor who concludes service . . .” (p. 254), consistent with the declaration made when a minister of the Word leaves the ministry.

Articles 82-84

These deal with the protocol for suspension and deposition from the ministry. The committee proposes adding a statement to section e of the Supplement to Articles 82-84, clarifying that“the deposition of a commissioned pastor shall not be effected without the approval of the classis in which the commissioned pastor was approved for ordination.” The recommendation for this is on p. 266, C, 3.

Article 8, Church Order Supplement, sections E and F

The committee has also been guiding a denominational discussion about Church Order Supplement Article 8, sections E and F, and the related sections of Journey Toward Ordination. The changes clarify the process for persons who have been ordained as ministers in other settings to affiliate with the CRC. Synod 2018 proposed the changes for Synod 2019 to adopt. You can find the proposed changes starting on p. 257. The recommendations are on p. 266, C, 4. The updated Journey Toward Ordination is found in Appendix B on p. 306. The recommendation is on p. 266, C, 8.

At the request of Synod 2018, the committee offers guidelines for video exams starting on p. 259, noting that meeting in person is always preferable and that use of video conferencing should be the exception. The recommendation is on p. 266, C, 5.

Regarding persons ordained in an independent church, the committee notes that all the training, discernment, and vetting of pastors from other denominations also apply to those from independent church settings. It proposes that the title of Supplement, Article 8, section E, be changed from “Calling Ministers from Other Denominations” to “Calling Ministers Ordained Outside of the Christian Reformed Church in North America” (p. 261). The recommendation is on p. 266, C, 6.

Persons Approved to be Called as Ministers of the Word (Supplement p. 129)

Ever year, the Candidacy Committee presents to synod those persons approved to be called as Ministers of the Word in the CRC (pp. 129-131). The recommendations are in Supplement p. 131.

Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy (EMPC) (Supplement p. 132).

On p. 133 of the Agenda for Synod Supplement, the committee included an appendix with a review of the Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy (EMPC). As noted in its introduction, “The founding of Calvin Theological Seminary in 1876 as the first institution of the Christian Reformed Church illustrates the long-standing denominational commitment to leadership and an educated clergy.”

The report provides enlightening statistics and conclusions about the changing trends in how people reach the point of being declared candidates for the ministry.

Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (p. 315)

The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) plays a role in reminding us that we are part of a worldwide Christian church, not just a small denomination in two countries.

Our relationships with other denominations fall into four categories:

1) ecclesiastical fellowship (our 25 closest relationships);
2) churches in dialogue (we’re exploring our relationship with 12 churches);
3) churches in other ecumenical relationships (four more distant friends, yet important to us); and
4) ecumenical organizations (our relationship with other groups of churches). We also partner with subgroups and commissions on various issues.

Two new relationships have been emerging, one with the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, and the other with the CRC Association of India. You can read the whole list at crcna.org/EIRC.

After a study requested by Synod 2016, the EIRC is recommending “revising, minimizing and simplifying” the ecumenical categories of affiliation. (See p. 326 for the history of this request.) The first, ecclesiastical fellowship, would only have a name change, becoming churches in communion. Only synod can designate the churches with whom the CRC is in communion (or ecclesiastical fellowship).

Churches in dialogue and churches in other ecumenical relationships would become a new category called churches in cooperation. This new category would also include any church partnership held by an individual mission agency of the denomination. The new category is intended to reflect the reality of relationships engaged at the national or binational level of the CRC. (Many local congregations and classes also build relationships with churches in other denominations, relationships that aren’t necessarily reflected in the current affiliation categories.)

The report is extensive and informative. Because the changes recommended require a change in the Church Order, they must be proposed by Synod 2019 for adoption by Synod 2020. You can see the recommendations starting on p. 321.

Historical Committee (p. 364)

This committee does what its name implies: it keeps the repository of historical records of classes, congregations, and more. When your church has a special anniversary, be sure to send the commemorative material to the Historical Committee. The next time you have to find information for an anniversary your church is celebrating, you’ll thank these people!

Who Runs Heritage Hall? (Supplement p. 140)

As part of an organizational review, the CRC’s Historical Committee found that informal unwritten agreements have led to confusion about the roles of Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, and the CRC in maintaining the historical records housed at Heritage Hall, previously known simply as the Archives. All three of those entities fund the work and have been involved in the work since its inception.

The Historical Committee reports that they agreed that the committee’s mandate is oversight of the work, but not hands-on management of staff and programs. A question remains: Should Heritage Hall become incorporated into the identity and management of the Hekman Library of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary? The Historical Committee says “no,” that the decision of Synod 1969 removed the archives from its place as part of the library and gave it a separate identity. The recommendations are found on Supplement p. 142. See also:

  1. Calvin College’s recommendations, starting on Supplement p. 88
  2. Calvin College’s report Appendix, Supplement p. 90.
  3. Calvin Theological Seminary recommendation, Supplement p. 103
  4. Calvin Theological Seminary’s report Appendices B and C, Supplement pp. 118-128

Denominationally Related Agencies

Each year, several ministries and educational institutions with strong ties to the CRC send greetings and mission updates to synod. You can find these starting on p. 377.

Study Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality (p. 403)

Yes, that name is a whopper. The committee was appointed in 2016 with the task of providing “concise yet clear ethical guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life, and in light of this to serve the church with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance that explains how the gospel provides redemptive affirmation and hope for those experiencing sexual questioning, temptation, and sin.” Within that broad outline, the committee was specifically instructed to include (1) discussion outlining how a Reformed hermeneutic does or does not comport with readings of Scripture being employed to endorse what are, for the historic church, ground-breaking conclusions regarding human sexual behavior and identification; and (2) discuss, and potentially critique, untraditional conclusions arising from arguments about a new movement of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 15), as well as conclusions arising from scientific and social scientific studies. (For the entire wording and history of the committee’s mandate, see p. 403.) The committee’s final report will go to Synod 2021, with this interim report to be discussed by Synod 2019 to provide feedback to the committee.

The biblical theology of human sexuality starts on p. 415 and continues to p. 436. The committee intends to add two additional sections. The first will explore numerous issues of human sexuality facing the church today with an analysis of the cultural context, the scriptural teaching that must shape the church’s approach to each issue, and proposals for pastoral care.

The second section will explore the confessional status of church teaching on sexuality and whether the church should consider adopting a new statement of faith on sexuality. The committee included in this interim report a copy of the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality (see p. 437).
Because it is an interim report, there are no formal recommendations made.

Synod Review Task Force (p. 445)

This task force grew out of the work of an earlier task force that reviewed the structure and culture of the administrative work done on behalf of synod. That task force recommended that the principles, practices, and functions of synod itself be reviewed.

This report is not recommending drastic changes, just fine-tuning. Some of the changes recommended include limiting the length of speeches by delegates; providing better training prior to synod to help delegates acclimate to the large agenda and fast pace of the meeting; having classes send one or two delegates for two years in row. You can read a brief summary here: Task Force Recommends Refinements for Annual Synods. The full list of 32 recommendations is found on p. 454.

A couple of recommendations are getting pushback from some classes and churches, including charging a registration fee for delegates, imposing requirements for female and ethnic minority representation in delegations from the classes, and the call for power and privilege training for delegates. Read more here: No Synod Delegate Fees, No Delegation Requirements.

Overtures, Communications & Appeals (p. 477)

Overtures are basically requests of synod to take an action (or not). Some are procedural, seeking permission to transfer churches from one classis to another. Anyone can bring an overture, but it must first be processed through a local church council and then the classis before appearing here. Here is a partial list:

  • Overture 5 asks synod to approve dividing Classis Pacific Northwest into two new ones (p. 479).
  • Overture 6 comes from a British Columbia congregation. It asks synod to increase awareness of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, calling on governments to practice justice, and instruct the Office of Social Justice to continue to lead churches through educational resources, consultation, and coordination of congregations’ efforts (p. 482).
  • Overture 7 comes from two classes, asking synod to declare teachings of kinism a heresy, in particular the teaching that interracial marriage is sinful and the teaching that God has ordained separation in a religio-ethnostate that necessitates racial separation in all areas of life (p. 489).
  • Overture 8 comes from a church council in Ottawa, asking that synod withdraw the Synod 2012 assertions about climate change, in particular the assertions that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity, and that human-induced climate change poses a significant threat (p. 505). It asserts that the church has no business wading into this complex topic, because the Church Order states that the church “shall transact ecclesiastical matters only.”

In response, Classis Grand Rapids East is asking that synod not with draw those assertions (Overture 25, Supplement p. 144 )

  • Overture 9 (p. 509) wants Church Order Articles 51 and 54 revised to reflect the reality that most congregations no longer hold a second service on Sundays, and that a specific obligation for catechetical preaching (focusing on the confessions) is an unrealistic expectation.
  • Overture 10 (p. 513) asks that the denomination keep an immigration attorney on retainer for congregations and pastors who need help with immigration matters, with $50,000 budgeted for immigration legal assistance. (See also p. 44.) The Council of Delegates asks Synod 2019 to consider the Council’s view that immigration issues are best dealt with by local congregations. See Supplement p. 4. That recommendation is found in the Supplement, p. 11.
  • Overture 11 (p. 514) asks that funds for Resonate Global Mission missionaries come from a specific classis, rather than asking missionaries to fundraise across the denomination. It asserts that missionaries are not called to fundraise first and provide ministry second. The Council suggests that the recommendations in the overture are not flexible enough and asks synod to consider its view. (Supplement, p. 4). The recommendation is on Supplement, p. 11-12).
  • In the spirit of reconciliation, Classis Lake Superior wants Synod 2019 to declare some ministers who left the CRC for the United Reformed Church due to convictions of their faith as “honorably released” (Overture 12, p. 515).
  • Overtures 15-23 (pp. 519-536) all ask synod to reject various recommendations from the Synod Review Task Force.
  • Overture 24 (Supplement p. 143) asks Synod 2019 to consider commending the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality (Agenda, p. 437) to the classes and churches for reflection and study.
  • Classis Minnkota (p. 537) is sending a communication to Synod 2019. A communication has no recommendations or requests for action. Minnkota’s communication expresses its conviction that the Synod 1995 action opening the offices of deacon, elder, and minister to women is contrary to Scripture. In particular, it observes that “even though Synod 1995 declared that both complementarian and egalitarian views are faithful interpretations of the Word of God, synodical practice since that time has become markedly egalitarian, making it difficult for complementarians to participate in good conscience.
  • Finally, Synod 2019 will hear two personal appeals (p. 539). No information is given since appeals are generally heard and dealt with in executive session, which means everyone except delegates and those directly connected is asked to leave.

Calvin College Supplement

The additions to the Calvin College report are primarily about appointees to the school’s board of trustees. However, starting on p. 88, the college weighed in on the matter of who runs Heritage Hall. While the Historical Committee says the CRC’s Archives should remain separate from the Hekman Library operated by the college and Calvin Theological Seminary, Calvin’s board and that of the seminary disagree and unanimously recommended that the archives become incorporated into the identity and management of the Hekman Library of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary.

Appendix: Change to Library Governance (Supplement, p. 90)

Calvin Theological Seminary Supplement

This supplement to the school’s report in the main Agenda includes information about graduates and new programs, and notes reappointment of several faculty members. Its board also asks that the CRC archives become incorporated into the identity and management of the Hekman Library of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary.

Appendix B: CTS Faculty Meeting Minutes re Change to Library Governance (Supplement, p. 118)

Appendix C: Acts of Synod Background re Historical Committee (Supplement, p. 124)

Bonus Material! How Synod Works

All the material in the Agenda gets dealt with at synod. No page is left unturned. How in the world do delegates cover a 521-page agenda in just a week?

Synod delegates are all assigned to one of eight or nine advisory committees. After synod elects its officers on Friday morning, delegates meet in their various committees for most of Friday and Saturday to deal with their part of the agenda. As they complete their work, the committees prepare advisory committee reports recommending how synod should handle the various items in the agenda.

These reports are the ones that actually make their way to the floor of synod for discussion (called plenary session). In general, it is the recommendations of the advisory committees that are debated, adopted, rejected, changed, or some other action is taken. You can find those advisory committee reports during synod on the CRC’s annual synod web page. Plenary session generally begins in earnest on Monday morning, and synod gets wrapped up by midday Thursday. Most of the plenary sessions, including worship, can be viewed via live webcast. The link is also provided on that web page.

Don’t want to sit through the webcast? Follow The Banner online (or on Facebook or Twitter) for all the latest news, and watch for the print Banner (July/August issue) for the entire roundup.

We hope you have enjoyed this walk through Agenda for Synod 2019 and found it useful. And we hope you will pray for safe travel for all those involved with Synod 2019 and for the Holy Spirit to move mightily through synod’s work.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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