The Council of Delegates meeting scheduled for the first week of May will take place virtually rather than in person, in accordance with the Christian Reformed Church’s denominational response to COVID-19, the disease spread by the novel coronavirus. Discussions are also underway about Synod 2020, scheduled to take place in June in Grand Rapids, Mich., should travel and gathering restrictions still be in place. The Council meets on behalf of synod when the annual synod is not in session.
Dee Recker, director of the CRC’s office of synodical services, said the upcoming meeting of the Council will include about 70 people. “We know it can be done (virtually),” she said. “A complication is that the meeting will be spanning three time zones, so we’ll have to make plans for that.”
Typically at a COD session, delegates divide up into five subcommittees to address a section of the agenda before meeting as a whole—in much the same way the CRC’s annual synod divides up its agenda among advisory committees. Virtual meetings, conducted using video software, could mean that the various subcommittees could meet earlier in the week, instead of having all the work compressed into the usual three days of meetings.
Recker said the biggest loss will be conversations in the time that delegates spend with each other over meals and breaks and around their meeting tables. However, she said, worship time will still be included. She spoke of a virtual chapel last week for U.S. staff, led by a missionary in China. “It was phenomenal,” she said.
What about Synod 2020?
Recker said no decisions have been made yet about Synod 2020, but that conversations are ongoing. “There is no precedent for this,” she said.
She noted that Church Order Article 46-b states that the convening church of synod, with the approval of the Council of Delegates, “may call a special session of synod, but only in very extraordinary circumstances.”
Additionally, Article 33-b says that “synod shall appoint the Council of Delegates of the CRCNA to act for them in matters that cannot wait action by the assemblies themselves.”
Should Synod 2020 be canceled, matters that cannot wait could include declaring candidates for the ministry, and setting a ministry share to be able to create budgets.
She said the decision won’t be made by staff, although staff may make recommendations. “There will be input by the program committee,” she said. The program committee is made up of the officers of the previous year’s synod, in this case Melissa Van Dyk, José Rayas, William Koopmans, and Thea Leunk. Encounter CRC, in Kentwood, Mich., is scheduled to be Synod 2020’s convening church. Input also will be sought there.
Other factors will include what the state government in Michigan is saying at the time a decision is made. Currently, any large gatherings are prohibited. Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is hosting Synod 2020, so its administration also will have a say about what gatherings it is allowing on its campus. Currently the campus has moved all classes online.
Recker said a final decision will have to be made by mid-April.