Synod 2020, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church, has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the first time in the history of the CRC that a synod has been canceled. Synod won’t convene again until June 2021.
The CRC’s Council of Delegates will host a special virtual meeting in June 2020 to deal with items that cannot wait until June 2021. It is granted that authority by Church Order Article 33-b, which reads, “... synod shall appoint the Council of Delegates of the CRCNA, to act for them in matters which cannot await action by the (assembly itself).”
Synod 2020 was to have taken place June 12-18 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. The event brings together more than 200 people, including four delegates from each of 49 classes (regional groups of churches), advisers, seminary faculty, and denominational staff leaders.
CRC director of synodical services, Dee Recker, said the primary concern was for the safety of delegates and their families. “Other factors played a role,” she said, “including current stay-at-home orders in Michigan and Ontario and closed borders.”
Recker said hosting the synod virtually was considered but noted it would be almost impossible to host a deliberative assembly remotely.
“We discussed potentially having synodical advisory committees meet to consider the agenda for synod and present to a smaller group of delegates or the COD, but mixing synod delegates and COD seemed unwise,” she said. “COD members are not necessarily officebearers as are synod delegates; and how would you begin to select a smaller group of synod delegates when many classes do not meet in the spring . . . not to mention that synod is an assembly of ministers, elders, and deacon officebearers. We would have lost the parity of office in that scenario.”
Postponing the meeting until August was not considered. “To assume that over 200 people who were available for a week in mid-June would be able to gather at another time of the year, such as in August, did not seem feasible as we considered options,” Recker said.
The proposal to cancel was made by the synod program committee (which is made up of last year’s synod officers), the executive committee of the CRC’s Council of Delegates, Rev. Kathy Smith (CRCNA polity adviser) and Rev. Dirk Van Eyk, pastor of the church that was to convene Synod 2020. The full Council of Delegates voted electronically April 8 in favor of the move.
The Agenda for Synod 2020 is nearly ready. Recker said it will be reviewed by the program committee to decide what is urgent and needs to be addressed in June and what can wait until Synod 2021. The dilemma, she said, is that as soon the Agenda is ready, it will be divided up into those two categories. There are also supplemental reports that come from the Council of Delegates, Calvin University, Calvin Theological Seminary, and the Candidacy Committee, all of which are produced after those bodies meet in May. “We’ll know much more after April 17,” Recker said.
This is the first time in the more than 160-year history of the Christian Reformed Church that synod has been canceled.
Acting executive director Colin Watson said in a statement that while this is disappointing news and joins the other losses that we grieve, we remember that God’s church will and does go on despite COVID-19.
“We do not need to have a denomination-wide meeting in order for God’s kingdom work to continue,” he said. “What a blessing this is to acknowledge.”