The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates met by teleconference May 6 and 7, 2020. The Council acts on behalf of synod, the CRC’s annual general assembly when synod is not in session.
The meeting lacked much of its usual camaraderie and sense of community evident when delegates meet in person. Throughout the meeting, delegates were conscious of the difficult circumstance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stanley Jim, delegate from Red Mesa, gave an emotional report on the devastation happening in Navajo Nation due to the virus.
The COD’s May meeting often includes a number of items that get sent on to synod the following month. Synod 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19, so a special meeting of the Council of Delegates will take place in June to address only the matters that cannot wait until synod convenes in June 2021. For procedural record keeping, even matters that will be deferred to 2021 will officially be designated as having been referred to Synod 2020.
As previously reported by The Banner, the program committee decided what would get dealt with in that special session of the COD. (See “Most of Synod 2020 Agenda Deferred to 2021.”) All decisions made by the Council in the special June session must be ratified by the next synod.
Actions taken at the May meeting include the following:
The Council recommended that Colin Watson Sr., be appointed as interim executive director until July 2021. Currently the acting executive director, Watson has agreed to stay on despite his planned retirement in January 2021.
The Council recommended that Synod 2020, or the Council on its behalf, take note of the existing or pending vacancies in the following three senior leadership positions: executive director, director of ministries and administration, and the director of finance and operations, due to retirements.
Paul DeVries, Andy de Ruyter, Aaltje van Grootheest, Gary Bos, Heather Cowie, Michelle Kool, John Lee, and Laurie Harkema were elected as the executive committee of the Council for the coming year.
Due to the restructuring of governance of the CRC in the U.S. and Canada, the Council is recommending that a declaration of intent be made for Synod 2021 to appoint or ratify new senior leadership positions and persons to fill the positions.
The Council spent a great deal of time discussing the governance structure and the changes made to comply with Canadian tax law governing charitable organizations. Several changes were made in February, and now the Council has a skeleton plan of how to move forward in light of the changes. See: Governance Restructure Continues to be Bumpy
The Council recommended a ministry share rate of $346.48 per adult member. Ministry shares are the money remitted by congregations to support shared ministries. That rate has remained unchanged for three years.
This will probably be the last year the CRC will use the ministry share system. Under the Ministry Shares Reimagined proposal (see story from October 2018), congregations and classes (regional groups of churches) will pledge an amount to pay toward shared denominational ministries and the budget will be based on that amount. For the new system to go into effect, Synod 2020 (or the Council acting on behalf of that synod) must approve the plan that was proposed by Synod 2019, unless the program committee decides to defer it to Synod 2021.
The Council of Delegates also noted that denominational staff will not receive merit increases in fiscal 2021 and current pay ranges will remain unchanged.
Due to the economic downturn and COVID-19 ramifications, plans for a renovation of the U.S. headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., (announced in October 2019) have been put on hold.
The Christian Reformed Church maintains two defined benefit pension plans for ministers, one in the U.S. and one in Canada. The benefit from the plans is determined based on years of active participation and the final three-year average salary for ministers in their respective country prior to retirement. In the U.S., the 2020 final average salary was 4.9% higher than 2019, so the final average salary amount for determining the benefit was increased.
In Canada, the increase in final average salary was 3.3%, but trustees have kept the benefit the same due to Canadian regulations about pension fund solvency. They can't fall below the 85% solvency benchmark set by the government. John Bolt, the CRC director of finance and operations, said, “We felt it was prudent to wait a year so we don’t step back into insolvency. Our plan is to bring Canadian pensions up to appropriate levels as quickly as we can.”
Assignments by Synod 2019
The Council noted completion of Synod 2019’s instruction that Faith Formation Ministries review The New City Catechism for potential use by the churches. The review also provides guidelines for reviewing other potential curriculum materials. The report will be in the Council’s supplemental report to Synod 2020.
The Council noted the completion of Synod 2019’s instruction that a committee “address the proper and ongoing definition of the word heresy.” The report is in the Agenda for Synod 2020 (Appendix E, p. 68).
The Council adopted a training program approved by denominational ministry leaders that includes four hours of training that will be required of all people going into the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. It also received an update on many activities being undertaken to further strengthen the CRC’s response to abuse of power issues in response to instructions from Synod 2019.
Denominational Ministry Plan
The year 2020 marks the end of the current ministry plan, Our Journey 2020, and the Council adopted a new ministry plan: Our Journey 2025, which names four milestones for a denomination-wide emphasis: cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline; listen to the voices of every generation; grow in diversity and unity by seeking justice, reconciliation and welcome; and connect with local and global ministry contexts The report will be in the Council’s supplemental report to Synod 2020. The program committee will decide whether or not to defer it to Synod 2021.