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Recognition of 25th Anniversary of Women's Ordination Scaled Back

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Nine female pastors delegated to Synod 2015
Nine female pastors delegated to Synod 2015

The 25th anniversary of women’s ordination in the Christian Reformed Church will be recognized denominationally in the summer of 2021, starting with 30 minutes at the annual synod in June and wrapping up at the CRC’s Inspire 2021 conference two months later.

The plan for recognizing the anniversary is considerably scaled back from what had been proposed by Denise Posie, soon-to-be retired CRC director of leadership diversity, and also recommended in February to Synod 2020 by the Council of Delegates. Her office had proposed a series of events that would start in September of 2020 and last for 15 months. In its recommendation to Synod 2020, the Council added a note that the planning team consider recognizing the involvement in ministry of non-ordained women as well. (See also “Council of Delegates Aims for Balance in Recognizing Women’s Ordination.”) 

However, this week, while meeting to address synod matters that can’t wait until Synod 2021, the Council of Delegates subsequently decided to scale that plan back out of sensitivity for those who do not believe women should hold ecclesiastical office. (The Council was acting on behalf of Synod 2020 due to the cancellation of Synod 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.) 

The Christian Reformed Church currently holds the position that views opposing women’s ordination and those affirming it are equally valid biblical positions.

Because of that, Classis Minnkota (a regional group of churches) had asked that the Council, on behalf of Synod 2020, not endorse the original proposal, stating that it “celebrates a view that is opposed by many in the denomination.” 

A small advisory committee considered the staff proposal and the Minnkota request and recommended that the Council approve a scaled-back recognition. Michelle Kool, a pastor from Classis Alberta North, chaired that advisory committee. She said the initial proposal of 15 months of celebrating opportunities is difficult for the churches who hold the denominational position that does not support women’s ordination. “To be faithful to our two denominational position statements, sensitive to both positions and in the spirit of love, unity, mutual submission and cooperation, we have limited the celebrating opportunities to a smaller ‘official’ time frame.”

Kool noted that this is an opportunity “to bear witness to loving each other in unity despite disagreement. While we understand neither position may be fully satisfied, we trust it is in the greater spirit of love for Jesus Christ that we accommodate each other, each yielding and bending towards each other, as we seek our common goal of following Jesus together.”

Indeed, neither side was fully satisfied. Elsa Fennema, an at-large delegate, was disappointed that the time frame had been reduced. “It’s been an uphill climb all the way. This doesn’t seem to spend much time recognizing the ordination of women. It seems a pittance to me.” 

On the other hand, Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, wanted to add on recognizing women's ministry both ordained and unordained.  “This has been a divisive issue in the past,” he said. “This is an opportunity to move past some of that divisiveness, and use staff and resources to help congregations on both sides.”

Kool noted that the language from the committee’s proposal was specifically agreed on with a representative from the church in Minnkota that wrote the overture (request). “What you see here is what Classis Minnkota was also in agreement with.” 

Roger Sparks, the Council delegate from Classis Minnkota, thanked the committee for its wording. “I want to say personally I appreciate what I’m hearing in the discussion,” he said. 

Although the time frame was shortened, denominational staff will still provide resources to churches and classes that want to celebrate as they choose, including outside of that two-month period. “Classes and churches that desire to recognize that 25th anniversary in their own context can do so as long and as often as they desire.”

After the decision, Posie told The Banner that she appreciates the women who serve as pastors, commissioned pastors, chaplains, and in so many other roles, ordained and non-ordained. “Above, all, my heart's desire is for every woman to be affirmed in their calling and use of gifts,” she said. “That is so important because God has placed us in ministry to graciously and powerfully impact the world for God's glory. I also want those in the CRCNA to know that God always hears the cries of his people, and he answers according to his will and in his time.”

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