When the Council of Delegates of the Christian Reformed Church met by video conference Feb. 17-19, 2021, it discussed Synod 2021, the new ministry share pledges, ongoing governance restructuring, and senior management transitions.
The 53-member Council meets three times a year to conduct the work of the CRC’s synod between those annual meetings.
Synod 2021 Canceled
Weighing responses to a survey of stated clerks of classes (regional groups of churches), opinions expressed in letters, and considering current cross-border travel restrictions, the Council decided to cancel the Christian Reformed Church’s Synod 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council also decided that synodical discussion of the Human Sexuality Report will wait until 2022.
Instead of synod, the Council will host a special meeting in June to deal with matters that cannot wait a year, such as approving candidates for the ministry and budget matters. That was the same process followed in 2020.
Ministry Shares Reimagined
For the first time in the denomination’s history, the budget for the coming fiscal year (starting July 1, 2021) will be based on what churches pledge to contribute. In the past, budgets were created first and then churches were asked to remit a certain amount to meet that budget.
Pledges by congregations for shared denominational ministries are coming in lower than funds received in previous years. With 98% of pledges in, commitments by U.S. churches are down approximately 15%, and in Canada commitments are down 5%. Executive director Colin Watson Jr. reported to the Council that in a number of cases, churches that previously did not participate in the ministry share process are now opting to participate. “This is especially true in some smaller and ethnic minority churches,” Watson said. “We praise God for this new level of commitment.”
Governance Restructure Causing Confusion, Angst
Confusion has marked the Christian Reformed Church’s governance restructure conversations of the past year. Progress is being made, albeit slowly. The structure and leadership team (SALT), assigned to finalize proposed new job descriptions and organizational structure, presented a verbal progress report to the Council. SALT’s full report is expected in May. The discussion of restructuring the governance of the CRC along Canada/U.S. lines came to the fore a year ago when the Council of Delegates was informed that the Canadian delegates (known as CRCNA Canada Corporation) had received legal advice that changes needed to be made to be in compliance with Canadian tax laws regarding charitable organizations.
Mercy and Justice Staff Report Escalating Intimidation
Watson informed the Council that there has been an increase in the number of offensive comments, as well as racist posts, on social media, and a letter and anonymous postcards, leaving staff concerned for their safety. Council members were told that several of the comments came from officebearers in the CRC. Some postcards and a letter were mailed directly to Mark Stephenson, director of the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and Race Relations. “It's extremely upsetting,” he said.
Senior Executives’ Retirements Delayed
The Council heard that Watson, who serves as the denomination’s executive director, and the CRC’s director of finance and operations, John Bolt, have both agreed to delay their planned retirements by one year. Watson had already delayed his by six months. With governance restructuring taking longer than expected, the delayed retirements allow continuity of ministry. Watson was given the authorization to hire a deputy with responsibility for U.S. ministry operations effective until June 2022.
In other actions, the Council:
- Met new ministry directors: Amanda Benckhuysen (Safe Church) and Tim Rietkerk (Chaplaincy and Care).
- Interviewed and confirmed as new director of Candidacy Susan LaClear (David Koll, current directory of Candidacy, retires this summer).
- Noted that Resonate is changing its missionary support process, simplifying what was adopted in 2013 when missionaries were asked to raise a large percentage of their own support apart from ministry shares.
- Noted that Inspire 2021 has been postponed.
- Noted that ReFrame Ministries (formerly Back To God Ministries International) is ending its French language project in Haiti after more than a decade. Resources have shifted to Burkina Faso, the center of ReFrame’s French-language ministry.
- Received the final report from the ad hoc committee for prevention of Abuse of Power. It noted that the Office of Dignity and Respect, created as part of the denomination’s plan to prevent abuse of power, has been changed to “Dignity Team,” a group to “foster a culture of full respect for all persons as equally called by God to contribute to the life of the church.”
- Noted that the Challenging Conversations Toolkit from Pastor Church Resources continues to be utilized by churches to discuss the Human Sexuality Report, now slated to be on the agenda of Synod 2022.
- Noted that the Canada Corporation (Canadian delegates on the Council) adopted new bylaws.
- Spent time in prayer over various concerns, recognizing an element of spiritual warfare.