Meeting once again by video conference due to ongoing travel and gathering restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Christian Reformed Church's Council of Delegates convenes Feb. 17-19. The 53 delegates of the Council have a full agenda, meeting in sub-committees and their separate country-specific corporations before the first full session Wednesday.
Will Synod 2021 Go Ahead?
The Council of Delegates conducts the business of the church between sessions of synod, the CRC’s (usually) annual general assembly. In 2020, that assembly was canceled for the first time in the CRC’s history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision on what to do about Synod 2021 will be made at this session of the Council of Delegates.
The office of Synodical Services sent a survey Dec. 22 to the stated clerks of each classis (regional groups of churches) to gather their views on whether Synod 2021 should be convened in person, by video conference, or not at all. Several people also sent their opinions directly to the Council. Some are in favor of synod being convened, while others prefer it be canceled. The Inspire 2021 conference has already been postponed until 2022.
At this time, border restrictions remain in place between the U.S. and Canada, and COVID vaccinations are happening more slowly in Canada than had been anticipated.
The Human Sexuality Report
A major report on the agenda for Synod 2021 is that of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. The Council will receive correspondence about that. There are differing opinions on what to do with that report in 2021. Some want to see it deferred to 2022, noting that many church councils and classes have been meeting only online, which many say is not conducive to proper deliberation on such a matter. Those deliberations need to take place in order for churches or classes to send overtures (requests) to synod about the report. The deadline for official communications to a synod is March 15.
Others want deliberation over the report and related decisions to take place this year, in light of the fact that one congregation has recently installed a deacon who is living in a same-sex marriage. The position of the denomination, established by Synod 1973 and affirmed by subsequent synods, is that “explicit homosexual practice” is “incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.”
The Council also will hear an update from its Structure and Leadership Team, a task force appointed in October to work out the details of denominational structure, including finalizing job descriptions for leader positions in the U.S. and Canada and a proposed binational ecclesiastical officer, and to describe how the three will function together. The task force’s mandate was later expanded after the Council of Delegates executive committee considered additional legal advice about requirements for Canadian charitable organizations. The need to comply with those requirements is what sparked the move to restructure at the beginning of 2020.
Public minutes of a special “listening session” of the Council of Delegates, convened in December, note that the executive committee asked the task force “to take into account the range of legal opinions and provide preliminary guidance to the COD in February for moving the process forward.”
The December session was outside of the Council’s usual meeting schedule (it typically meets in October, February, and May) and was closed to outside guests.
As a follow-up to the listening session, the Christian Reformed Church in North America Canada Corporation convened its own closed session by video conference Jan. 6.
Andy deRuyter, who serves as chair for the Canadian Corps and vice-chair of the full Council, told The Banner in an email, “I would emphasize that we are relying heavily on the Holy Spirit and the need for careful and deliberate Christian discernment throughout every step of this process. We have placed a heavy emphasis on prayer and on listening to each other.”
Paul De Vries, chair of the Council of Delegates, noted that the update from the structure and leadership team will be preliminary. “SALT has been given additional time to do its work, in part because of the range of legal opinions, and in part because of uncertainty around the feasibility and timing of Synod 2021,” De Vries said, also in an email.
Both De Vries and deRuyter mentioned the care with which both corporations are working.
“The legal opinions are confidential to the members of the COD and its corporations, and also to the SALT team, so that they can do their work in a careful and considered manner,” De Vries said. “Legal opinions by their very nature are often kept confidential, often have differences with one another, often arise from differing lawyer/client relationships and contexts, and often need to be carefully considered and discussed in order to be understood and implemented. So we are working collectively and confidentially in order to provide the necessary clarity moving forward.”
The Council also will hear information about the pledges coming for ministry shares (the money contributed by the churches for shared ministry); receive updates on the work being done to prevent the abuse of power; learn more about the ongoing tension over who who is responsible for the archives of the CRC; and decide on a recommendation for a candidate to become the new director of the Candidacy Committee (current director David Koll is expected to retire in July).