CRT, COD, ESL, SALT, CRA. The myriad of acronyms in play is only the beginning of the confusion that has marked the Christian Reformed Church’s governance restructure conversations of the past year. Progress is being made, albeit slowly.
The CRC’s Council of Delegates heard an update on that progress at its meeting Feb. 17-19. The 53-member Council meets three times a year to work on behalf of the CRC’s synod.
A year of meetings, some behind closed doors, have shown tensions between some U.S. and Canadian staff and some mistrust and hurt between the U.S. and Canadian portions of the Council of Delegates. Two Canadian classes (regional groups of churches) have asked the denomination’s synod to put the whole proceedings on hold, with one citing a violation of the Church Order. (Church Order is the record of rules the congregations of the CRC have covenanted together to follow, which governs the functioning of the denomination.)
Further complications include the receipt of differing legal opinions on restructuring; the sudden resignation of the CRC’s executive director a year ago, which required emergency interim appointments; the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic preventing church councils and classes from meeting in person; and two consecutive synods being canceled.
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 their board was not in compliance with Canadian tax laws regarding charitable organizations. The legal advice was sought not because of a specific ruling of non-compliance but because of a letter received from a congregation in Ontario questioning whether there was compliance.
About 70% of the Council delegates are from the U.S. and 30% from Canada, representative of the percentages of church members on either side of the border.
Delegate John Lee, Classis Iakota, noted that while the presenting issue was tax compliance, there is a lot more history involved in the discussion of binationality. “There is a history of not living into decisions we’ve made. There’s a historic wound and frustrations surrounding that,” he said. “There is also a contemporary desire for contextualized ministry.”
To help find a way through the process, in February 2020, the Council created the Ecclesiastical, Structural, and Legal Team (ESL). That team came back recommending that each country have its own executive director and that an ecclesiastical officer could provide the bridge between the two and oversee ministries that are not specific to each country, such as candidacy and the denomination’s seminary. Having received the ESL's initial work, the Council disbanded that group and appointed people in both countries to take on the task of writing job descriptions for the three proposed positions. In October 2020, the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT) was created to take the three proposed job descriptions and find a way to align them in an appropriate way. That report was due in February 2021, but the mandate was extended to May 2021 to work with the new legal advice. (See “Extra Meeting of the CRC’s Council of Delegates Intended as ‘Special Listening Session.’”)
Working concurrently to all this is the Canadian Restructure Team (CRT) that is proposing substantial changes to Canadian ministry. That is creating some friction over whether the changes being made for CRA compliance are expanding in order to make Canadian ministry much more independent from the American ministry of the CRC. Classis Toronto, in asking for a halt to restructuring, referred to a letter it received from CRCNA Canada Corp that said, “As we thought about restructuring to achieve compliance, we realized there was a larger opportunity here. That is, since we are in need of restructuring moving into 2021, it is best to consider how so that a number of considerations are kept in mind: ongoing effectiveness, a desire to ‘reduce the footprint’ of the denomination, connecting whole-heartedly to the local church, all the while not simply becoming a mirror to the CRCNA in the U.S. but rather be built for the most effective contextual approach to ministry in Canada.”
CRCNA Canada Corp received the CRT report Feb. 13. It declined to endorse that report even in principle until the joint work of SALT was done. Delegate Melissa Van Dyk, Canadian at-large delegate, wondered if creating separate documents like the CRT report is “creating more anxiety in the system than actually needs to be.”
At the meeting of the full Council on Feb. 19, 2021, the Council received an oral update from the SALT group, which has several more meetings scheduled. A final report should come to the Council in May.