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The Council of Delegates decided at its February 2021 meeting 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. 

Synod 2021 was due to convene at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, in June. This is only the second time in the CRC’s 164-year history that its annual synod was canceled. The first time was last year, also due to the pandemic. 

Instead of synod, the Council will hold a special meeting in June to deal with matters that are deemed unable to wait a year, such as approving candidates for ministry and budget matters. That was the same process followed in 2020. The 53-member Council meets three times a year to conduct the work of the CRC’s synod between those annual meetings. 

The decision to cancel was not easily made. Several delegates said that there are ways some form of synod could be convened without bringing everyone together in one place. One suggestion was allowing Canadians to gather in one location and Americans to gather in another. However, other delegates noted that in Canada travel across provincial borders is not allowed. In some provinces, people are discouraged from even moving between municipalities. With vaccination rollouts unlikely to be completed by June, it is highly unlikely that restrictions will ease before then. 

The Council received several letters and requests regarding whether to hold Synod 2021. It also polled the stated clerks of the CRC’s 49 classes (regional groups of churches). The committee that made the recommendations said, “There is a polarity in the opinions expressed between protecting the health and well-being of individuals and protecting the health and well-being of the denomination. It can feel as if there is no win-win solution.” A large majority of the opinions expressed were in favor of canceling Synod.

Delegates voted 38-10 in favor of canceling. (This total is less than 53 because two US seats on the council are vacant and some delegates had to leave the meeting before the vote took place.) The CRC’s synodical services announced the decision to staff and guests to Synod 2021 shortly after the vote and published some clarifying questions and answers online.

The cancellation could hardly come at a worse time. 

This year’s synod was supposed to receive the Human Sexuality Report, created by the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality, appointed by Synod 2016. The committee looked at several aspects of sexuality including interpretation of biblical texts concerning homosexuality and recommendations regarding the status in the church of members living in same-sex relationships. Since 1973, the denomination’s position has been that being same-sex attracted is not sinful, but acting on those attractions is. 

The Council received several letters regarding delaying the report until 2022. As one letter put it, “We believe that good conversations happen best in non-anxious settings where participants are free to engage one another in a winsome and creative fashion. After months of stress and anxiety, few of us are ready to engage one another in this fashion. We are tired. We are stressed. We need time to breathe, to rest, and to worship together in the same room before attempting to tackle such a massive and potentially divisive report.”

Delegates voted to delay until 2022. Delegates were asked to remind churches and classes that the Challenging Conversations Toolkit from Pastor Church Resources is available to help churches to discuss the Human Sexuality Report, now slated to be on the agenda of Synod 2022. 

See also: Same-Sex Relationships and the CRC

Another reason a cancellation is untimely is all the work being done on governance restructure along Canada-U.S. lines, which has received no small amount of resistance. Introduced in February 2020 and with no Synod 2020 to either affirm or halt the process, it has gone ahead, albeit with some confusion. 

Additionally, the CRC’s executive director, Colin Watson, and its director of finance and operations, John Bolt, were scheduled to retire at the end of June 2021. Watson had already extended his retirement six months from his planned retirement in January. With structure discussions so far from complete, both have agreed to stay for an additional year and the Council gratefully accepted those extensions.

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