No Synod 2021: What to Watch

Synod News
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The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates will meet in a special session June 11-12 and 15-16. The meeting is in lieu of the CRC’s annual synod, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Synod 2020 was also canceled. That was the first time the CRC’s annual general assembly had been canceled in its more than 160-year history.

The Council’s role is to serve in the interim of synod. It won’t tackle everything in the Agenda for Synod 2021 but will address only those items that cannot wait until Synod 2022. The synodical program committee decided which items to include. That committee is made up of the officers of the last synod, in this case Synod 2019.

The Banner will cover the June meeting. Look for stories online the week following the meeting, or find them in the July 2021 issue.

What to Watch For

In any given year the Council of Delegates report is a sizable part of the Agenda. It typically includes progress made on specific assignments given to it by a previous synod. Since there was no synod last year there were no new assignments given. Nevertheless, the Council had a very busy year.

New Budget Process

The coming fiscal year’s denominational budget is the first to be based on ministry share pledges from the classes (regional groups of churches). Until now budgets were based on the expected remittance of a specified per-member amount to support shared denominational ministries. Income is down about 11% from last year’s receipts (approximately 15% less from U.S. churches and 5% less from Canadian congregations) but more churches have pledged than had given in previous years. See also “Reimagining Ministry Shares Moves to Implementation,” June 2020.

Structure and Leadership

Denominational administrative and leadership structure has been much discussed by the Council since the end of 2019, when Canadian delegates (known as the Canada Corporation) determined that they had to have direction and control of all resources collected in Canada in order to be in compliance with Canadian tax law governing charitable organizations.

In 2020 the Council deferred the matter. At its May 2021 meeting, the Council recommended to Synod 2022 a new leadership structure, but the vote to recommend the Structure and Leadership Task force’s report didn’t come easily. In June the Council will review what it’s accomplished so far and continue with its restructuring work (Agenda for Synod 2021, pp. 23-25). All of the related information found in the Agendas of 2020 and 2021 will remain on the agenda for Synod 2022.

For background, see: Governance Restructuring Gives CRCNA in Canada More Ministry Control” (Feb. 22, 2020); Governance Restructure Subject of Recent Canada Corporation Meeting” (July 24, 2020); and Governance Restructure Causing Confusion, Angst” (Feb. 22, 2021).

Addressing Abuse of Power

Synod 2019 gave the Council of Delegates a long list of tasks regarding the prevention of abuse of power (Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-799). In the past year, the Council has approved the last steps in completing the instructions (Agenda for Synod 2021, p. 29). Recommendations adopted by both the Canada and U.S. Corporations include employee training and changes to the employee handbook; a policy regarding non-disclosure agreements; training for all candidates for the ministry; a code of conduct for all ministry personnel; record keeping to increase collaboration between Safe Church ministry and the Pastor Church Resources committee; and a Dignity Team to foster a culture of respect. The Abuse of Power Ad Hoc Committee report is included in the Agenda, p. 44.

Overtures

There are two requests (overtures) that the restructuring process be halted (Agenda for Synod 2021, p. 347). Council will consider these.

Council will address a number of requests from classes and congregations regarding Neland Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Agenda for Synod 2021, pp 352-376). The overtures range from asking that the church be admonished or even disaffiliated for ordaining a deacon who is in a same-sex relationship to requesting that the Council rescind its decision to communicate directly with Neland’s council. When this came up at a meeting of the Council of Delegates last fall, Council sent a letter to Neland Avenue’s council grieving its decision to ordain that deacon. (See “Woman in Same-sex Marriage Installed as Deacon,” Sept. 14, 2020 and “Council of Delegates Discusses Neland Avenue CRC,” Oct. 16, 2020.)

What NOT to Watch For

Study Committees

At any given time, there can be two or three committees appointed by synod to study a particular issue at length and then make recommendations to a subsequent synod on actions to be taken.

The report  was sent to the churches Nov. 1, 2020, to be discussed at Synod 2021. The Council of Delegates decided in February that it would not be processing the report at its special meeting in June. The report and all the overtures (requests) already sent in responding to it are deferred to Synod 2022. (See also The Banner’s summary of the report written by Roxanne Van Farowe, Nov. 25, 2020, and a summary of some of the overtures to Synod 2021, April 16, 2021.) Many classes are still considering overtures to send to Synod 2022.

  • Synod 2019 asked an Ecclesiastical Marriage Task Force to study the advisability, legality and morality of ecclesiastical (non-civil) marriage. That report is in the 2021 agenda (pp. 281-314), now deferred to 2022. (See also The Banner’s summary of the report, also written by Van Farowe, Nov. 25, 2020.)
  • The Agenda for Synod 2021 also includes a report by the Bivocational Task Force (pp. 315-344). Synod 2019 appointed the group to continue the work of a Council-appointed task force exploring the challenges and opportunities for pastors that hold more than one job. (See also The Banner’s summary of the report, written by Clayton Libolt, Nov. 25, 2020.)

Matters still deferred from Synod 2020

RCA Synod Watchers

Although the CRC decided to cancel its synod for 2021, the Reformed Church in America is carrying through with its general synod, but it is postponed until October. On the agenda is deciding on a path forward as laid out in the RCA Vision 2020 report released in June 2020 (see “Restructuring, New Mission Agency, and ‘Mutually Generous Separation’ Recommended for RCA,” Jan. 1, 2021).

The decisions made by the RCA affect the CRC because of the agreement between the two denominations, known as the Pella Accord, struck at Synod 2014. That accord commits the denominations to “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel (them) to act separately.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

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