Welcome to The Banner’s guide to the Agenda for Synod 2021. The Office of Synodical Services published three documents this year, the main agenda, the Agenda for Synod Supplement 2021 and the Deferred Agenda for Synod 2020.
The Council of Delegates canceled Synod 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you describe having a second consecutive synod canceled? Unprecedented? We said that already when Synod 2020 was canceled. It was the first time—in its 160 year history—that the Christian Reformed Church canceled its annual general assembly.
Unimaginable? Certainly a year ago, no one imagined that the COVID-19 pandemic would cancel a second consecutive synod.
Yet here we are. Just like last year, the CRC’s Council of Delegates will hold a special meeting in lieu of synod. That is, in fact, the Council’s role, to serve in the interim of synod’s normally annual meetings. The Banner will report on the special meeting, and the plenary sessions, June 15 and 16 will be livestreamed by the denomination. (See the schedule and links here.) Much of the Agenda for Synod 2021 will be deferred to Synod 2022. Some of the material deferred from last year will be discussed this year, but most is also still deferred to next year. Synod 2022 is shaping up to be very busy!
Who decided what should be deferred? The synodical program committee, made up of the officers of Synod 2019, decided which matters couldn’t wait until Synod 2022. They also did this last year. William Koopmans, Thea Leunk, José Rayas, and Melissa Van Dyk might be starting to think that being elected as officers in 2019 was a lifetime appointment!
The Agenda for Synod 2021, its supplement and the Deferred Agenda for Synod 2020 are available online. If you look them up, you’ll see that some of the text is shaded and some is not. The shaded items are the ones to be discussed at the Council’s special meeting.
If you are new to the Christian Reformed Church or to synod, or if you’re a veteran who doesn’t feel like wading through nearly 500 pages, plus supplementary material, plus last year’s deferred agenda, this is the place to find an easy-to-read overview. And if you want an even shorter summary, see “No Synod 2021: What to Watch” on The Banner’s website.
As you read this guide, remember how all the people, ministries, committees, and congregations work to advance God’s kingdom in this home we call the Christian Reformed Church.
Note that this is not an exhaustive guide to everything in the Agenda. For that, you need to read the actual Agenda. The Banner publishes the annual online guide in collaboration with the CRC’s Office of Synodical Services, fulfilling the assignment Synod 2019 gave to that office to produce a guide.
—Gayla R. Postma, retired Banner news editor
The heart of the Agenda for many synod-watchers is
what the Council of Delegates has done over the past year, particularly in fulfilling the assignments given to it by previous synods;
the reports and recommendations from synod-appointed study committees and task forces;
the overtures (requests) coming from church councils and classes, and sometimes from individuals. (See Rules for Synodical Procedure, pp. 9-12.)
What is Synod and Why Does it Matter?
Let’s talk a minute about some basics. Synod is the annual leadership meeting, or general assembly, of the CRC. It is the broadest authority in the denomination.
In normal circumstances, synod meets annually in June, usually in Grand Rapids, Mich. Each of 49 classes (regions) sends four delegates to synod, where they will learn, celebrate, and make decisions about matters that concern the denomination.
As you read this guide, you will find several references to the Church Order. That is the rule book, so to speak, that governs the denomination, its classes, and its congregations. We have all covenanted together to follow these rules, making decisions in good and decent order. The rules were made over the years by people with long experience and for good reasons. They get changed only through extensive deliberation and consensus. Changes to the Church Order require two synods to act. One synod can propose a change, but a subsequent synod must adopt any change judged by synod to be substantial before it is enacted. (The Church Order is also available in Spanish and Korean. You can find these translations in the Synod Resources section of the CRC’s website.)
Ordinarily, the Agenda lists the delegates to synod from all the various classes (regional groups of churches). Since the Council of Delegates will meet in lieu of synod, you can see who the delegates are in the published list of Council of Delegates members.
The Council of Delegates Report (pp. 11-120)
The Council is the governance body that conducts the business of synod in between the annual meetings of synod. One delegate from each of the 49 regional groups of churches (known as a classis), plus a few at-large delegates, meet three times each year. The Council’s mandate is described more fully on pp. 11-13.
The Council report includes a myriad of information, some of it mundane, that must be reported for the sake of transparency in governance. Agenda readers can get bogged down here. The report communicates to synod delegates what the Council has done since the last synod; notes how it has responded to assignments from previous synods; provides a separate list of recommendations; and includes several appendices to explain the background to much of the above. And this year, the report includes material from the deferred Agenda for Synod 2020. Hopefully this guide will help you navigate those connected pieces. Keep your mouse handy!
As mentioned above, when the Council meets in special session (June 11-12 and 15-16) it will deal only with matters that cannot wait until Synod 2022. Much of the Agenda will be on hold until then. It may seem odd that the Council report makes recommendations to “Synod 2021” when it is the Council that will also adopt (or reject) some of the recommendations. Many things are odd in these strange times. In fact, last year some of the Council’s own recommendations were not accepted at the 2020 special meeting of the Council. The minutes of last year’s special meeting can be found in the 2020 Deferred Agenda pp. 9-61.
Actions to be Taken in 2021
Electing church members to participate on various boards and committees is necessary. Some of the current members have finished their terms, and new members must be elected to begin terms on July 1.
Pages 17-20 show the names of those who have finished their term on the Council and who are being nominated to serve in the coming years. Because they act on behalf of synod, the people nominated to these bodies must be elected by synod. So you’ll see reference to the nominations again on p. 39, as recommendations D, E, and F. Other nominations for various boards and synodical standing committees are scattered throughout the Agenda and its supplement.
Senior Leadership and Governance Structure
You may recall that 2020 saw a lot of upheaval at the Council of Delegates over how to structure the denominational governance to be in compliance with Canadian tax law governing charities. This appeared in the Agenda for Synod 2020 and was deferred, but it is now going to be discussed at the June 2021 special meeting. In the Deferred Agenda from 2020, you will find what was proposed a year ago on pp. 146-148. In the Agenda for Synod 2021, you’ll find (on pp. 23-24) what was being considered at the time the Agenda was written.
However, at its meeting in May 2021, the Council accepted a proposal for a different structure, based on a report from the Council’s structure and leadership task force (SALT). Appendix A of the Council’s Agenda for Synod 2021 Supplement contains the entire SALT report. The recommendations to Synod 2021 start on page 19 of the supplement, recommendation E. The SALT report will be included in the Council’s agenda in June as background for two overtures asking the structure process be paused. (Overtures 1 and 2.)
For a summary of what the Council is proposing, see Banner articles “New Leadership Structure Recommended Amid Much Disagreement” and “New CRCNA Leadership Structure: What Is It?” From CRC Communications: “Structure and Leadership Changes Pending” and “Structure and Leadership FAQs.”
All of these items will also remain on the agenda for Synod 2022. Council can only recommend these changes to synod. In order to be ready for transitions, should synod accept the proposals, the Council is also expected to come to Synod 2022 with job descriptions for the recommended new positions and candidates to fill them.
While the organization is in this interim period, current executive director Colin Watson has agreed to keep serving until June 30, 2022, delaying his retirement. And director of finance and operations John Bolt also delayed his retirement until that same date to serve as the deputy to the executive director.
Still with me? We’re working our way through the Council of Delegates report, now on p. 29.
Abuse of Power
Synod 2019 gave a long list of tasks to the Council to address abuse of power in the denomination. See Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-799. The Council appointed an ad hoc committee to manage the process and the Safe Church ministry is implementing many of the recommendations. The Council, in its special meeting in lieu of Synod 2020, took note of progress made and adopted the recommendations proposed.
On pp. 29-31 of this year’s Agenda, you will find a summary of what the Council accomplished on this file. The Council received the report of the ad hoc committee in February 2021 and it can be found in Appendix A, pp. 44-70. If you jump back to pp. pp. 40-43 you’ll find the recommendations (P-Q). If you like, you can also check out the Council Supplementary report for a more complete list of initiatives (Supplement, pp. 13-14), and recommendation H on p. 20.
Fiscal year 2022 (starting July 1, 2021) marks a new era for ministry shares. For most of its history, the denomination set a per-member or per-family ministry share amount that each congregation was asked to send to support the ministries we have covenanted to do together. This year, churches and classes (regional groups of churches) were invited to pledge an amount to support these shared ministries and the budget was built on that amount. (See also “Pledge-based Budget Sees Income Down, Allocations Change.”)
Financial information, including the 2021-2022 Salary Structure and ministers’ pension assessment for churches, can be found on pp 14-18 in the Supplement. The recommendations for financial items are found starting on page 20, recommendations I, J, K, and L.
In the Supplement, Appendix C contains the summary of denominational investments. On pp. 88-119 of the Agenda, you’ll find this year’s balance sheets. Those, along with last year’s, will be received by Synod 2022.
You did it! You made it through the Council of Delegates report, which jumps us all the way to p. 121.
Our Shared Ministries (pp. 121-237)
This is the section where you can read about our shared ministries—the agencies and educational institutions that we all support. The reports are grouped around the themes of the five callings we share: faith formation, servant leadership, global mission, mercy and justice, and gospel proclamation and worship. You can find links to the web pages of all the ministries at crcna.org.
Each month the print issue of The Banner contains eight pages that share stories of these ministries (and they’re collected on thebanner.org/our-shared-ministry). CRC Communications shares even more stories here.
Regular synod watchers can be tempted to skip over this in the Agenda. Much of it is standard fare, reporting the names of board members and officers, and so forth. These reports are generally received for information. But if you flip through the pages without reading them, you’ll miss out on learning what the people in these ministries are doing to further the kingdom of God on our behalf.
While this is valuable reading every year, it is especially important this year to learn how these ministries have adapted to adjust to COVID-19 restrictions on their work. In many cases, the adaptations have furthered their work in other ways.
At a normal synod, advisory committees would discuss each of these ministries in depth. In the broad assembly the reports would be received for information, and then all the delegates would pray for those who do the work of those ministries.
We invite you to choose a ministry or two for each of the seven days that Synod 2021 would have met (June 11-17) and spend some time in prayer for them.
Reports of Standing Committees
There are three standing committees of synod: Candidacy, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee and the Historical Committee. Other than appointments of committee members and presentation of candidates for the ministry, the material from these standing committees will be deferred to Synod 2022.
Candidacy Committee (pp. 241-245)
The Candidacy Committee is the gatekeeper of entry into ordained ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. Whether a prospective pastor comes from Calvin Theological Seminary, another seminary, another denomination, or is entering ministry as a commissioned pastor, the requirements and expectations are kept consistent through the work of the committee, with the approval of synod.
The committee brought recommendations to Synod 2020 regarding the Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy, designed for potential candidates who earn their M.Div. degree at an institution other than Calvin Theological Seminary. A task force made several recommendations in its report found on pp. 240-246 of Synod 2020’s agenda.
When Synod 2020 was canceled and the report was deferred, the committee deemed it wise to proceed with the proposals because the concerns addressed are significant. Its report for Synod 2021 gives an update on its progress.
The presentation of the candidates for ministry is a highlight of each annual synod. A liturgy bathed in prayer sends men and women forth to embark on their career in ministry. This year, the presentation of 2021 candidates will be livestreamed on June 16, at 1:30 pm (EST). We invite you to tune in for this wonderful occasion.
Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (pp. 246-251)
The annual report from this committee reminds us that the CRCNA is just a small part of the church worldwide. While there are no new recommendations other than nominations to the committee, this is the place to go for an update on all the many ecumenical organizations and Reformed denominations with whom we have relationships.
Historical Committee (pp. 252-261)
The Historical Committee does just what its name indicates. It keeps track of our history as a denomination, maintaining archives that are invaluable when a church or ministry is celebrating an anniversary and is looking for materials. I especially enjoy browsing the list of anniversaries of ordinations of ministers, and the list of churches celebrating special anniversaries, starting on page 258.
Denominationally Related Educational Institutions
Each year, several educational institutions with strong ties to the CRC send greetings and mission updates to synod. You can find these starting on p. 265. As with our ministry agencies, I invite you to spend time in prayer for each of these organizations, too.
Study Committees and Task Forces
Synod regularly appoints committees to study a particular issue and then make recommendations to a subsequent synod on actions to be taken. At any given time there could be two or three such committees with specific mandates. The reports of the currently active committees are now deferred to Synod 2022.
In the 2021 agenda:
Synod 2019 appointed this task force to study the advisability, legality, and morality of ecclesiastical (non-civil) marriage. (See also Roxanne Van Farowe’s summary in The Banner “Don’t Sanction Marriages without the State, Report Urges.”)
Synod 2019 appointed this task force to explore the challenges and opportunities for pastors who hold more than one job. (See also Clay Libolt’s summary in the Banner “Report Calls the CRC to Catch Up with Trend of Pastors Holding More Than One Job.”)
Study Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality (not strictly in the Agenda, it’s available as separate document)
This committee, appointed by Synod 2016 and given a mouthful of a name, wrote what was probably the most anticipated item for the Synod 2021 agenda. But the Council of Delegates decided in February 2021 to delay its discussion until Synod 2022. The committee’s report is mostly now referred to as the human sexuality report or HSR. It was sent to the churches on November 1, 2020. (See Roxanne Van Farowe’s summary in The Banner “Sexuality Report Released to Churches, Suggests Historical Position is Already Confessional.”)
Because the report is deferred to Synod 2022, so too are the overtures starting on p. 392 of the Agenda for Synod 2021. Van Farowe wrote a summary of the overtures received so far. See “Reaction to Human Sexuality Report Includes Responses From a Group of Students.”
Overtures and Communications
Every agenda for synod includes formal requests (overtures) and communications from the church’s other assemblies—church councils or classes. The Agenda for Synod 2021 includes 30 overtures and five communications, starting on p. 347 (remember the shaded sections of the Agenda indicate what will be addressed in the special session of the Council of Delegates in lieu of synod).
As mentioned above, all the overtures relating to the human sexuality report (13 so far, with more to come over the coming year) are deferred to Synod 2022.
A number of classes and congregations sent overtures regarding Neland Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. That congregation in 2020 ordained a deacon who is living in a same-sex relationship. (See The Banner “Woman in Same-sex Marriage Installed as Deacon.”) Seven of the overtures (pp. 352-376) want the congregation to rescind that action and/or face discipline for straying outside the CRC’s position on homosexuality. When this came up at a meeting of the Council of Delegates last fall, it sent a letter to Neland Avenue’s council grieving the congregation’s decision to ordain that deacon. (See The Banner “Council of Delegates Discusses Neland Avenue CRC.”) Classis Grand Rapids East wants that letter rescinded (pp. 375).
The Agenda supplement includes Communication 6, written by the council of Neland Avenue CRC and forwarded by Classis Grand Rapids East, explaining Neland’s decision to ordain a deacon who is living in a same-sex marriage.
The Council of Delegates will address these overtures and communications in the special session in lieu of synod.
And that brings us to the end of the Agenda for Synod 2021! But wait, there’s more!
We couldn’t leave you without a quick refresher on matters deferred from 2020 that will now wait another year.
New City Catechism
Synod 2019 instructed that The New City Catechism be reviewed for potential use by the churches. The review is found in Appendix A in the 2020 supplement.
Definition of Heresy
After Synod 2019 declared Kinism to be a heresy, it asked the Council to address “the proper and ongoing definition and application” of the word heresy. The report on heresy is Appendix E of 2020’s agenda, found on p. 68. (See also Clayton Libolt’s article “What is Heresy? Synod 2019 Asked, Report Tries to Answer.”)
Synod 2019 requested historical research on past synodical decisions on political statements and rationale for making those decisions. (Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 820-822). In 2020, the Council recommended that synod itself appoint a study committee to address the issues, due to the gravity of the work.
We hope you have found this Guide useful for navigating all the documents related to Synod 2021. And we hope you will pray for the Council of Delegates as it works through those matters that can’t be deferred for another year.
As noted, The Banner will report on the discussion and decisions made by the Council of Delegates in its special meeting. Look for stories online and in the July 2021 print issue.