Synod 2022, the usually yearly leadership gathering of the Christian Reformed Church, needs some adjustments because both Synod 2020 and Synod 2021 were canceled. The Council of Delegates of the CRC met in place of synod for each of those years—dealing only with matters that couldn’t wait. That means a drastically increased workload for Synod 2022.
Adding to the pressure is the presentation of the Human Sexuality Report, a discussion expected to dominate the synod and hold far-reaching implications for the entire denomination.
At the Council’s October meeting a design committee, composed of the officers of the most recent synod (the program committee) and some staff, suggested possible ways to approach the upcoming synod, as a one-time emergency measure.
William Koopmans, chair of the program committee and member of the Council, told delegates at the outset that the proposal is not an ideal scenario, but rather an attempt to plan in the midst of unwanted circumstances.
Study Committee Reports
There are three reports awaiting discussion at synod: Study of Bivocationality Task Force, the Ecclesiastical Marriage Task Force, and the report from the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. Because the latter is so weighty, it will be the only one on Synod 2022’s agenda. The other two will wait until Synod 2023.
Starting Earlier With Technology
The Synod 2022 proposal includes using technology, ahead of synod, to
- offer orientation, as early as mid- to late April, for delegates and advisers to synod. (Synod 2019 decided to require such training. For 2022 it’s suggested that live video sessions could be recorded for required viewing by delegates.)
- convene to elect its officers and approve advisory committees
- offer orientation to the advisory committee chairs and reporters in mid-May.
Committees Need to Meet In Person
Instead of the usual eight or nine advisory committees to take up part of the agenda for close scrutiny and recommendations, it is proposed that there be more committees, with less workload for each one.
A suggestion to have advisory committees do much of their work virtually and then meet in person to finalize their recommendations was rejected. Council delegates who had been to previous synods noted that the most important work at synod gets done in those advisory committees, and too much would be lost by meeting electronically.
Lora Copley, Classis Red Mesa, said that making sure advisory committee work happens face to face will help foster trust. Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, said so many nuances and showing love and concern are not expressed very well through technology. “Particularly right now we need non-verbal communication (more) than verbal,” he said. “Coffee, meals, late nights need to be face to face.”
Some suggested the answer is to meet longer than the usual week. Koopmans said it is easier for pastors to stay longer but not others. “We don’t want just pastors and people who are retired,” he said. “We speak often of wanting younger, more diverse delegates. If you are young and you have to take close to two weeks of your time, that’s a sacrifice.”
Most delegates were not averse to a meeting plan that included some technological aspect. Ideas included using virtual committee meetings for preliminary introductions, a preliminary survey of materials, and some interaction with other committee members.
The Council directed the program committee to plan for most advisory committee work to be done in-person.
Making Use of Sunday
In recent years, in addition to the synodical service of prayer and praise, optional workshops have been offered on Sunday. The program committee instead plans to move some regular synod activities to Sunday, such as the following:
- facilitated table conversations
- presentation of candidates for the ministry
- agency and ministry presentations
- hearing from ecumenical guests
- hearing the state of the church address.
The program committee said it should be communicated that delegates will remain on campus on Sunday. “Participation in some activities may be required, but the special day of worship and rest will be observed,” Koopmans said.
Hearing LGBTQ Voices
At its special meeting in lieu of Synod 2021, Council asked executive director Colin Watson to find ways for delegates to hear from people in the LGBTQ community in consideration of the human sexuality report. Watson recommends using the Challenging Conversations Toolkit created by Pastor Church Resources. He is also considering organizing regional listening sessions for delegates and others.
The program committee recommended that LGBTQ voices not be brought in live during plenary sessions but rather to include them via video and other resources that can be accessed as background prior to arriving at synod. Delegates can discuss what they heard in facilitated table conversations (e.g., on Sunday of synod week).
Prayer and Communication
The program committee stressed that it will be important to communicate clearly about “the nature, agenda, and timeline of Synod 2022—including that synod will be done differently and that exceptions to procedure and schedule will be implemented to ensure that we get through the weighty agenda.”
The Year of Prayer initiative will be incorporated into synod, perhaps by inviting delegates to an hour of corporate prayer each morning. That initiative also calls the denomination to prayer in these months ahead of Synod 2022.
With the modification that advisory committees meet primarily in person, the program committee was given the greenlight to use the proposal as a blueprint for a plan that now has to be fleshed out in detail. The program committee is entrusted with that task and the finalized plans will be communicated to classes ahead of their winter meetings.
In a related discussion, the Council adopted a policy that all delegates to synod will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or provide a negative COVID test result taken within 72 hours of the event start. There is no requirement to wear a mask or face covering except to abide by the rules established by the local venue and health authority.
The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates met Oct. 13-15. The Council is a binational board of the denomination composed of one delegate from each classis (regional group of churches) and a few at-large delegates. It meets three times a year and reports to synod, the broadest assembly of the church.