At a special meeting of the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Council of Delegates, convened this week by video conference, board members appointed a new director of synodical services, Scott DeVries, and interviewed and appointed a denominational chief administrative officer, Shirley De Vries. (The two are not related.)
Scott DeVries, currently a customer service manager with the CRCNA, is replacing retiring director Dee Recker. His appointment and Recker’s retirement are effective in January.
Shirley De Vries’ role as CAO is a new position within the CRCNA’s Office of General Secretary. Synod, the broadest general assembly of the CRCNA, approved the structure with that position at its June meeting and empowered the general secretary to complete hiring for the missing roles. In the interim, Lloyd Vanderkwaak has been serving as temporary chief administrative officer. Shirley De Vries’ transition to the new appointment will take place over the next few weeks.
Andy de Ruyter, chair of the Council of Delegates, in congratulating Shirley De Vries on her successful interview, said, “This is a new position, and there are a lot of unknowns, but we’ve heard you make a good account of yourself and we endorse that and offer you our blessings and our prayers as you move forward in this position.”
Shirley De Vries, who was most recently serving as director of administrative operations-U.S., was encouraged to apply for the CAO role. She’d been appointed to the U.S.-specific role in October (she started in July). In a letter to the search team expressing her interest in the CAO position, De Vries said that period “could be seen as an onboarding process for the role of CAO. During this time, my understanding of the vision of the SALT (structure and leadership taskforce) report has been clarified, and I have had the opportunity to understand the role that joint ministry agreements play in creating partnerships across the Canadian and U.S. ministries. Although paths for partnering will still have to be made sustainable, I am excited about the new way forward.” Responsibilities of the CAO include bringing “administrative and ministry leaders and partners together to ensure consistent implementation of synodical and COD policy decisions in Canada and the United States,” operating “an administrative and ministry leadership system that builds staff capacity, engagement, satisfaction, and succession,” and overseeing “the joint ministry agreement process, including governance, ecumenical, administrative, and ministry agreements.”
Shirley De Vries wrote, “I bring some traits and experiences that would be helpful in this position at this point. In my position as the Information and Technology director and my work related to risk assessment and monitoring, I am constantly engaged across Canadian and U.S. staff, agencies, and departments. I have been in this binational role for a long time and have experience contextualizing our approach because of the differences in laws.” Shirley De Vries has worked within the CRCNA for four decades—as an administrative assistant, internal technology trainer, business analyst and programmer, network administrator, and, since 1999, as IT director. The search team told the Council “We met with and interviewed some very gifted candidates throughout the 2.0 Search process (a previous process at the end of 2021 ended unsuccessfully in April). It became more and more clear that this position required someone with not only the skill set, but also the ability to understand and lead organizationally in a time of change. Shirley De Vries’ deep commitment and longevity in the CRCNA brings a thoughtful and steady presence in a time of change.” De Vries wrote, “The many changes and struggles we have been through in the past few years have created opportunities. I want to be a part of discovering the opportunities that I am certain lie ahead.”
Synodical Services Director
Scott DeVries, 46, is an ordained minister in the CRCNA and has held positions in denominational ministry since 2018, managing the Connections and coordinating the Thriving Congregations projects. He’s also served as pastor in two Michigan congregations and was ministries coordinator in Classis Holland from 2016 to 2018.
Zachary King, general secretary for the CRCNA, told the delegates that the search team “joyfully agrees that Scott would serve the denomination well in this position.”
The director of synodical services serves as a liaison between the Office of General Secretary and the classes of the CRCNA in Canada and the U.S., acting as synodical and Council of Delegates meeting officer and administering all matters pertaining to synod and the Council.
Scott DeVries addressed some delegates’ questions and shared a personal story about a moving time he encountered as a delegate to Synod 2015. Connecting deeply with delegates brought memories “flooding back that it was the church that introduced me to Jesus in Scripture and demonstrated Christ,” he said. The rekindling of his love for the church through that experience is significant enough that he keeps two souvenirs from that synod in his office. “The thought of being able now to help set the stage for moments like that where delegates can talk deep into the night and for people to interact, rekindle old relationships, and build new ones all centered around a love for Jesus” is inspiring.
The work of the Connections and Thriving Congregations projects, both funded by grants from the Lilly Endowment Inc., will continue. The Connections project is funded until June 2024, and then it is intended to transition into regular programming, said CRCNA communications and marketing director Kristen deRoo VanderBerg. A review and assessment of the projects’ needs are expected before seeking to replace the role played by Scott DeVries.
Both candidates showed emotion in responding to questions, particularly about how their personal faith and spiritual practices would inform their work. Looking over the past 40 years, Shirley De Vries said the word that came to the surface is “gratitude. I never imagined doing any of the jobs I’ve done here. I want to carry that with me. I will be grateful, and I will do my best.” Scott DeVries spoke of listening to the Spirit and attending to God, seeing celebration of what God is doing as an important practice to rekindle.
Tyler Wagnemaker, Classis Zeeland, asked Scott DeVries about the Reformed confessions held, defended, and promoted by the church and whether he has difficulty with any parts of them. “I’ve studied the confessions thoroughly and haven’t found a place of exception yet,” DeVries said.
Michael Ten Haaken, Classis Lake Superior, one of two appointed interviewers for the role of chief administrative officer, asked Shirley De Vries to talk to delegates about synod’s decisions in 2022 about the human sexuality report. She said, “I deeply understand that this job has the responsibility to implement the decisions of synod,” working with the general secretary. Noting that she’s been to 20 synods in her roles serving the denomination, “I do not see that there is a decision that synod has made that has ever caused me to think that I need to leave the employment of the denomination. If there is a difference of opinion that I have personally, I don’t think I have any problem implementing what synod wanted to do and doing that with integrity.”
Harold Caicedo, Classis California South, remarked that the two candidates appointed to significant positions are both named “De Vries.” He said he didn't have a problem with this because of the people they are, but he questioned whether including discussion about diversity is actually integral to the denomination, or just part of the discussion because it must be included.
“I think it is real for the denomination,” Shirley De Vries said, noting that even recent experience shows it’s hard. “But I think that if we can't live into that more, we will be harming ourselves and not really living how God wants us to live. I think he wants the church to be able to have a wide embrace, and to have a wide embrace, I think, means we have to be really looking at how to get diverse candidates.” She said she would build this into succession planning and leadership training.
[Note: A correction was made to this story Nov. 21, 2022 to correctly identify the name of the interviewer from the Council who asked questions of Shirley De Vries.]