The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates included some voices passionate about the need to continue hosting wide, diverse, ministry-inspiring gatherings for the whole church, but in evaluating whether future “Inspire” events are feasible, Council in the end determined to instruct staff to discontinue them. It also encouraged staff to “explore smaller scale, and/or regionalized events on particular ministry themes applicable to the churches.”
This decision came after the October meeting of the Council requested a deeper look at the cost and scale of continuing.
The first two Inspire events, in 2017 and 2019, underwritten by the Richard and Helen DeVos foundation, were envisioned as venues for collaborative learning and worship—drawing not just elders, deacons, and pastors from the CRC’s member churches, but younger and older people serving in many capacities. Hosted first in Detroit, Mich., and then in Windsor, Ont., the cross-border gatherings also intentionally emphasized the strengths of the CRC’s binationality. But momentum was lost with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspire 2021 became an online-only event and the in-person 2022 Inspire conference received favorable reviews from those who attended, but it attracted smaller numbers than the previous two conferences.
Those recommending the discontinuation said they valued previous Inspire events and what they provided to the denomination. “We also appreciate the work of the team that explored possible options. At the same time, we acknowledge that good ideas have a life cycle.” They encouraged that the value of getting together and having shared experiences could be fulfilled in other ways.
Jill Feikema, Classis Illiana, who spoke strongly in favor of Inspire at the Council’s October meeting, said she was concerned that by only “encouraging” staff to explore smaller-scale events, and not requiring an Inspire replacement, these important, transformational opportunities could be lost to other priorities. “I'm a little afraid that this is going to completely die,” Feikema said.
Harold Caicedo, Classis California South, who attended all three Inspire conferences, was direct about the impact he sees in discontinuing them. “The denomination should encourage fire like the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Inspiration, unity. But this is not happening now in our denomination. I think this is something that we need to analyze, to revise, because it’s something serious for us.” Without this kind of fire, he said, “we can have a lot of synods, meetings, Council of Delegates, or whatever we can have—but probably, we are not dying, we are already there.”
Sheila Holmes, Classis Hackensack, said her main concern was relationships within the denomination. “We need to say that relationship is a priority, not just for pastors, but for churches to be able to come to know the broader part of our denomination,” she said. “We’re not only just Canada and the U.S. now, we're moving globally, and we need to be intentional on how we do those relationships.” In whatever way inspirational gatherings may continue, Holmes does not want them to cease altogether. “Relationship has to be important to this denomination if we are going to be the Christian Reformed Church,” Holmes said.
Sherry Fakkema, Pacific Northwest, appreciated the encouragement to more regional events. “For those of you who are close enough to drive to where (Inspire has) been held, I know that it was a marvelous thing, but for those of us who can’t get there easily, it really is a huge expense that we can’t participate in. I think we have to think of other ways to serve the majority of our denomination.”
Staff will now take that encouragement, possibly using the “Inspire” branding on more focused future events. Three delegates registered negative votes on the decision.
The Council of Delegates governs the entities and activities of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, acting as the interim committee of the denomination’s broadest assembly, synod. It is composed of one delegate from each of 49 classes (regional groups of churches) and a few at-large members. The Council met by video conference Feb. 15-17.