As most of you were aware, in June I spent over a week in Grand Rapids Michigan at Calvin College attending Synod. Some of you, however, may not know what Synod is exactly. Synod is the annual meeting of the Christian Reformed Church as a denomination. Every year Synod meets in June, usually in Grand Rapids. As a local church, we belong to a classis, (a regional body of churches), we belong to Classis Alberta South and Saskatchewan. Classis meets twice a year, and at one of those meetings, they choose delegates to go to Synod. I was delegated last fall to attend this year’s Synod meeting. Some people call Synod CRC Summer camp, and in some ways it feels that way as it is a great time to connect with other CRC people from across Canada and the U.S, and also to see friends and colleagues you haven’t seen in a long time.
As Synod meets we have an agenda mailed out to us in April/May. This year’s agenda was not too hefty as it was only 352 pages plus a supplement (Synod 2017 was 449 plus supplement). Each delegate is assigned to different advisory committees, and each committee is assigned a portion of the agenda. From these advisory committees they bring reports and recommendations to the floor of Synod as it meets in what is called plenary session, the large group meeting together. It is from these reports the discussions are held on the floor of Synod.
This year, I was assigned to be a chairperson of one of the advisory committees. As I said earlier, this Synod was not that heavy of a Synod, or controversial for that matter. But what looked like it could bring the most controversy, was assigned to our committee. Our committee as it turned out, had the bulk of the work load of Synod. We had four overtures (requests from a classis or individual) that we had to look at. Three of them all seemed to deal with the same topic and one from an individual.
Normally when an overture comes from an individual, it doesn’t see too much light of day at Synod. But, this one had a lot of things in it, that made for some very interesting conversation. This overture came to Synod to address issues regarding Safe Church. Especially in light of the #metoo movement in the past year, and the many, many instances of sexual abuse and harassment cases in the media and the #churchtoo movement, this was a serious topic. This overture created one of the most interesting discussions on the floor of Synod. It became rather apparent that people were not willing to accept the status quo and inactivity from many churches and classes (Pronounced: Class-eaze, the plural of Classis). Over 50% of our denominations classes do not have a safe church team in place. Many congregations do not have a safe church policy or team in place either. The discussion on the floor allowed many people to share for the first time in public their experiences at the hands of others within a church, and there was a general spirit of pastoral care and concern that the church is not doing enough to protect people. Hopefully from this Synod, many more churches and Classes will have a safe church team and/or policy in place.
The next big issue was whether or not the Church as a denomination should be lobbying the government. This had the potential of being a huge topic as the political climate here and in the U.S especially is very heated. In Canada we have the Committee for Contact with the Government which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and it has a Centre for Public Dialogue (CPD) in Ottawa a few blocks from Parliament Hill. In the U.S and Canada to a lesser extent, we have the Office of Social Justice (OSJ). These offices play a particular role with regards to raising awareness of Social Justice issues in our respective countries. In the U.S. there were some who felt that the OSJ goes too far in its political lobbying, and lobbying church members to write government officials.
Our committee’s recommendation was that a committee be created for the OSJ that is similar to the Committee for Contact with the Government here in Canada. This committee will serve as a checks and balances committee guiding some of the actions the OSJ takes with regards to certain policies. The atmosphere was a very good general concern for the Church and how it speaks prophetically against systems of oppression and injustice. The tone of the dialogue was a very healthy one. I was extremely impressed with how the conversation happened. In the end, the two different Classes that sent the overtures, said to me personally, that they were content with what took place, and that they could live with what happened.
All in all, Synod 2018 was described by many to be a very encouraging and pastoral Synod. In fact, one elder who has been at Synod 4 times said it was the most pastoral Synod that he has ever been to. There were many other reports that we heard, from Calvin College and Calvin Seminary. We heard how the church continues to serve through World Renew and Resonate Global Missions.
We also heard how the CRC and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) are trying to find more ways to collaborate and work together, to possibly come to work together more, even hints at unification. We had many joint sessions with the RCA Synod and had times of listening. The RCA however is in a state of division and are not even certain as to where their future is, and that was a bit shocking to us at the CRC Synod.
There were many other good conversations and discussion that were held at Synod, but there is so much to process, it is difficult to remember all the different decisions. One of the highlights every year at Synod is affirming new Candidates for ministry. This year we welcomed 43 new candidates to be ministers of the word in the CRC. What a blessing it is to see those who have studied long and hard and have completed their courses and are ready to begin ministry. I remember very fondly my time as a candidate at Synod and how emotional that time truly is!
The CRC in the future has some things that it is wrestling with. But I felt that this Synod really set the tone for how important and difficult conversations can and should be had. There are many times when people become “keyboard warriors” and things are said that should not be said. But when we sit down with people and hear their stories, we see them for who they are, fellow followers of Christ, trying to follow Christ as best they can. When we see that, and recognize that we are all sinners in need of a savior, we have a common understanding and a common love and commitment to our common savior and Lord.