Synod 2010 in Review

Synod 2010 in Review

Synod opened with Rev. Michael Kooy, pastor of Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Ill., welcoming the delegates to Trinity Christian College and the Chicago area.

“Welcome to the party,” Kooy told delegates. “This assembly is a sign of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is a party. Welcome to the party where we are brothers and sisters, where we see what God is doing around the world, in our communities and here in our midst.”

Synod elected Rev. Aldon Kuiper, pastor of Trinity CRC in Rock Valley, Iowa, as president and Rev. Peter Slofstra, pastor of Hope Fellowship CRC in Courtice, Ontario, as vice-president.

Rev. William Verhoef, pastor of The River CRC in Redlands, Calif., was elected as First Clerk and Wendy Gritter, an elder at Community CRC of Meadowvale in Mississauga, Ontario, as Second Clerk (read full story).

‘Radical Hospitality’ is Focus of Synod Service

June 13, 2010 – Delegates packed Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Ill., for a service of prayer and praise that showcased rousing hymn-singing, a bell choir of persons who live with disabilities, and a type of discussion-style preaching for which the congregation has been awarded a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

The service was a mixture of old and new in a church that itself has experienced substantial demographic changes.

Grace will celebrate its fifth birthday in early July as a congregation that emerged from three southeast Chicago-area CRCs – Park Lane, Evergreen Park, and Kedvale Avenue – all of which found themselves facing challenges as the neighborhoods and business districts around them changed.

Sunday's service focused on the the parable of the Great Banquet, as described in Luke 12: 15-24, the story Jesus told about a man who was holding a great banquet to which the invited guests refused to come. And so the man told his servant to "go to the roads and country lanes and make them (strangers and wayfarers) come in, so that my house may be full. I tell you none of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet." (read full story)

Synod Reconvenes

June 14, 2010 – Synod began its work on Monday morning with a worship service asking the Holy Spirit to be with delegates and others as they undertook their deliberations.

"We are ready for the work of synod," said Rev. Aldon Kuiper, president of Synod 2010. "By your grace, Jesus Christ, guide us as we do the work of synod.... We offer our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ as we begin today."

Synod also remembered Martin Ozinga, a strong supporter of Trinity Christian College, who died on Saturday. Synod is meeting in the Martin and Janet Ozinga Chapel at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

Synod approved offerings for a range of CRC agencies. In addition, Kuiper oversaw the process of voting various persons onto Christian Reformed Church boards and committees, including the Board of Trustees, the group that takes care of church business between synods. In addition, a range of people were given approval to address synod on various measures.

Kuiper reminded delegates about the merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council to take place later in the week on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. The new entity will be called the World Communion of Reformed Churches. (read full story)

Executive Director Cites Joys, Challenges

June 14, 2010 – The Christian Reformed Church has much to be joyful about, CRC Executive Director Rev. Jerry Dykstra said in an address to Synod 2010 on Monday night. But it also faces some serious challenges.

Alive, vibrant and well, the CRC is transforming lives worldwide with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the cup of cold water, Dykstra said. The church also provides thoughtful ecumenical and theological leadership that is much appreciated in the larger Christian community.

“I’m proud of the Christian Reformed Church in a humble sort of way,” Dykstra said. He expressed joy at seeing church members of all ages “living in harmony with God and his creation.”

Dykstra said the greatest challenge facing the CRC today is diversity at all levels – and he used synod as an example. “I’m extremely disappointed that this year we have half the number of ethnically diverse delegates that we had a year ago,” he said.

Dykstra identified mistrust of institutions and leaders as another problem the church must deal with. “We need to find a way as brothers and sisters in Christ to support each other, to support our leaders, and to trust one another,” he said.

Other challenges facing the CRC, Dykstra said, are tendencies toward congregationalism and parachurchism – “more allegiance to causes outside the church than to what we do together as a denomination” – and the danger of allowing politics to take precedence over Biblical perspectives. (read full story)

Culture Norms Vary Widely, Synod Told

June 14, 2010 – In India, there are more than 300 million people – about the population of the United States – who are born into a caste system from which they cannot escape in this lifetime.

These people believe in karma, what goes around comes around, and that their station in life is set and immutable, Chris Pullenayegem told synod delegates during a Monday night presentation on cultural differences. They would not be receptive to talk about grace, about getting something for free.

Pullenayegem, director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Leadership Exchange, spoke to Synod 2010, which is meeting this week on the campus of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights. Ill.

The gist of Pullenayegem’s message was that we are not all the same in our values, beliefs and behaviors and, in a global society, we need to pay attention to differences that are cultural – meaning they are formed in a various place for various reasons.

“If we don’t understand cultural differences, we can do more harm than good when we are engaged in cross-cultural ministry,” he said.

“Real diversity is underneath appearances and outward behavior,” said Pullenayegem, who comes from Sri Lanka. “The bigger challenge is understanding what is going on under the surface.”

Also on Monday night:

  • Synod set the Ministry Share amount, the per-member annual assessment to help pay for CRC denominational ministries, at $316.76 for 2011, a three percent increase.
  • Synod commended the Form of Subscription committee’s work and recommended it to be studied in-depth by individuals and churches before a vote on the measure by Synod 2011. The aim of the document is to come up with a meaningful way for officebearers in the church to engage Reformed doctrines.
  • Synod recommended support for a list of non-denominational agencies, some of which are on the list for the first time this year.
  • Synod also dealt with issues related to the compensation of and pensions for CRC ministers. (read full story)

Delegates Discuss Engaging Youth

June 14, 2010 - About 50 people gathered Monday evening for a discussion on youth ministry in the Christian Reformed Church.

“Our students graduate from high school and graduate from church in many cases,” said Ty Hogue, youth pastor at Harderwyk Ministries, Holland, Mich. “We need to help them retain a living and active faith once they graduate from high school.”

Hogue presented a concept paper of the recently-formed Youth Ministries Task Force which aims to create a “coherent youth ministry plan” for the denomination.

The task force identified three key needs: helping adolescents live in today’s culture, equipping adolescents for discipleship, and encouraging congregations to engage adolescents. (read full story)

Synod Accepts Invitations for 2011, 2012

June 15, 2010 - Synod accepted invitations from Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Ancaster (Ontario) CRC to host the next two synods.

Synod 2011 will meet at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, and Synod 2012 will meet at Redeemer University College in Ancaster.

Synod received a proposal from the CRC’s Board of Trustees to set aside a time at each synod to discuss some topic of denomination-wide importance. Delegates did not agree with the proposal, however, noting that they are already under time constraints to finish other synod business. (read full story)

Delegates Discuss Lord's Table Proposal

June 15, 2010 - Synod agreed on a process that could lead to the adoption next year of new, expanded guidelines on allowing children to take part in the Lord's Supper.

The Faith Formation Committee has been discussing this topic as well as a wide range of issues related to faith formation, at the request of synod, for the past few years. It is to present its final report in 2012.

While other aspects of the Faith Formation report will be addressed by Synod 2012, the topic of children taking part in the Lord's Supper will be addressed earlier, to help congregations gain clarity on how to deal with this issue in their own churches.

In its recommendations to Synod 2010, the committee was trying to get direction on how it ought to continue approaching this topic, asking synod to approve a principle that states that children can partake if they have demonstrated their faith in an age-appropriate manner.

"We are trying to be deliberative and approve a single principle that all baptized members who come with age- and ability-appropriate faith in Jesus Christ are welcome at the Lord's table," said Rev. John Witvliet, chair of the Faith Formation Committee.

In addition, the committee asked synod to give permission to children to take part in the Lord Supper as long as "they obey the scriptural commands about participation (to examine themselves) in an age- and ability appriopriate way, under the supervision of elders."

In its recommendations, the Faith Formation Committee said that a formal Profession of Faith prior to participation in the Lord's Supper "is not required by Scripture or the confessions." At the same time, a "formal public Profession of Faith is a vital practice for faith formation and is one pastoral approach to consider prior to participation in the Lord's Supper." (read full story)

Synod Hears CRC Survey Results

June 15, 2010 - The Christian Reformed Church in North America is aging, becoming better educated and is in need of enhanced spiritual development for its members, according to a study whose results were presented to Synod 2010.

Staff from Calvin College’s Center for Social Research presented the findings of the CRC’s most recent denominational membership survey.

The survey is part of a series that have been done every five years for the past 20 years, said Rodger Rice, the survey coordinator.

The survey was conducted via the Internet and included responses from 1,434 individuals from 120 randomly selected congregations, making it one of the most comprehensive surveys of its kind ever commissioned by the CRC.

Among other things, that picture shows declining loyalty to the denomination among its members, with older members reporting a greater level of loyalty than younger members.

That portrait also shows a church that continues to put a great deal of significance on the Bible; whose membership is diversifying from its Dutch roots; and that no longer draws a large number of people to Sunday evening services.

Other highlights include information that less than 20 percent of all households in the CRC have children attending Christian schools and that there is a gradual increase in the median income of families in the denomination.

One concern that showed up in the survey is that many of those who participated said that church leadership is not speaking to them personally about their spiritual life.

The survey also found a decline in the frequency of devotional practices such as private prayer, Bible reading, family devotions and personal devotions. In addition, it found that churches are not placing significance on reaching out and making disciples for Christ.

To read the final report on the denominational membership survey, go to www.crcna.org/research  (read full story)

Synod Ratifies Medenblik as Seminary President

June 15, 2010 - A loud cheer filled the Chapel on Tuesday night as synod unanimously ratified the appointment of Rev. Julius T. Medenblik as the new president of Calvin Theological Seminary.

Medenblik, the pastor of New Life Church in the Chicago area and a team leader in church planting and development for Christian Reformed Home Missions, will succeed Rev. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. in August of 2011 as leader of the Christian Reformed Church’s seminary.

Asked to define some of the issues he will face as president, Medenblik said there is a need for distance learning in order to train ministers who are in the field and find it hard to spend a significant amount of time in Grand Rapids. Most of all, he said, he wants to continue to promote the atmosphere of cooperation, which is part of Plantinga’s legacy as president.

Medenblik is a lawyer turned minister who holds a law doctorate degree as well as a Masters degree in divinity from Calvin seminary.

“The health of a denomination is related to the health of its seminary,” said Medenblik. … “I want the seminary to help define us as to who we are as a church. We want to train leaders who are theologically astute and are missionally oriented. We will use both our heads and our hearts.”

Especially important will be helping to bring diversity to the seminary as members of the faculty retire, he said. He also wants to make sure that the CRC seminary remains true to its Reformed roots and also works hard to convey the Reformed worldview, which teaches that every square inch of the world belongs to God, to students in the 21st century. (read full story)

Synod Prays for Forgiveness on Abuse

June 16, 2010 – Delegates asked God to forgive the failure of the Christian Reformed Church to respond justly and compassionately over the years to victims of sexual abuse. They also joined in prayer to repent that perpetrators of abuse have not always been disciplined adequately.

The prayer followed a lengthy discussion on a report from the Abuse Victims Task Force, a group that had been mandated by synod several years ago to establish guidelines on how churches handle allegations of abuse lodged against church leaders.

Many delegates acknowledged that abuse has been a problem in their churches and that their councils have not always responded in the best manner, often from lack of knowledge or proper training.

The recommendations approved by synod include:

  • Urging church councils to provide for the pastoral care needs of the abuse claimant, the person accused, families and congregation when an allegation of sexual abuse by a church leader is brought forward.
  • Reaffirming the decision of Synod 2005 in its support of restorative justice principles and their application in the way that churches respond to abuse issues, recognizing that it will not be appropriate in all cases. Restorative justice is a process in which all or at least many of the parties to an incident come together to seek resolution.

Other recommendations that synod passed included:

  • Beginning implementation of pilot projects that use restorative justice and other alternative approaches to see if they can work in resolving sexual abuse cases.
  • Asking the CRCNA to develop training, prevention and awareness-raising materials that can help church councils and others better address the complex factors that come into play when a complaint of sexual abuse is made against a church leader.
  • Asking the Board of Trustees to instruct the executive director of the CRC “to develop a handbook, as soon as possible, that clearly describes the roles and responsibilities of church council members when an allegation of sexual abuse by a church leader arises.” (read full story)

Synod Approves Creation Care Task Force

June 16, 2010 – Synod 2010 voted to instruct the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church to establish a task force to compile a biblically based, Reformed perspective on humanity’s role as a steward of God’s creation.

Synod spent several hours discussing the issue, with some delegates expressing unhappiness with the prospect of the church writing a document on climate change.

Several delegates argued that the science linking activities by human beings to global climate change is not solid enough for the church to be venturing into this area. Others said the church’s job is not to decide these issues, but to speak on what the Bible says about caring for creation.

In addition, synod said, the CRC should give greater attention to the issue of creation stewardship in its education and advocacy efforts at local, national and global levels.

Delegates also voted to remove from church guidelines what is known as Declaration F, which restricted what CRC members could teach on the issue of creation of man.

Prof. John Cooper from Calvin Theological Seminary said removing the declaration means he will be free to offer students a wider range of information. “The church should not bind the consciences of its members beyond what is the clear and indubitable teaching of Scripture and the creeds,” says the report to synod. (read full story)

Synod Applauds Report on Migration

June 17, 2010 – A process that started several years ago when a Christian Reformed congregation in Zeeland, Mich., wanted to know if it was okay to accept an undocumented Mexican worker for membership wrapped up on the floor of synod with a standing ovation for a far-reaching, thoroughly researched and compelling report on “Migration of Workers.”

“This report is the product of pain and cultural misunderstanding,” said Teresa Renkema, chair of the synodical committee that produced the report. “This report is … is not a political statement. It is about what the church can do as it relates to the stranger among us.”

The document adopted by synod will be used as a guide and as the foundation for wide-ranging educational and advocacy materials and efforts to address the challenges faced by undocumented persons in the United States and Canada.

Three years in the making, the report asks synod to declare that “all people are created in the image of God and are to be treated as such regardless of circumstances under which the church encounters individuals, or of a given person’s race, background or legal status.”

It also asks synod to “urge the Christian Reformed Church through its assemblies and agencies, to affirm the need to reach out in hospitality and compassion to immigrant people, and that synod further encourage churches to display this ministry concern through actions.”

An addendum to the report instructs the Board of Trustees to ask the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action and the Committee for the Contact with the Government (in Canada) to present to synod ways in which advocacy can best be accomplished. (read full story)

Synod Welcomes Candidates for Ministry

June 17, 2010 – Synod welcomed more than 30 candidates for ministry of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church during a time of joyous song, prayer and praise. About 10 candidates were unable to attend the session, bringing the total number of candidates this year to 41. Ten of the candidates are women.

The candidates were presented to synod by the Rev. David Cole, director of the Candidacy Committee of the CRC.

Rev. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., president of Calvin Theological Seminary, told them: "You have spent a long time, effort and energy in the pursuit of God's calling and following up on that ... The church is very pleased with you today. God bless you."

In other business, synod instructed the CRC's Board of Trustees to ask the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action "to boldly advocate and give instruction" for the church's pro-life stance. Synod also instructed the BOT to review the mandate of the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action and bring a report to next year's synod.

Synod expressed "deep disappointment" that it had not yet received a report that makes recommendations on how to include more ethnic diversity in leadership positions in the denomination. Synod 2009 had mandated that the BOT have a task force prepare a report on diversity for Synod 2010.

Rev. Jerry Dykstra, executive director of the CRC, said a variety of factors delayed completion of the report. But he assured synod that the task force is meeting and working hard to complete its work.

Rev. Roger Ryu, a delegate from Classis Pacific Hanmi, said synod should have patience. Expanding diversity has been a goal for many years for the CRC and it is moving slowly but steadily in that direction. (read full story)

Synod Says No to Classis Transfers

June 17, 2010 – After a long and emotional debate, Synod 2010 turned down the requests of two Christian Reformed congregations for permission to move their memberships from classes in Michigan to Classis Minnkota.

At issue were differing views between the churches and their Michigan classes over the issue of women serving as ministers, elders or ministry associates.

Trinity CRC in Sparta, Mich., and Second CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich., had asked synod for permission to move from their respective classes to Classis Minnkota. Both churches are opposed to women serving in ecclesiastical office, while the classes to which they belong allow it.

In overtures to Synod 2010, Trinity and Second CRC said that they love and want to remain in the CRC. But neither of them can easily work with their regional bodies because of the issue of women serving in ecclesiastical offices.

The two churches contacted classes that are closer to them, but they eventually decided that Classis Minnkota, which does not allow women to hold ecclesiastical office, would be the best fit, even though attending meetings of the classis would entail lengthy commutes.

Synod delegates had received two reports from the advisory committee that dealt with the issue. A majority report recommended allowing the churches to change their memberships to Classis in Minnkota as a way to peacefully resolve the issue.

A minority report noted that while there is precedent in the CRC for congregations to transfer their memberships, it has only been to a neighboring classis. The report recommended that synod turn down the request for the sake of unity in the church.

After rejecting the request by the two churches to change classes, synod instructed the CRC’s Board of Trustees to have the executive director of the CRC and others work with the two churches to try to “seek ways forward.” (read full story)

Synod 2010 closed a time of worship and prayer.

For complete coverage of Synod 2010, including full versions of the stories listed above, visit www.crcna.org/Synod

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