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The following guidelines were adopted by Synod 1998 (cf. Acts of Synod 1998, pp. 396-99):

A. Responsibilities of the council/congregation

  1. Take immediate action after determining that special discipline is indicated because of violation of the Form of Subscription, neglect or abuse of office, or deviation from sound doctrine and godly conduct:
    1. Obtain concurrence from the nearest consistory for the actions being taken, giving adequate information. Consultation with the church visitors prior to seeking concurrence is advisable.
    2. Seek support of the regional pastor on behalf of the pastor.
    3. Release the pastor from all ministry tasks until the issues have been dealt with.
    4. Notify the classical abuse-response team if allegations of abuse are made.
  2. Contact the church visitors or the classical interim committee to help articulate the reasons for suspension/deposition.
    1. Identify the behavior/grounds.
    2. Determine the appropriate response (suspension/deposition: Church Order Arts. 82-84; separation: Church Order Arts. 16 and 17). This decision will determine whether or not the pastor is to resume ministry tasks and the na-ture of the request for action by classis.
    3. If a pastor is to be suspended, be clear about the specific cause for the sus-pension and what steps are necessary to lift the suspension.
  3. Keep the congregation informed (cf. Church Order Supplement, Arts. 78-84 re Guidelines for Confidentiality).
  4. Support the pastor during a time of suspension and prior to a final decision by the classis.
    1. Encourage professional counseling and pastoral support.
    2. Continue financial support (see Acts of Synod 1984, p. 592).
    3. Assign a committee from the consistory to provide liaison between the pas-tor and the consistory. This committee should be in regular contact with the pastor, assisting in the transition and encouraging response to the needs of the pastor and family.
    4. Since a suspension is temporary, the council should list reasons for the sus-pension and the basis and timeline for why and when it will be lifted.
  5. If a decision is made to depose the pastor consistent with the requirements of Church Order, the council should attempt to enter into a termination agreement with the pastor. This agreement should address at least the following issues:
    1. The termination agreement should address both the minister’s professional status relating to his or her ministerial credentials and the minister’s status as an employee of the congregation.
    2. Clear specification of the impact on the pastor’s ministerial credentials (with concurrence of classis) and the effective date for his/her termination.
    3. Clear specification of the effective date on which the pastor’s employment is terminated. This date should be defined as the date on which the pastor is relieved of the duties and benefits of his or her position, except as expressly provided under the termination agreement.
    4. Specifics regarding the length of time for salary and benefits continuation and the nature of any transition assistance. Some salary and benefits continuation may be necessary to make the termination agreement legally enforceable.
    5. A clear specification of the date on which the pastor will conduct his or her last service and the date on which the pastor and family should vacate the parsonage, if applicable.
    6. In consideration for continuing compensation and benefits, the pastor should agree to release the CRCNA, the applicable classis, the church, and each of their respective trustees, delegates, directors, employees, and agents from any and all claims, damages, liabilities, losses, and expenses which the pastor (or anyone claiming on behalf of the pastor) may attempt to claim in connection with the pastor’s suspension/deposition and termination of employment, whether those claims are known or unknown, liquidated or un-liquidated, contingent or not contingent.
    7. The pastor should agree that he or she will not, directly or indirectly, engage in any activities designed to recruit members who have held membership in the church from which the pastor has been suspended or deposed.
    8. The pastor should commit to maintaining the confidentiality of the agreement and the proceedings of the council, classis, or synod in connection with the suspension or deposition. Moreover, the pastor should commit to a non-disparagement provision which requires the pastor not to make disparaging comments regarding the CRCNA, the classis, the congregation, or the council.
    9. Provision for liquidated damages in the full amount of the salary continuation and the cost of benefits in the event that the minister breaches the provisions of confidentiality and non-disparagement or in the event of any of the following:
      • The minister acts in violation of his or her ordination vows.
      • The minister renounces any continuing ecclesiastical governance of the CRCNA over the minister, if applicable.
      • The minister is convicted of any significant criminal conduct.
    10. Provisions that any dispute under the agreement, or otherwise in connection with the minister’s deposition, suspension, and termination of employment, must be reconciled by the classis, or synod on appeal, as strictly ecclesiastical issues. Provision that recognizes that civil courts shall have no jurisdiction over any dispute, except to the limited extent necessary to enforce the judgment of the classis or synod by entry of a monetary judgment and/or injunctive relief. Civil courts shall have no jurisdiction over the merits of the judgment of the classis or synod, which would create a governmental entanglement in violation of constitutional protections for freedom of religion.
  6. Present the request for action relating to the pastor to the full classis at the earliest convenience in the case of a deposition.
  7. Engage the services of an interim pastor who has been trained to guide the congregation in processing the separation, interpersonal healing, and planning future vision and mission.

B. Responsibilities of the classis

  1. Church visitors should be available to assist as soon as possible to
    1. Clarify the issues with both the council and the pastor.
    2. Explain the Church Order procedures and options (this should include the possibilities and grounds for reinstatement).
    3. Encourage honesty and fairness.
    4. Provide liaison with the classical interim committee. Again, it is important that necessary action be taken in a timely fashion in order to decrease anxiety and facilitate a proper response.
    5. Arrange with the council the continuing financial support for the pastor during the exploration/decision-making phase.
  2. Set up a transitional support network for the pastor, his/her family, and the congregation. This will include spiritual, emotional, and career counseling, some of which may be supplied by the regional pastor and other designated classical representatives. It is also important to involve the denominational office of Pastor Church Resources. Such support should continue for at least one year.
  3. In the case of deposition, assist the council in setting up a termination agreement. Since the deposition commences with the official decision of classis, this may necessitate a special meeting of classis to process the deposition. Encourage the pastor and/or the congregation to seek continuing help in learning from this situation and facing their responsibilities.
  4. Inform classical stated clerks of any action to depose, as required by the Church Order.
  5. If the pastor moves to another region, inform the regional pastor, congregation, and classis of his/her presence in the new region, encouraging follow-up and support.

C. Responsibilities of the pastor

  1. Inform the regional pastor and church visitors when signs of conflict or accusations arise, and maintain regular communication.
  2. Enter into consultation with the council and classical representatives in determination of the validity of accusations and appropriate responses.
  3. Conduct him- or herself so as not to disrupt further the peace and unity of the congregation.
  4. Sign a termination agreement set up by the council (see 111, A, 5 above).
  5. Maintain communication with a council or classis, keeping it informed of progress and needs and accepting its support.
  6. Identify an advocate who can assist him/her in the process.

D. A pastoral note

It is important that ecclesiastical due process be followed in the process of suspension or deposition. When Synod 1996 asked that the above guidelines be prepared, it acted against a background of concern for the possibility of healing for pastors and congregations. When there are indications that special discipline may be necessary, it is crucial that the pastor, council, and classis take prompt action. There should be open communication about problems which have surfaced and an opportunity given to prove or disprove charges which are made. All of this should be done in an atmosphere of Christian concern and support. If the pastor and council are not able to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion, it may be necessary to bring in outside resource persons.

If a suspension or deposition does occur, it is important to recognize that there are continuing needs. The members of the congregation require continued support, opportunity to grieve, and guidance for future planning. The suspended pastor and his/her family should be included in the process of decision making. The deposed pastor and his/her family should not be forgotten as they leave the congregation and ministry. The congregation and classis should covenant to provide continuing ministry and care for them, assisting in any way possible to encourage personal healing and guidance for possible reentry into ministry at a future date.