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Another Step on the Canadian CRC Journey

April 13, 2022

“Being on the Canada Corporation board for the past year, I have often longed for time to spend doing vision work together,” said Wendy de Jong, a board delegate from Classis Niagara. 

She was one of 20 Canadians who devoted six hours Sat., Apr. 9, to take stock of the past, name the storylines that exist about the CRCNA in Canada, and identify together where the Canadian churches should be heading in the next three to five years.

The workshop was a follow-up to a previous meeting held via Zoom on Jan. 29. Called the “Canadian Catalytic Conversation,” that January meeting had included delegates from every CRC classis in Canada as well as members of the CRCNA Canada board.

During the Canadian Catalytic Conversation, delegates shared their perceptions about the past year – including anxiety, anger, grief, and uncertainty they felt around Canada-U.S. relations; questions they had about a structure that seemed to burn out leaders on both sides of the border; and concern about the dismissal of Canadian Ministries Director Darren Roorda in June 2021. 

The board members who were present took a listening posture and committed to following up with an additional meeting before Synod 2022.

The Apr. 9 Zoom workshop served as the first part of that next step. The workshop included 13 CRC Canada board members, five senior leadership staff from the CRCNA’s Canada office, and a member of the ad hoc group that planned the Canadian Catalytic Conversation. Chris Bosch of Chisel Consulting took part by leading the workshop. 

The day provided the CRCNA Canada board an opportunity to consider what it had heard on Jan. 29, as well as feedback it had received from four former Canadian ministries directors, along with overtures and communications to synod from seven classes. It also built on the work begun with the binationality report of 2015, the Canadian Restructuring Proposal of 2020, and the restructuring that culminated with the Structure and Leadership Team (SALT) report.

The day was organized with six breakout sessions for small group work and a regathering of the full group to share results. Attendees affirmed what they appreciated about the CRCNA. They listened to current staff and former Canadian ministries directors. They wondered what the “storylines” or perceptions are that members have about the CRCNA in Canada today, and what it would take to improve relationships with congregations, classes, and our U.S. brothers and sisters. They also began to articulate where they want to see the churches in Canada be in the next five years. 

“It was encouraging to see how often the same threads of discussion appeared in multiple groups,” said de Jong. “With so much of our regular board-meeting time devoted to dealing with reports and governance matters, we appreciated this time to coalesce, discern, and engage with each other to reach common goals and a purpose. It was a Saturday well spent.” 

Andy de Ruyter, chair of the CRCNA Canada Corporation and of the CRCNA Council of Delegates (COD), agreed. 

“I very much appreciate days like today,” he said. “They are a good time for us to be open with each other and hear each other. When I read comments from other groups that I wasn’t a part of, I find all of the statements very valuable. They can be building blocks for us to work from and start incorporating into our CRCNA Canada board meetings as we look to the future. It was a very good day.”

Still, all of the attendees agreed there is much work yet to be done. The SALT report will be before synod in June for approval, even as substantial pieces have begun to be implemented. 

“We see both promises and pitfalls in the SALT report,” said Bev Bandstra, CRCNA Canada board member from Classis B.C. South-East. “The structural imbalance that exists currently with voting representation by one COD delegate per classis, along with the history of a U.S.-centric organization, and the frequent experience of Canada being treated as a branch plant won’t disappear overnight. Are we one church in two nations, or two nations in one church?”

The degree to which Americans and Canadians may answer that question differently may lead to friction, she explained. For example, delegates expressed concerns about decisions made around contextualized ministries and staffing needs, whether there needs to be a parallel codirector model at senior levels, and whether Canadian delegates ought to be elected to the CRCNA Canada board first and then appointed to the COD, or vice versa. 

Along with structure concerns, attendees acknowledged the need to create a forum for listening to the former Canadian ministries directors and working toward reconciliation and healing. They also expressed that the relationship of the CRCNA Canada board with its constituency, the churches and classes, needs attention, broader engagement, and representation. Gatherings such as those in January and April must keep happening in order to keep communication and accountability flowing. Regional and national “synods” were also discussed as possibilities for consideration. 

In an exercise of naming what the CRCNA must leave and what it should move toward, Michael Irshad, CRCNA Canada board member from Classis Toronto, said, “We must go from being the younger brother to being a twin brother.”

Henry Eygenraam, an at-large member of the board and one of the organizers of the event, explained this even further. “We are not identical but fraternal twins, who can be very close but do not have the same appearance or personality,” he said. “The Canadian CRC and the U.S. CRC are close but have different needs and interests.”

The day ended with a strong sense of shared purpose, vision, and togetherness. The CRCNA Canada board hopes to share concrete results from this workshop later this month or shortly after the May COD meetings as material from the breakout groups is distilled within board meetings and in conversations at classis meetings and other gatherings. 

“I want to thank the team who put this together in a matter of a few weeks. I think it was a job very well done,” said de Ruyter. “There’s a lot of good stuff we can build off of now and start communicating to our churches. With God’s help, our working out a kingdom vision for Canadian ministry will continue.”