Canadians Talk about Structure and Sexuality
Almost 70 people attended a video conference on Saturday, Sept. 24, to talk about the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s work in Canada. This Canada-wide conversation was organized by the Canadian board of the CRCNA, building on a “Canadian Catalytic Conversation” held in January 2022.
“The purpose of this gathering is twofold,” explained Wendy de Jong, a member of the CRCNA Canada board and stated clerk of Classis Niagara, in the invitation to the event. “Now that Synod 2022 has formally passed the Structure and Leadership Task Force report, this is an opportunity for the board to provide Canadian churches with an update on the establishment of the Canada Office and other matters related to restructuring. Synod’s decisions around human sexuality have also caused turmoil in some of our churches and classes, and we want to provide a listening time to hear what is bubbling up.”
Andy de Ruyter, chair of the CRCNA Canada board, said that the purpose of these virtual gatherings is “not to rehash decisions but to provide Canadian CRC ministry leaders with an opportunity to hear what lives in our classes across the country and to equip Canadian Council of Delegates and board members to take this learning into upcoming meetings.”
That is what happened.
Delegates spent about two hours hearing reports from the CRCNA Canada board as well as from Rev. Zachary King, the newly appointed general secretary of the CRCNA, and Rev. Al Postma, the newly hired transitional executive director - Canada.
“I consider myself a shepherd of the Christian Reformed Church,” said King as he explained his understanding of the new general secretary role. In this position he will deal with ecclesiastical matters such as synod and the Council of Delegates as well as governance and tending to the overall culture of the CRCNA.
“We want our culture to be God-honoring. We want to engage and serve the local church,” King said.
Postma added that there is a sense of exhaustion right now in much of the church. He acknowledged that requests to pay attention to matters such as denominational restructuring and human sexuality can pull the focus of ministry leaders away from their work at the local church. Instead, he encouraged them to think about the four goals of the denominational ministry plan, Our Journey 2025, and consider where they have seen these goals as a need or where these goals have already been showing signs of life in their local congregations.
“Where have you seen the need to cultivate practices of prayer and spiritual discipline? How have you lived into the experience of listening to the voices of every generation? What have you noticed about the need to grow in diversity and unity, and how have you lived into the desire to share the gospel and live it missionally?” he prompted.
Delegates were encouraged to share their congregation’s stories and needs with staff after the event.
Those who had attended the Canadian Catalytic Conversation had also spent about an hour in small group conversation about human sexuality. For that conversation, they had used a process developed by Pastor Church Resources (PCR) to help congregations have challenging conversations in a meaningful way.
“In the lead-up to synod, almost 300 Canadians were trained to lead listening circles using the Challenging Conversations toolkit,” said Sean Baker, who works with PCR.
“They led groups in over 50 Canadian congregations with over 1,600 participants. The reason they did this is that whatever the decisions of Synod 2022 would be regarding human sexuality, they knew those decisions would be consequential and would generate some anxiety for our members, churches, and classes.”
PCR has now developed a second tool, called Next Steps Discernment Process,to help churches hold grace and truth together as they discern and decide on next steps.
“I don't know all that love will require in this season ahead. I don't know what it will mean to hold grace and truth together in your congregation, or in your classis, or in our denomination. I don't expect it to be easy,” said Baker. “But our intention is to lean into Paul’s rather incredible claim in 1 Corinthians that we need each other and that because we need each other we need to listen to each other.”
He pointed out that listening does not mean agreeing; nor does it mean ignoring our decision-making authority.
“But one thing that listening surely is,” said Baker, “is that it is one of the most concrete ways to obey Jesus’ command that we love one another. We demonstrate love for one another when we listen to understand and not to argue. We have very little control over what outcomes our institutions arrive at, but we have much more control over how we treat one another while we sort these things out.”
Notes were taken in each small group and will be shared with the CRCNA Canada board.
A follow-up conversation is being planned for January 2023.