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Conversation Considers the Future of the CRC in Canada

February 1, 2022

On Saturday, Jan. 29, about 100 people gathered together via Zoom to talk about the future of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in the Canadian context. Dubbed a “Canadian Catalytic Conversation,” the meeting was initiated and hosted by an ad hoc team of Canadian CRC members.

“The January 29 conversation developed because of the SALT (Structure and Leadership Task Force) report that was adopted by the COD (Council of Delegates) meeting” that took place in May 2021, organizers explained in an invitational email. This report is now being referred to Synod 2022 for adoption.

“Concerns about the impacts of the SALT report for Canadian Ministries were raised in letters, articles, and conversations. With the release of Rev. Dr. Darren Roorda as [Canadian Ministries director], a small group of us began a discussion with the Canada Corporation Executive to further understand what was going on. Several conversations later we believed it would be best for ministries in Canada to have an open and honest conversation with each other to help forge a way forward that would bless the ministry work in Canada.”

The organizers invited every Canadian classis to send four delegates to attend this three-hour conversation. Members of the CRCNA Canada Corporation board, Canadian staff, and other observers were also invited to observe.

“We are not a decision-making body,” Rev. Richard Bodini, one of the hosts of the meeting, reminded attendees as he called the meeting to order. Decisions would happen at the congregational and classis levels, he explained. Instead, this meeting was intended to help attendees seek clarity and consider implications.

“Today is a day to be bold, thoughtful, creative, and imaginative. It is a day to be hopeful and Spirit-filled as we consider what is best for staff and Canadian ministries,” he said.

The meeting followed a three-part structure. First, attendees reflected on the SALT report, asking questions of clarification as well as noting what they liked and didn’t like about the contents. They had a similar time of reflection about the joint ministry agreements (JMAs) that the CRCNA U.S. and Canadian corporations had adopted earlier that month.

“My heart goes out to the CRCNA Canada Corporation board for being in the position that they were in over the past two years,” said Terry Veldboom, interim Canadian ministries director for the CRCNA. “They’ve worked tirelessly and have been put in some very tough positions where they were forced to make significant decisions that have lasting implications. It hasn’t come without a lot of struggle and pain on their part.”

He noted that when the Council of Delegates met to consider the SALT report, the Canadian members submitted a communique that expressed several points of concern. They asked the COD to pause to allow for broader stakeholder input and consideration of the implications, but this request was defeated by a majority vote by the COD.

Once the decision was made to adopt the SALT report, however, the CRCNA Canada Corporation and staff worked to find the best way forward that would address their concerns and maximize ministry within Canada.

“We are moving forward to the best of our abilities in terms of honoring the decisions that were made, but also feeding our concerns back into the system as best we can,” Veldboom said. “We recognize that the system, in and of itself, has an inequitable balance that we’re dealing with and attempting to mitigate.”

One way that they have mitigated this is by ensuring that the legal documents outlining the way that the U.S. and Canadian sides of the CRCNA will work together in ministry (known as joint ministry agreements) are as robust as possible and provide complete direction and control of Canadian funds and Canadian ministries by those in Canada.

“We are very confident that these joint ministry agreements are better than what we've had before. We feel more represented,” said Peter Elgersma, acting director of congregational ministries in Canada. “The key here is to make sure that we have a partnership with the U.S. And I would say that, yes, we're confident that we have a partnership.”

He cautioned, however, that this will need to be a process that continues to evolve and be managed as we go into the future.

For the last part of the Jan. 29 meeting, attendees considered several potential futures for Canadian congregations of the CRCNA. These options included asking that the new leadership positions suggested in the SALT report (a general secretary and a chief administrative officer for the binational church) be appointed in an interim capacity to give churches, classes, and synod time to work through other concerns.

A second option was to ask that the senior leadership structure be changed from the SALT recommendation to instead include a codirector model with a U.S. executive director, a Canadian executive director, and an ecclesiastical officer to shepherd them together.

“This model satisfies charitable law in both countries,” said Ray Elgersma, a delegate from Classis Eastern Canada who had also served as director of World Renew-Canada when it switched to a codirector model in 1989. “Day-to-day accountability, from my perspective, requires an executive director on both sides of the border.”

He pointed out that while JMAs and strong board governance are helpful, they are not enough to handle management and administrative issues that may arise. In the past, when this has happened in the CRCNA, the Canadians who tried to express Canadian concerns were seen as meddling and tiresome.

“This is not malicious,” he said. “It is merely organizational culture. Even though [the CRCNA] has two cultures, we work from a culture that is used to working from one central location of power.”

A third model that was discussed was to have the Canadian congregations of the CRCNA officially split away from the U.S. congregations. These two bodies would then become separate denominations that would remain in strong ecclesiastical fellowship with each other.

Bruce Adema, representative of Classis Quinte and former Canadian ministries director (CMD) of the CRCNA, supported this model. He explained that when he served as CMD, leadership of the denomination was concentrated in Grand Rapids. “The Americans understood [this model] to mean that I supervised a couple of ministry centers in the Canadian prairies and the Centre for Public Dialogue,” he said. “In their mind it was a small job, and oversight of all denominational ministries was in the hands of those in Grand Rapids.”

He said that while this approach didn’t build up the church in Canada and wasn’t the best for ministry, “we had better models.”

Adema served for nine years as a missionary in the Philippines. There, the CRCNA helped to start the Christian Reformed Church of the Philippines. While the CRCNA provided funds, training, and support to the CRCP, they encouraged this denomination to exist independently. The CRCNA showed respect for this new denomination and appreciation that it had to make decisions that were relevant in their own, local context.

“I thought that the CRCNA did a really good job, and I appreciated the values they expressed,” Adema said about this approach.

Others, such as Frank de Walle from Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan, were worried that such an extreme approach would create too many complications including preventing clergy from being able to work in both countries.

A fourth model encouraged flexible structures and an openness to learning from other denominations. This included the possibility of encouraging relationships not just between U.S. and Canadian Christian Reformed congregations but also other denominations around the world.

“We don’t need to be trapped in our past. I hope we will and can think together about what would best empower the vision of robust Canadian ministry that we share,” said Kathy Vander Grift, a proponent of this approach and a member of the ad hoc planning team for this event.

Alan van der Woerd, from classis B.C. North-West, agreed. “We are not a binational church anymore; we are global,” he said.

Attendees at the Jan. 29 meeting spent some time discussing the models and were encouraged to go back to their congregations and classes to discuss them further.

“I hope that this ignites a fire in the Canadian church,” said Andy de Ruyter, chair of the CRCNA Canada Corporation. “We need to decide for ourselves what we want to be.”

Bodini agreed. “Go back to your churches,” he told attendees. “Go back to your classes and report, share, dialogue – really dig into this.”