Synod 2022 Begins
For the first time in CRCNA history, synod began two weeks before delegates were able to arrive in person. Given the special circumstances of this year’s assembly, a convening session of Synod 2022 took place via video conference on May 25.
“Because Synods 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s agenda is large, and it also includes several weighty items,” explained Dee Recker, director of synodical services. “To help ensure that delegates had adequate time in person to discuss the matters before them, the program committee thought it would be beneficial to hold a convening session in advance of the in-person meeting.”
The program committee consists of the officers of the previous synod—in this case Synod 2019. They are tasked with making decisions about how the next synod should be structured. This year’s program committee felt that a convening session of synod, held by video conference, would allow delegates to elect officers, adopt the agenda, and set an initial tone for Synod 2022 so that they could jump into advisory committee work as soon as delegates gathered in person.
Meeting from 6 p.m until 9:30 p.m (EDT) on May 25, delegates spent time in prayer and worship (see Banner news), and they adopted a report from the program committee including a consent agenda and advisory committee assignments.
They also elected four officers to guide the discussions and deliberations of Synod 2022: Jose Rayas, a pastor at Valley Ridge Community Church, Socorro, Tex., was elected to serve as president; Derek Buikema, a pastor at Orland Park (Ill.) CRC, was elected vice president; Aaron Vriesman, a pastor at North Blendon CRC, Hudsonville, Mich., will serve as first clerk; and Luann D. Sankey, a deacon from Classis Central California will serve as second clerk (see Banner news).
Before these officers were elected, Rev. Dirk vanEyk served as president pro-tem. He is the pastor at Encounter Church, a multisite congregation in Kentwood and Fulton Heights, Mich., and the convening church for this year’s synod. He led delegates in worship and challenged them with the following message:
My name is Dirk vanEyk, and I'm the lead and founding pastor of Encounter Church with a couple of locations throughout the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area.
Infinitely more important than all of that, I'm a dad of two little kids. My family has a tradition that has developed in the last few years. After our Christmas special services are all done and over with and I can take a second to breathe, we all pile into the car the very next morning, and we start driving south. We head away from the gray, cold skies of Michigan to the warm, blue, sunny skies of Florida.
That trip takes a while. And I have to say, as the driver of the vehicle with my whole family right there next to me, there is nothing better than when my kids are getting along in the backseat. If you've been on road trips before, you know that there's nothing better than when your kids are getting along.
I love when their tablets are charged up, their phones are working correctly, and they're playing games with each other. I love when they've got their headphones on, and they use the “splitter thing” so that they can watch something together. I can't hear what they're hearing as I drive. It is just silent.
And I love when all of a sudden both of them just burst out laughing because of something funny that happened on the show they were watching. My wife and I will have no idea what it was. When that happens, my wife starts laughing, and I start laughing. We are heading down the highway at 80 miles an hour, and we're all just laughing together.
Yes, there's nothing better than when your kids are getting along. In that same vein, there is nothing worse than when your kids aren't getting along. For us, that usually happens halfway through the trip from Michigan to Florida, somewhere in the hill country of Tennessee. We're stuck in a traffic jam, and they start arguing with each other for whatever reason.
In my family it is often checkers. My kids cannot play checkers civilly. They start playing, and immediately one accuses the other of cheating.
“No, you cheated!”
“You moved that piece, and you can’t do that jump.”
They start arguing with each other, and it quickly goes beyond checkers and crosses into all of life. You know what that’s like.
“You are on my side.”
“No, I’m not. I’m on my side. You are breathing my air.”
Seriously! You are “breathing her air”?
There's nothing better than when my kids are getting along. There's nothing worse than when my kids aren't getting along.
The same is true with the church. There's a lot of reasons why we might not be able to get along over the next few weeks. Maybe you don't know anything about that. Maybe you are coming into this meeting of synod with no expectations, and maybe you're coming into this expecting a fight. I don't know, and it is my sincere prayer, as we have prayed together, that we will be able to come to unified decisions.
But, if we are honest, there are a lot of reasons why we might not be able to get along, at least not all of the time. We have different perspectives, different opinions, and different insights that we are all bringing to the table. I read that there's something like three times as many overtures in 2022 as there were at the last synod in 2019.
Speaking of the last synod, it was three years ago! There is going to be anxiety about that. It is going to stretch our capacity to love and be patient with one another because everything is so new.
But we are going to have to be patient with one another. We are having conversations about what it means to be a binational denomination: a church that gathers and meets in two different countries– the U.S. and Canada. These are going to be difficult conversations. We are also bringing up a conversation about the human sexuality report. Not all of us have the same perspective on that, and we can expect robust dialogue about it.
There's a lot of reasons why we might be able to get along, and there's a lot of reasons why we might not always be able to get along over the next few weeks as we're driving on this road together.
With this in mind, it is so incredibly comforting to me to know that Jesus, during his time physically on this planet, spent time in his ministry to pray specifically for us. Jesus took time to pray for Synod 2022. He lifted us up to his heavenly Father because he knew there would be times when we would be tempted to not get along.
John, one of Jesus’ closest followers, records this intimate moment in John 17. In verse 20, he records Jesus praying, saying, “My prayer is not for them alone.” He's talking about the disciples. “My prayer is not for [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,” he said.
That's all of us. Jesus is writing us into the story. And then in verse 21, Jesus says, “that all of them”. . . that's us . . . “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
Jesus took time in his earthly ministry to pray for future believers. He prayed for us specifically, that during the next few weeks we would have unity. That we would be one as he and his Father in heaven are one.
Now, if you're a little cynical, like I can be, you might think that Jesus was being a little bit naive. Have you met people? I mean, it's a lofty prayer for Christ’s followers to be one just as he and the Father are one.
I don't blame you, either, for thinking that. And yet, Jesus knew what he was doing. He knows people. He knows the kind of people that he called to be the founding members of his church, and who would bring this message out into the world.
Consider what happened during Jesus' time on earth. Jesus met a couple of different people. One of them was Simon the Zealot, a guy who's mission and purpose in life was to violently oppose Rome and expel them from Jerusalem by any means necessary. Simon was violent, and Jesus had the audacity to go up to him and say, “Hey, come and follow me.”
And then, only a short while later, Jesus meets another guy, Matthew the tax collector, a guy who had the exact opposite approach. Matthew was someone with the mindset of “Well, I guess if you can’t beat them, join them.” He became a tax collector to serve Rome, extorting his own people. And yet Jesus had the audacity to go up to Matthew and use the same words he used with Simon: “Come and follow me.”
I cannot even fathom the behind-the-scenes stories, or the fires that Jesus, as the ministry leader, had to put out between these two gentlemen, let alone all of the other disciples. They all had different perspectives on issues and different opinions that they all inevitably brought into their ministry. But Jesus recognized something in them. Amidst the huge amount of diversity on his team, the diversity of the church, Jesus recognized that as different as we are, our unity demonstrates his resurrection.
Jesus recognized that a divided world needs a united church. Listen to what he says as he continues on in verse 21. He says, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Now I hope that maybe some of my New Testament professors are watching this, because I'm just about to drop a little bit of a Greek lesson here. The term that Jesus uses is a purpose clause – “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
You see, sometimes we emphasize unity in the church, getting along, and facilitating oneness because, well, we want to get along. That's a circular argument, isn't it? We want to be one so that we can go on and be one. We want to be unified so that we can continue to be unified. It's circular. It’s like a dog chasing its tail. It's not going to move you forward. It's not going to get us anywhere.
But Jesus has something better in store than all of that. He says we want to be one not so that we can go on being one. We want to be united not so that we can go on and be united. Instead, we want to be united so that the world may know that we want to be one. We want to show that we can do infinitely more together than we can if we are apart.
We want to be one because in this divided world that we live in—where people yell at each other and throw stones to hurt each other from a distance—this dark and divided world needs a united church. Jesus knew that the church shines brightest—grace in Jesus shines brightest—in the dark.
Jesus recognizes that the world will know about the power of his resurrection in this dark and divided world because of his church. When people walk by, or drive by, and they see the church, they will recognize that it is different. When they see people loving each other, listening to each other, having compassion for each other, and serving one another—even when they have different perspectives and opinions—they will stop and ask why. How can you possibly be united in a world like this?
Jesus gets the credit. In a divided world, a unified church demonstrates the power of his resurrection.
The world is watching over the next few weeks. They will notice how we love each other, how we serve each other, how we listen with compassion to one another.
What I’m asking each of you is to be a line-crosser. I don’t mean a line-cutter. That's something entirely different. Don't try that, you know, in the dining hall during synod when you arrive on campus.
What I’m talking about is to be a line-crosser. Each one of us has a line in the sand that we've drawn. We can be with somebody and talk to them and maybe have a meal or drink with somebody right up to that line. But the thing about Jesus was that he wasn't drawing lines to keep people out. Jesus had a habit of crossing lines to bring others back in. That's what I'm asking of you—in the footsteps of Jesus—to be aligned to bring others back into community with you.
I think this could take shape in a couple of ways. First, it might be evident in prayer, specifically during this synod. I think it is the first time that we've had prayer times together leading up to synod. Let’s keep making prayer a central theme during our sessions together. As the host church of synod, Encounter has asked for prayer to be in the lobby. Right outside of where the sessions are taking place there are going to be prayer tables. We’re asking you to stop by—each one of you—before a session, or immediately after, maybe even during, and ask for a quick prayer or maybe a more lengthy one, depending on what God is up to in your life.
Prayer tables are the first way that we're going to be line-crossers. The second way is to have a “prayer buddy bench.” If you have little kids at home, you might be familiar with a “buddy bench.” The idea (from elementary schools) is that if anybody needs a friend, they simply have to go and sit on the buddy bench. Then everybody else at the school is tasked with responding. If you see a kid sitting on the buddy bench, you need to go over and sit with them, invite them to play with you.
Now I’m not concerned that some of you won’t have somebody to play with. But I am concerned that you might not have somebody to pray with. We've started a prayer buddy bench. Around campus you'll see these little signs. They are pretty simple. They simply say “Prayer Buddy Bench: Sit here if you would like prayer, and somebody will come and pray with you. “
You, as delegates to synod, you are elders, deacons, pastors—you are all followers of Jesus. You are more than capable of praying with people, even if you don't know them. If you see somebody sitting on a bench with one of these signs on it, go ahead and sit with them. Pray with them. Be a line-crosser, regardless of where they come from or what they might believe.
We can pray to the same God together. And when we do this, and our unity demonstrates his resurrection, and we do incredibly more together than we ever could apart, I think that our Father in heaven will adjust his rearview mirror to look at Synod 2022 in the back seat and that he’ll smile because his children are getting along. He knows there's nothing better.
So, Jesus, we echo your prayer that John recorded thousands of years ago. Jesus, we pray that we would be one as you and your Father in heaven are one. Spirit, unite us together in a supernatural, even remarkable, way over these next few days and weeks ahead. Jesus, it's in your resurrected name and power that we pray.
Synod 2022 will meet in person on Friday, June 10, at 8:15 a.m. (EDT) on the campus of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. It will run through the afternoon of June 16. For news before and during synod, subscribe to Synod News and the CRC News weekly email (which will include links to Bannerstories). Or follow the CRCNA on Facebook or on Twitter (#crcsynod).
Also visit crcna.org/synod regularly during synod to access the schedule, advisory committee reports, stories, photos, and livestream access to synod deliberations. (Note that livestream will be on a 20-minute delay.)