Agenda for Synod Review (May Contain Spoilers)

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Agendas for Synod arrived in the mail last week. How are we doing with our reading?

Every year, I have the best of intentions. 

Every year, this replacement for a 3-lb dumbbell sits on my desk for months.

Every year, the sermon writing and pastoral visits and advanced planning and even, if I’m terribly honest, the rearranging and organizing of the worship closet takes precedent. 

Every year, I file it away on my shelf, a shameful reminder that I will never be an elder stateswoman of the church. 

And every year, I miss the opportunity to look up from my own navel long enough to remember that I am part of something greater than myself – the Kingdom of God by way of the Christian Reformed Church of North America.

But this year – THIS YEAR-- dear brethren & sisteren, I have done it.  In a feat of institutional fortitude, I have thoroughly skimmed the entire agenda, even marking pages for further consideration.  So you might ask yourself (with apologies to the beautiful Hebrew Seder) “How is this year unlike every other year?”

Well, dear reader, this year I am your official Synod blogger!

By way of introduction, I currently serve as pastor at The Christian Reformed Church of Washington DC, where I was installed this past November.  Prior to that, I served 4 years as Minister of Congregational Life & Witness at Third CRC in Kalamazoo, MI.  I graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 2008.  I am a relative newcomer to the CRC – it was little over 10 years ago that I first attended a Christian Reformed Church. Since that time, I have built an unenviable reputation for saying more than I should via blogs and twitter and just, you know, in real life.  That is, I fear, my greatest qualification for pre-Synod journalism.

I want this blog to be a place of conversation – respectful but disparate comments are expected here. Consider this your invitation to submit guest posts on topics of particular interest to you and/or your faith community.  We do the work of God best when we do the work of God together.

To get the ball rolling with some highlights from the Synod 2013 Agenda & topics of conversation for future blog posts:

  • Winner of the Cleverest Title Award and recipient of the most overtures and communications in response to their work -- A completed study committee report proposing the expanded role of deacons in the life of the local church and at representative classical & denominational meetings – Diakonia Remixed
  • The study committee in second place for overtures and communications in response to it – Diversity in Leadership Planning Group II (awarded NO points for clever title) – creates a plan for intentional hiring with regard to ethnic diversity.
  • Is your classis half empty or half full? Overtures 1 & 2 request a transfer of church from one Classis to another on the basis of language.  Overtures 3 & 4 request a transfer of two churches into a yet-to-be-created Classis on the basis of theological affinity.
  • Overtures 5 & 6, a significant portion of the study report on structure within the denomination and a groundswell of frustration are all clamoring for us to consider – again – what it means to live out our bi-national identity within the Christian Reformed Church.
  • Several of the most interesting overtures – in my humble opinion – surface out of the needs faced by churches tasked with the frontline ministry of the denomination.  On the front lines, we ask more practical questions:
    • What is the Christian churches’ proper response to or adoption of Eastern mystical practices?
    • Where are we to stand in the intersections of religious persecution & liberty?
    • What are we going to do about the worrisome decline in church membership?
    • What are the practical implications to growing support and legalization of gay marriage? Has the CRC given its pastors, office-bearers and members all the tools we need to faithfully address this question?

Finally, two big-picture questions that seem to hover in and through the entire agenda:

  • Is Synod tasked with the work of social activism? In recent years (with climate change/creation care), this year (with an overture regarding capital punishment and the Doctrine of Discovery) & in the future with myriad other social concerns, what is Synod’s role?  In a Reformed denomination where personal piety, Kuyperian Kingdom aspirations and doctrinal orthodoxy all come into play – this seems like a conversation worth having (guest post submissions very welcome.)
  • Does the denomination serve the church or do the churches serve the denomination? An entire study committee report is dedicated to the answer but you need look no further than the budget to ask the question.  When reports and overtures demand costly solutions from the top down, a worrisome voice in my head begins to wonder, “Have we become ‘too big to fail?’  And what would a bail-out require of our churches?”

Okay, Synod junkies & polity wonks, what have I missed? 

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Congratulations on becoming the Synod correspondant, Margaret! Looking forward to reading more of what you have to share with us! 

Welcome and congratulations Margaret. It is my hope that this blog will indeed have some lively conversation. I have been a elder delegate for 3 of the past 4 years. I must confess that after this last one I had grown weary of some of the politics that get in the way of honest good debate and good decision making. I pray that this synod will be blessed by a spirit of co-operation and unity. We shall see!

Ron,

I'd love to hear any advice you might have for first time elder delegates.  What to expect when you are delegating or something like that.

For all the importance of procedure and Robberts Rules, I, too, get frustrated when important discussions get sidelined by a technicality. If it's an important conversation, we should have it. That's the bottom line!

 

Thanks Meg for the invitation!

I hope that this blog becomes a good forum of discussion about the issues that we face in the CRC today. For first time delegates I would offer the following advice:

1) Be slow to speak. There is so much to learn in that first Synod experience that I think it makes good sense to observe much and speak little. One of the things that I enjoyed so much about the Synod experience was the eloquent use of language. Some of the people who speak there are wonderful speakers and it is a joy to hear language used so effectively. However, at each synod that I went to there were always a few individuals that felt like they needed to speak to every situation. Although everyone is patient in those settings it grew wearisome.

2) The study committee work is where much of your energy should be focused. Hopefully you are assigned to a committee which fits your gifts and abilities. I found that some of the great discussions that happened in these committee meetings were some of the most powerful experiences of Synod.

3) Be aware that we are a very diverse denomination. You will see evidence of it. Yes it is still predominantly a white male ecclesiastical event but there is much diversity in even that. I have been heartened to see some changes in this. Yet there is huge diversity in even the mainline CRC churches. The issues of women in office, homosexuality, children at the Lord's table, climate issues, and racial issues are seen in very different ways by the various classis of our denomination. At times last synod it seemed clear to me that there were some classis that made very clear decisions about who their delegates would be based on some of the issues that were going to be discussed. Many clearly were not interested in even considering the Belhar as a confessional document. In the end that held sway. The issue of climate change and the role of the CRC was also very controversial. It is difficult to see the diversity in action at times because there will be times when you can become very frustrated with some of the seemingly shortsighted opinions of some churches and delegates. Somehow we must all work together as the body of Christ. It is at Synod that one sees this play out in sometimes marvelous ways and at other times in hurtful ways.

4) Absorb as much of the experience as you can and then be prepared to share it with your classis when you get back. I don’t think that I did a particularly good job with that but nonetheless that is the advice I would give.

5) I am tempted to say go with an open mind but perhaps that is too broad. I just know that it is difficult for Synod to work effectively if everyone goes with their mind made up about all of the issues. We need to be able to be open to the leading of the spirit.

6) Make sure you take care of all of the travel details in time! It makes life so much easier for those that deal with all of the details. The synod staff are wonderful folk and always a joy to work with. Anything we can do to help them in doing their job would be good.

Blessings to all of the delegates!

Thanks all! I'm looking forward to the conversation but PLEASE call me Meg.  "Margaret" makes me think I've angered you already.  And there is time for that yet ... ;-)

Thanks for the good comments, and some humor.  I think that overtures 3&4 are foolish!!   Wow, how's that for being direct.  They remind me of political gerrymandering, and these churches should be told to grow up, and live with it.  If synod keeps allowing "splitting up" like that, I wonder what our denomination demographics will end up looking like??

Way to dive right in!

Yes, I imagine Overtures 3 & 4 will be a source of much contention as we move into Synod 2013.  Having served in Classis Kalamazoo, I can appreciate the attempted goodwill on the part of 2nd CRC and, by extention, Trinity Sparta.  At the risk of speaking for them (a dbl-risk considering my gender), I believe they are trying desperately hard to hold on to a denomination they feel is not trying nearly so hard to hold on to them. Perhaps they wonder if there is room for them? That is a painful place to be and some empathy is required -- interestingly enough, it may be easier for me to find that sympathy because -- as a seminarian and a candidate for ministry -- I knew what that felt like.

That being said, the conversation has to settle on what it means to be "a Classis."  What is the work tasked to a Classis and how is it to be executed? Central to these overtures seems, to me, a redefinition that we would be wise to wonder about together.

Meg, great to have you on the beat! If anyone can, against the odds, make Synod a little more interesting and digestible, it's you. Then after this you can go cover Congress! 

no thank you.

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Ah Meg,

Your first post is a delight - so very you. Looking forward to both Synod and your comments on it. :)

This will be my first CRC Synod, as an elder delegate, and I am looking forward to it.  For almost 40 years I lived "beyond the pale" of the CRC, i.e. in areas of the country without a nearby CRC at the time, and haved served on church councils in the Presbyterian (First Pres, the Abraham Lincoln Family Church, in Springfield, IL); United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church in Missouri. I was active on the regional (conference) level as well as on the global, as a participant in a quadrennial UMC General Conference, so am not unfamiliar with denominational polity and politics. 

As a retiree with more than 30 years as a policy analyst, legislative liaison, governmental relations consultant and association ED experience I am intrigued by group process and how things get done -- or fail to get done -- in organizations, including ecclesiastical bodies.  Since I have missed many of the hot-button debates over the past 40 years, I have read the Agenda carefully, and have asked many questions of fellow CRC's.  I certainly appreciate your writing, Meg, as well as the comments posted.

It's been suggested that my background and experience could bring a "fresh new perspective" to discussions at Synod.  I don't know about that.  I will probably do a lot of rookie listening.  On the other hand, if you, or other "junkies & polity wonks" can offer any helpful insights, I would be very appreciative. 

 

 

   

 

 

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As an alternative to the ubiquitous "appoint a study committee" and "appoint a task force," how about commissioning an individual with appropriate credentials to conduct the study?  Study committees and task forces tend to rely on consultation with such individuals in any case, and Synod always has opportunity to review the product.  Cost savings and other efficiencies might result from the alternative.  I am tempted to call for a committee to study this proposal, but will resist the temptation to see "appoint a study committee to study the effectiveness and efficiency of study committees" in the next Agenda for Synod.

Participant

Let’s bring the work of the denomination back to a local congregation-focus: appoint a council or classis to study ‘Issue X’ and present their findings to Synod.

Michael -- If an individual with appropriate credentials were commissioned to conduct the study, that person's work product could be reviewed by all councils and classes throughout the denomination.  Easily done with today's technology. That would meet your objective to involve the local congregation, wouldn't it?

Hi Gerrit,

Good to hear from you after many years.  My experience has been the opposite of yours; I attended 25 consecutive synods when I headed up Faith Alive.  I'll be very interested in your perspective as a "first timer" given you wide ranging experiences.