Where Have Some of the Delegates Gone?

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In less than three weeks delegates from the 47 classes of the CRCNA will gather at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario for a week of synod meetings. To use an overused term from the Church Order and Manual for Christian Reformed Church Government, ORDINARILY four delegates are selected at the winter classis meeting with four alternates—four elders and pastors each. ORDINARILY that means 188 delegates for a Synod, with 188 alternates. This does not appear to be an ordinary year.

Until recently, “ordinarily” was not appropriate to describe the process. One look at the list of delegates in the Agenda for Synod though, gives this word worrisome, even sad, credibility. This year in the printed Agenda 35 blank spaces stare out at readers from the alternate delegate list. Ten classes were not able to muster even one alternate elder delegate. More immediately disturbing: two classes were at time of publication not able to fill their elder delegate slate; one could not list even one elder.

When Synod’s Program Committee met in mid-April to assemble advisory committee membership and assignments, word had been received from other classes that several delegates had found it necessary to withdraw their names from both delegate and alternate lists. Right now it appears that at most 185 of 188 delegates will be seated. It is possible, perhaps likely, that by the time Synod opens on June 8 still more gaps will appear in the ranks.

Selecting delegates for synod has become an unpredictable and not altogether satisfactory process. Too many classes have begun to accept elder nominations from the floor, even though churches are urged months ahead time to nominate fitting candidates.

One argument given for reducing Synod to one week more than a decade ago was that with a shorter time selecting delegates would prove easier than for the two-week synods. Some classes with a larger number of churches have little trouble finding able and eager delegates. Smaller classes, however, often have difficulty filling their rosters. In general, delegates are becoming harder to find.

One hundred eighty-five of 188 is a high percentage, of course, but when a full delegation cannot be found to present equal and fair representation among the churches something unsettling is happening. But what?
• Is the time commitment for laypersons more difficult than in earlier years when the CRC was more rural and less urban? Perhaps then farming seasons and farms run by extended families provided slates of men (and I mean MEN) more easily.
• Is interest in and commitment to institutional denominational church work less compelling or less appreciated as necessary than in past years?

Or what? What thoughts do you have on this issue?

More next time on another issue of synodical delegations. 

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Thanks for this. I also wonder how many of the elder delegates are Ministry Associates? I come to Synod as an elder delegate, but the truth is that I have planted and pastored a church for ten years and would more naturally be sitting on the other side of the table except that I lack the formal education. This also seems to skew participation in Synod away from the perspective of elders which might normally be a bit more focused on the specific needs of the local church. I have attended Synod numerous times because my schedule is much more flexible than someone who has a nine to five job non church related job.

The reasons are complex. Just like people. This is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed. It's time for a change. We should have synodical delegates who are gifted,, who understand the issues and are not dragged there kicking and screaming. The same issues face the local congregations to a degree. Yes, James, we are becoming more congregational in our world view. Denominational issues do not grab us as much as they used too. I think our people feel increasingly disconnected from the denomination, the way it's organized.

And yes, folks work longer hours for less in many cases. There is less time for family and church matters. That is part of the new reality as families struggle to cope with financial pressures. I also think that the number of problems in the leadership of our denomination of late do not help in any way.  They are also not understood by many and the communication about this has been less than we should expect. As Canadian member of the church , I would like to see our own synod in Canada. It's high time we run our own affairs. I fear we  will never be on an equal footing or for that matter be understood by our American friends. A number of bi-national organization have recently separated for all kinds of reasons, Let's cut the official strings and remain friends. Synod will work better closer to home.