When I entered the pastoral ministry, an older, wiser pastor friend warned me about dismissing the administrative side of my new job. “You will be tempted to believe that administrative work isn’t ‘real’ ministry,” he said. “But remember, minister is the root word of administer. That’s no coincidence. Good administration and good ministry go hand in hand.”
I had to remind myself of my friend’s words –often–while serving as a delegate at Synod 2012 (the annual bi-national meeting of the CRC) a few weeks ago. Delegates attended meetings (first in smaller committees, and then as a full group) from 8 AM to 9 PM each day for a full week. We reported. We discussed. We recommended. We discussed. We drank coffee and ate cake. We discussed. We ammended. We discussed. We voted. We discussed. This was administration with a capital “A”!
Synod 2012 covered a lot of business in these meetings (the agenda was approximately 600 pages!), but most of the discussions revolved around three different issues:
The Belhar Confession: Three years ago, Synod recommended that the CRC engage in a discussion regarding the Belhar Confession, a South African document that speaks strongly about the biblical themes of unity, justice and reconciliation. While the Synod of 2009 recommended that the Belhar be adopted as an official confession of the CRC (alongside the “Three Forms of Unity,” the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and the Belgic Confession), Synod 2012 chose to a different route. The Belhar was placed into the new category entitled “Ecumenical Faith Declarations,” in effect recognizing it as a valuable resource for life and ministry without giving it the binding status of our other confessions.
Creation Care: After Synod reaffirmed God’s call for his people to care for his creation and recognized that it is the consensus of the scientific community that climate change is occurring and is likely caused in large part by human activity, it adopted recomendations calling on individuals, churches and denominational agencies to be examples of simplicity and stewardship, to do all they can to reduce their carbon footprints and to wisely advocate for policies that will encourage others to do the same. Doing so, it was argued, is an important way of caring for God’s creation and caring for the poor and vulnerable who are likely to be most harmed by climate change.
The Covenant for Officebearers: In years past, all officebearers (ministers, elders, deacons) in the CRC showed their commitment to live and teach within our agreed-upon bounds by signing a document called “The Form of Subscription”. As of the Synod 2012, the Form of Subscription is no more. In its place, Synod adopted the “Covenant for Officebearers” (CO). While the CO has much in common with the old Form of Subscription, it is written with a more positive and open tone. As one delegate commented in a dinnertime conversation, “Instead of feeling like a straight jacket for those who have doctrinal difficulties, the CO opens the door for conversation.”
In addition to these major agenda items, Synod also voted to change the name of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee to World Renew (representatives from the agency say the new name is more descriptive of their work, will help with additional fundraising, and will free up the agency to work more easily in some non-Christian areas), heard an excellent interview with the new president of Calvin College (some of you will be pleased to know that he spoke of the importance of controlling tuition costs!), decided on a difficult and painful judicial case, received greetings from fraternal delegates (representatives of other reformed denominations around the globe), approved new candidates for ministry, and learned about the work that the CRC is doing around the globe. It was a full week!
While it was exciting to hear about the work our denomination is doing around the world, I will admit that two weeks after returning home, some of the work we did at Synod seems distant from the day to day details of ministry and life in Denver. However, there was a set of questions that ran through all of the discussions of synod like a bright thread that affects us all. These questions (which were immediately apparent in the “Creation Care Advisory Committee” of which I was a part) revolved around the identity and mission of the CRC and our place in God’s world. What should our interaction with this world look like? How ‘wide’ is our gospel? What does it mean for us to “‘do justice and love kindness”‘ as a church body? What is our relationship with people from other Christian traditions? What is our relationship with ourselves–our past, our present? In short: Who are we? Where are we going?
One synodical delegate commented that the this year’s meeting of Synod made him more aware that the CRC is “a little denomination with a big umbrella.” Indeed, this reality struck me at Synod as never before. However, I was also struck by the Spirit of unity in our little denomination. Not only was it remarkable that this years synod found a way to compromise on some potentially divisive issues (no minority reports!), but it was clear that, despite our differences, we belong to a body of people committed to the good news of Jesus Christ. And for this, I am grateful!
Adapted from an entry I was asked to write for the CRC YALT Blog (Young Adult Leadership Taskforce) on my experience at Synod this year. For more information, see the CRCNA webpage.