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After Roorda’s dismissal, CRC pastors in Canada ask Board to explain, listen

On July 7 it was announced on the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) website that Rev. Dr. Darren Roorda had been dismissed from his position as Canadian Ministries Director by the Canada Corporation – the Canadian section of the governing body known as the Council of Delegates (COD). The news release recounts his many accomplishments since 2014, commends his “role as a champion for the CRCNA in Canada,” and ends with a blessing from the chair of Canada Corp. Andy DeRuyter: “We want to express our deepest gratitude to Darren for his 22 years of service to the denomination and especially for the last seven in his role as Canadian Ministries director. We have been shaped and blessed by his leadership and have no doubt that God will continue to use him in amazing ways in the future.”

A group of people seated in church pews
Delegates to the Canadian National Gathering in Edmonton, 2019.

As the pandemic lingers, news of this termination came as a shock to many members of the CRC in Canada, not only because many saw him as a capable and passionate leader but because he is the fourth Canadian director in three decades to end his tenure with a deep sense of frustration in the CRCNA’s administrative structures. The recently released Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT) report to Synod 2022 outlines a vision for governance that some Canadians feel lacks the “full partnership” vision Roorda had envisioned and the best goals of the “Cultivating Binationality” report passed by Synod in 2013. For some, Roorda’s termination is deemed a symptom of a much larger problem that has been brewing for over 30 years and through four frustrated leaders, as the groundswell of concern regarding this latest development demonstrates.

Others, such as John Tamming, Classis delegate from Owen Sound, Ontario to the cancelled CRC Synod of 2020, view recent events as difficult but important measures needed to keep the bi-national denomination together. “Those who argued for ‘separate national operations’ on the one hand and continued shared ‘ecclesiastical functions’ on the other no longer need to square that circle,” he says. 

Vision & ministry

After the July 6 announcement, Rev. Richard Bodini of Heritage Fellowship CRC in Brampton, Ontario, received emails from pastors across Canada asking, “What are we going to do?” He met with a small group of pastors over zoom and decided to respond with a letter to Canada Corp. before its next meeting July 24. That letter, currently circulating among pastors and ministry leaders in Canada, expresses concern and confusion at Roorda’s abrupt termination, naming him as a “capable leader” who has done “an outstanding job.” It asks for particulars about the “difference in vision” cited as the reason for the dismissal, describes an eroding trust with the board, and asks for a pause on proceedings with the dismissal that might allow for more discernment, consultation and conversation at “a critical place in history” with regards to ministry in Canada.

A separate group is preparing a lament as part of its response. These initiatives, according to Kathy Vandergrift, Chair of the CRC Board of Trustees before it was the COD, “reflect the kind of local leadership that Darren worked to foster. They also show that we have capable, responsible leadership in the Canadian CRC.”

When he was hired in 2014, CRC news reported that Roorda sees value in “a little more independence” for the CRC in Canada and in cultivating a stronger Canadian identity. “We are one church in two nations,” he said, but the CRC also functions as “two nations in one church” in the way it carries out ministry. This was his vision from the start, and part of the basis for his hiring by the Canada Corporation.

It’s not clear when the board’s and Roorda’s vision diverged, when “objectives and methods to achieve a healthy future of the CRCNA within Canada were different,” as DeRuyter said in the CRC press release. A time of discernment is named, but it is not stated whether they were given time to talk through those differences or bring in third parties, as Matthew 18 suggests.

“The rationale that he and the Board differ on the way forward needs explanation,” Vandergrift says. “What is the new vision for Canadian ministry and how is it different from the plans for binationality that Synod approved and Darren was working hard to implement?” 

Structural tension

Christian Courier asked Andy DeRuyter to clarify how Roorda’s vision for the future of the CRC in Canada differed from the Board’s. “The CRCNA Canada Corporation and Darren shared similar visions about fostering greater direction and control within Canada and for contextualizing ministry for the Canadian environment,” he replied. “However, as we continued to work out the details of what this might look like, it became clear that we had different understandings of the scope and degree to which this should be implemented. Vision can refer to the end goal, can refer to how we get to that goal and can refer to the style of leadership needed to attain those goals. We felt that we could not continue to move forward together.”    

Where the CRCNA’s bi-national partnership is moving is yet to be clarified. Some do not see full binational partnership as the outcome here, calling for the SALT report to be tabled, vetted and revised.

“I am concerned for the future of the church,” Vandergrift adds. “More years of internal struggle, using spirit and energy that we need for other challenges.”


More background

“Context Matters: Canadian CRC begins restructuring process but remains bi-national church” by Angela Reitsma Bick, Feb. 21, 2020.

‘Two National Expressions’: How will the current restructuring affect the CRC’s cross-border partnership?” by Angela Reitsma Bick, May 11, 2020.

“The Canadian Restructuring”: An Interview with Darren Roorda and Andy DeRuyter by Angela Reitsma Bick, July 13, 2020.

From the archives

Greater Independence for the CRC in Canada, New Director Hopes” by Bert Witvoet, Aug. 25, 2014. 

Check back with Christian Courier for ongoing coverage, analysis and commentary. 

Authors

  • Peter is Executive Director of Global Scholars Canada, a transnational guild of Christian scholars. He preaches, teaches and writes – having written columns, editorials, news and features for CC since 1997. His book The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of an Irreligious Megachurch (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019) is an ethnographic journey into the life of a megachurch and its “irreligious” charismatic leader. He loves stories that cross boundaries while maintaining integrity.

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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2 Comments

  1. Bravo to all the pastors and leaders in Canada who are asking for a pause and discussion regarding the announcement of Roorda’s departure. There is no question that the “process” left too many questions and could suggest that a new Council or governance structure is needed, not a new person in this position. Furthermore, let’s not fluff up these HR proceedings with religiosity and pompous words. As a Christian community, we can do so much better.

  2. The article “CRC in Canada Parts Ways With Canadian Ministries Director” The Banner, July 6, 2021 paints a different picture than what is presented in the article above. From the information provided, as executive director and employee reporting the Council of Delegates [COD] it would appear he publicly breached his fiduciary obligations to the board. In such circumstances, though a dismissal might characterize the situation – it really boils down to an employee resignation as their duties are a delegated responsibility from the board, i.e. the COD.

    Darren’s dissatisfaction with the board’s direction really boils down to a question of who is in charge in terms of governance – the board [COD], or the executive director. In this case, as per Church Order, it is not the executive director but the “local church” through the COD.

    Though pastors, who are also employees, may express their dissatisfaction with this “parting of the ways” they are in essence placing themselves at odds with those appointed by their “local churches” to govern the denomination. The denomination has struggled with the matter of governance since the mid 1980’s.

    In closing, though bi-nationalism has merit – one ought to also take time to reflect on the scriptural advice from Matthew 7:3-5.

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