Canadian classes called to special meeting
Concerns over the SALT report & the need to reconnect cited as reasons for January meeting of delegates from every Canadian CRC classis.
For months now there has been a polite rumble among Canadian members of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) about an obscure report called SALT. The Structure and Leadership Taskforce report (SALT), adopted by the CRCNA Council of Delegates (CofD) in May 2021, is on its way to Synod 2022. It is not headline news. It is not easy to read. Local churches are preoccupied with survival after COVID. Cynics say the CRCNA is always restructuring and it makes no difference for the local church. Other big issues, such as the controversial report on Human Sexuality, overshadow it. But a group of church leaders, including pastors and former board members, are calling for a halt to SALT’s implementation. They are concerned the Canadian CRC is being treated as a “subsidiary” operation and will lose space to shape ministries that fit the Canadian context.
Parts of SALT are being implemented already, including recruitment for positions and legally binding ministry agreements. The process itself raises concerns. At this point in time, Classis Niagara has agreed to invite all Canadian classes to delegate four people to a January 29 Zoom meeting, dubbed Canadian Catalytic Conversation Two. Recalling a similar informal meeting in 2013, the meeting and outcomes will be shared with C of D members ahead of an important full council meeting in February. Full disclosure: I have been involved in discussions and decisions relating to Canadian ministries for 30 years, including terms as Chair of Canada Corp and the former Board of Trustees. This analysis of the impact of the SALT report draws on my knowledge of how bi-nationality works in the CRCNA.
Why is SALT important?
For Canadians, the core issue is the future of ministry that fits the Canadian context because it is intentionally shaped to do so, rather than assuming that Canada is a 51st state with health care.
In the United States, a major concern is having strong CRC leadership in place for a shifting church landscape.
What does SALT do?
It changes the leadership structure in the CRCNA. The difference becomes clear by comparison with what has existed since 2014. At that time, Synod designated the Director of Canadian Ministries as the Executive Director for Canada and a full member of the CRCNA Senior Leadership Team. Ministry decisions and accountability were the responsibility of the Canada Corporation Board; administrative reporting was through the CRCNA Executive Director. The SALT report reverses that: “The ED for Canada will wear two hats,” reporting to the new CRCNA General Secretary on ministry plans and to a renamed Canadian board for fiduciary duties. In some places, SALT says the Canadian board has a fiduciary, not ministry function. In other places it has a role to ensure ministry in Canada is appropriate for Canada, but the first priority is ensuring compliance with the CRCNA Ministry Plan. Whether it is lack of clarity or a substantive problem, CRC members who care about ministry in Canada want resolution before new appointments are made. In 2000 and again between 2013-2015 Synodical decisions recognized the role of the Canadian board and the Canadian Ministry Director as responsible for both ministry and legal decisions in Canada, to ensure ministry fits the Canadian context.
Under SALT, there will be no one with an explicit Canadian mandate on the Executive Team, called the Office of the General Secretary. While the official title of the Canadian leader will be changed to Executive Director and there are many references to partnership, Canadian ministries are designated a “subsidiary” and the job description reads like a branch manager, with a heavy emphasis on conformity and compliance with directions set in the Office of the General Secretary. Comparison with the 2014 job description reveals the difference. In addition, the SALT report recommends replacing a 1998 bylaw for the Canada Corporation, with no reference to a new bylaw and substantive changes approved by repeated Synods from 2012 – 2015. It is not surprising there are questions about who and how decisions will be made about ministry in the Canadian context.
SALT has a fitting priority on shared ministry and collaboration. Canadian churches have shown their support for that through strong participation in ministry share donations. But missing from SALT’s list of core values is respect for diversity within unity, recognition of bi-nationality, and the importance of contextualized ministry. Many Canadians would add those values to the first recommendation of the SALT report – and decisions made between 2012-2015 show Synodical support for that as well.
What difference does it make on the street?
Is this just a tussle between Grand Rapids and Burlington offices and boards? Effective ministry across Canada needs to be alert to cultural differences and the ways that health care, universities, prisons, the military and police work differently than those systems do in the United States. A few examples illustrate why those are important for effective ministry.
- Diversity: A different pattern of immigration in Canada – more South Asian and less Spanish, for example – makes a difference for outreach strategies into an increasingly diverse Canadian society.
- Race Relations: Racism exists in Canada as well as the U.S. but it has a different face and requires substantively different strategies by churches engaged in anti-racism. After a decade of advocacy for a Canadian strategy, resources have finally been reallocated to allow for a full-time leader in Canada.
- Chaplaincy: Chaplaincy in Canada, which works differently than in the U.S., is a growing field, with repeated calls by practicing chaplains for a Canadian strategy. Thanks to strong Canadian leadership, we have a network of university chaplains in almost all the major research universities who work differently than their U.S. counterparts. The CRC, with its worldview approach, is well positioned to provide more leadership in other kinds of chaplaincy as well.
- Prison Ministry: The prison system in Canada is different from the U.S., including more opportunities for restorative justice, which is officially endorsed by the CRCNA.
- Relations with other churches: Ecumenism in Canada focuses more on working together on projects that benefit Canada than on doctrinal debates. While more than a hundred CRC members are active and the CRC is a valued player, the good work is almost unknown within the CRCNA.
- Quebec: Quebec is 25 percent of the Canadian population but the CRC witness there is small. As a result of focused attention by some Canada Corp members and the local church, small steps are being made, e.g. Mission Montreal.
In summary, Canadians highlight both the need to be alert to cultural differences that affect the shape of all kinds of ministry and missed opportunities when it is assumed that U.S. programs will work here.
Is SALT the only option?
Are there other options than the SALT report? Two former Canadian Ministries Directors think there are better options. Ray Elgersma thinks a co-directorship model would be better: two leaders, one for the U.S. and one for Canada, work together to lead the whole body. This is the model used by World Renew with considerable success. An overture to Classis Quinte, initiated by Rev. Bruce Adema and Bethany CRC in Bloomfield, Ontario proposes a second option: churches in close ecclesiastical communion. This would allow more space for national ministries in each country’s context while sharing broad areas with common goals. It is worth noting that the Reformed Church of America, a sister church to the CRCNA, is also considering a more flexible network model of church relations that allows strong shared ministry with respect for some diversity. Open consideration of all options before SALT is a done deal motivated the organizers of the Canadian Catalytic Conversation Two. As the invitation says, “Everyone seems to agree on at least one thing: we need to find a way to bless Canadian ministry.”
We’ll have more on this story as it develops later in January.
I fail to understand why the political separatism of the 1980’s within some circles in the Canadian CRC is still alive in 2020’s. It is characteristic of a nostalgia of lost youth, especially in a time of pandemic. aging congregations, emptying pews. The question is whether the religious centre has been replaced by the political. The attempt to create a separate CRC denomination is premised on the ability to fund a separate infrastructure when churches are looking at closure and/or declining membership.
Yes, there is a social diversity between Canada and the United States, but that diversity also exists between Ontario and the West, etc.
The “proposed coup d’état” of the Canadian COD [Canadian Catalytic Conversation-January 29, 2022] by current and former employees, and those nostalgic for an age gone by, undermines Reformed polity regardless of possible concerns with issues the COD has had to grapple with.
…former Stated Clerk, Classis BC South East [2012-2018]
I feel I need to clarify my “coup d’état” observation above.
It may be helpful to have a conversation regarding “SALT” and Church Order, Article 44 may constitute such a venue.
However, the chair of the Canadian Catalytic Conversation is in a position of “conflict of interest” vis-a-vis as a member of a church council requesting by overture the resignation of the Canadian members of the COD [see https://classisniagara.ca/other/ – October 2021 Overture re: Resignation of Can Corp executive. “Mountainview CRC Grimsby and Providence CRC Beamsville overture Classis Niagara to strongly recommend that the Canada Corp Executive resign from the COD because of a differing vision from the Christian Reformed classes, churches, and people of Canada they are meant to represent.”] It is presumptive for these churches to speak on behalf of Canadian churches, classes and Synod.
The December 2021 meeting of Classis Niagara may have shifted the overture to a conversation, however, a question of objectivity and impartially still arises when the chair of the meeting as a representative of parties wishing to overthrow the Canadian COD leads the conversation.