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Context Matters

Canadian CRC begins restructuring process but remains bi-national church.

On Feb. 20, Dr. Steven Timmermans resigned, effective immediately, from his role of executive director of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in North American “in light of structural changes between Canadian and U.S. administration.” You can read the CRC’s news release about Timmermans’ resignation here and find out what’s behind those structural changes in an article by Christian Courier’s Editor, below. 

On February 6, an “Important Announcement from the Council of Delegates” was emailed to every Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Canada, with a note directing the letter to each Chair of Council. The Canada Corporation of the CRC in North America, the letter states, is reviewing the denomination’s corporate structures and cross border practises to make sure that everything falls in line with charitable laws for this country. With the help of legal counsel, changes will be made over the next year to the legal and corporate structure of the CRCNA, to “ensure that the direction and control of Canadian finances and other resources are maintained within Canada.” This restructuring period will include a transition to more distinct Canadian leadership, budgets and human resource systems; it will not affect theology or be immediately noticeable in your local church, according to the letter. The CRC remains one denomination in two countries.

The day that two babies were baptized by Rev. James Holwerda in the home of a man called Jan Postman in Nobleford, Alberta is considered the beginning of the first CRC in Canada. The year was 1905. Holwerda was a home missionary, sent from Montana to minister to the spiritual needs of Dutch immigrants, recent members of the Gereformeede Kerken in the Netherlands. In 1912, despite advice from its U.S. classis against it, the Alberta congregation sought incorporation so that it was officially recognized as a church by the Canadian government (The Canadian Story of the CRC, Hofman). It was the first of many challenges that the new bi-national church would face over the next century, as more Canadian congregations took root across our vast country, in a hundred different settings.

Those local settings seem to be the main motivation for the recent restructuring announcement from the CRC’s Council of Delegates (COD). North and South of the border, “our contexts are different,” it states, “and how we live out our callings as Christian Reformed congregations and ministries needs to reflect these different contextual realities.” These differences have been noticeable for many years in the form of specialized Canadian ministries such as the Centre for Public Dialogue, Diaconal Ministries Canada, Salaam’s ministry to Muslims and our Indigenous Ministries. Faith formation, global mission, worship, justice and leadership training are broad categories that summarize the ministries that the U.S. and Canadian churches share.

The Christian Reformed Church in both countries has benefited from its unique relationship, particularly in its far-reaching joint development and aid work. Since the early 1900s, the paternal dynamic of the U.S. side of the CRC has slowly evolved into a more balanced sororal (sister) relationship. But that transition has periodically been marked by tension, particularly because a size differential remains. According to the denomination’s 2019 Yearbook, there are 263 CRC congregations in Canada and 810 in the United States. This automatically results in more American representation in ecclesiastical bodies such as Synod. The COD itself has one-quarter Canadian and three-quarters American representation, which is proportionate to membership numbers but may not give the right expertise to issues of Canadian concern. It also disables Canadian representatives from ever passing decisions in which there’s a Canadian and U.S. difference of opinion.

The February 6 letter is signed by both the Chair of Canada Corps and the Michigan Corps. The full Council of Delegates plans to meet from February 18-20.

  • 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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