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Thankful for the binational CRC

I’ve fallen in love with this binational denomination, warts and all.

I’m a dual citizen (Canada/U.S.) and have served at Dordt University (Iowa) for 10 years while spending most of my life in Canada. I’ve worked for the Christian Reformed Church the past nine years in two binational roles: Director of Faith Formation Ministries and, now, Director of the Connections project. I’ve preached in at least 100 CRC congregations, more than 50 on each side of the border. I live in Ancaster, Ontario.

I’ve observed significant, even vast, differences between the Canadian and U.S. CRC. I recognize that binationality comes with many challenges, and these challenges are often discouraging and exhausting. I understand the desire among Canadians to separate from the U.S.
I believe the benefits of binationality are greater than the challenges. Here’s why.

Shared ministries

We have a long and fruitful history of shared ministries (and this is easily taken for granted). Developing ministries that bless congregations is hard work, and the CRC has developed many best practices for doing this well. Most of these ministries are based in Grand Rapids and have a very strong Canadian presence. These include Resonate, Faith Formation Ministries, Pastor Church Resources, Worship Ministries, Safe Church, the Banner, Disability Concerns and more. I have experienced each of these ministries from the “inside,” and they provide robust service to congregations. Almost every one of them serves proportionately a higher number of Canadian congregations than American.

Strong programs

Under the binational umbrella, there is lots of room for Canadian-only ministries to flourish. There was a day when binationality constricted Canadian ministry; in my view, that day has passed. On this side of the border we are blessed with the Center for Public Dialogue, World Renew Canada and Diaconal Ministries Canada, each of whom run strong programs like Hearts Exchanged, NewGround and Refugee Sponsorship and Resettlement. The 1Life Center in B.C. is a model for leadership development that the entire denomination needs to learn from. Recently, Dr. Pablo Kim Sun was hired to work with Canadian CRC staff on embodying racial reconciliation. The Bridge App was developed in Canada. I could say more. In my binational work, I repeatedly find that our American cousins look north with great respect for the pioneering work carried out by ministries here.

Support and funding

Grant funding provides a helpful bonus. Both denominational and congregational ministry are changing rapidly, and this change requires experimentation and risk-taking. But money is very tight, and experiments develop through trial and error. We can’t afford to take risks that might fail, and that constricts experimentation.

Well-funded granting agencies in the U.S. recognize this need for experimentation, and they have come to trust the CRCNA’s excellent design and implementation of such experiments. These agencies intend their funds to be used by American organizations, but they allow binational organizations to use funds outside the U.S. Significant grant funds flow into Canada (also disproportionately higher). If you are a pastor in Canada who has been part of a denominationally funded peer group, had a vocational assessment, received a recent Pastor Restoration Grant, was granted student loan relief or received bivocational support, there’s a good chance that all that support you received was funded only because of our binationality. (Full disclosure: the experimental project which I lead is also funded by one of these grants)

We need each other

In terms of institutional life cycles, one might say the American CRC is like a senior citizen that has a large “nest” of grandchildren from many racial backgrounds. The Canadian CRC is in a stage of fairly healthy middle age. The American “grandparents” would do well to learn from the ways in which Canadian congregations engage with denominational ministries and reap benefits from these engagements. And the Canadians would be wise to learn from the American multi-racial grandchildren as our membership needs to change considerably to reflect our diverse Canadian demographics.

The intangibles

There are many Canadians like me who provide binational leadership. There are even more Canadians who live in Grand Rapids and provide leadership in the office there. Hundreds of threads cross the border in all kinds of ways, too many to name here. These provide a kind of “invisible glue” between our two nations.

I have experienced the wounds and conflicts that come with binationality, and also its systemic flaws. But I’m struck that in the past year, the public conversations have focused heavily on the negative dimensions of binationality. Let’s have a thorough conversation! On the ledger sheet that I see, binationality has improved significantly in the past eight years (Thank you, Darren Roorda), and it is a value well worth continuing and improving.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you Syd! I agree with you – the advantages of being one bi-national church have and will continue to outweigh the disadvantages. Having served on the Board of Trustees, my experience was that the US delegates were not only respectful of what Canadians had to propose, they were ready to support them when they made denominational sense – which they usually did. When the Canadian side of the CRC did the Sea to Sea bike tour, the US followed suit. What good thing(s) needs to happen on this side of border that our US brothers and sisters in Christ would oppose or refuse to support or that our present structure would prohibit?

  2. Thank you , Syd for such a well written article! Highlighting our differences weakens our Christian message. Focusing our time and energy on how we can thrive as a bi-national denomination( in spite of our differences) responds to our call to reflect the whole body of Christ.

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