Reformed News

Helping Immigrant Churches

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The Christian Reformed Church is an immigrant denomination. It started with Dutch immigrants to the United States and continues to grow with waves of Korean, Hispanic, and other immigrant communities today. What role, though, should the denomination play in helping immigrant pastors and immigrant congregations? This was the question that came before Synod 2019. 

It wasn’t a new topic. Synod 2018 spent significant time considering how to better assist immigrant churches who wish to affiliate with the CRCNA.  

They tasked Steve Timmermans, the executive director of the CRCNA, to “work with the appropriate agencies and ministries to explore the potential processes and necessary resources to facilitate enfolding immigrant churches into the CRCNA.”

As a result, a new resource titled “Assisting Immigrant Churches” was created and adopted by the Council of Delegates.  In addition, resources from the CRCNA’s Financial Shalom were made available and immigrant churches were encouraged to apply for financial aid and support.

Classis Hackensack wanted this support to go even further.  They sent an overture to Synod 2019 asking the denomination keep an immigration attorney on retainer for Christian Reformed congregations and pastors who need help with immigration matters. They also asked for a budget of $50,000 for immigration legal assistance.

Delegates voiced support for immigrant brothers and sisters but questioned if a North American-wide person and process would be the best approach. Instead, they suggested, identifying appropriate help in each local context might be better.

“One central lawyer may not really be equipped to help in all the regions,” said Chad Vandervalk, Classis B.C. South-East. 

Synod 2019 suggested that the executive director ensure that existing resources be shared broadly and “to identify and communicate appropriate legal and financial resources to assist churches and classes.”

Petr Kornilov, Classis Hackensack, said he thinks the denomination is somehow missing what this is about. “We need the denomination to be for us … it’s not about shifting the cost, it’s about understanding the complexities. We need help.” 

Andy Hanson, California South, agreed. He said welcoming immigrant pastors into our fellowship “means more than just saying ‘welcome’ when they knock on our door.” 

It is good the CRC is “broadening the tent” and it needs to be supported with resources, he said. “Immigrants are making sacrifices to join us. We don’t want them to be the only ones making sacrifices.” 

Vandervalk responded by saying, “We want to support these churches as much as we can, but the emphasis should be to try local first.” 

Chelsey Harmon, Classis BC Northwest, challenged delegates to go even further. 

“I look forward to seeing what is put together based on what is already passed,” she said. “Along with this plan, I think we need to do more. We need to pray. We need to advocate about immigration policies in our countries, because those policies have an impact.” 

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