(RNS) — By all accounts, Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church is doing well.
This past year, the church completed a $4.4 million renovation, adding a street-level lobby encased in glass, with a new kitchen and new bathrooms. It renovated the sanctuary and installed a wheelchair ramp and a new stage. It added an elevator.
But this Grand Rapids, Michigan, congregation, with a membership of about 650, is at the center of a maelstrom sweeping the denomination to which it belongs, the Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Like so many other congregations across the country, Neland Avenue took a step too far for the denomination of about 200,000 members when it ordained as a deacon a woman in a same-sex marriage.
Last June, delegates to the Christian Reformed Church’s annual meeting — called a synod — ordered the congregation to immediately rescind the ordination.
The church refused.
On Friday (June 9), as it begins its 2023 Synod, 184 delegates from the United States and Canada will convene on the campus of Calvin University, the denomination’s flagship school, less than four miles from the church, to decide what steps to take in response to Neland Avenue’s intransigence.
The synod meets amid a growing backlash to LGBTQ gains across the nation and ongoing decadeslong divisions among theologically conservative denominations over sexuality.
Last year, the synod tightened its teachings on human sexuality, voting to declare sexually active gays and lesbians “unchaste” and to elevate its ban on gay sex to the status of confession, or proclamation of faith.
The vote, following hours of debate, was contentious. This year’s synod, which concludes on June 15, is expected to revisit the issue. About 50 of the 76 overtures, or requests, submitted to the synod ask either that delegates undo last year’s actions or build on them and go further in disciplining churches that dissent.
The synod will also consider Neland Avenue’s appeal of last year’s directive to recall the deacon as well as a recommendation from a committee that met with Neland Avenue to require the church to immediately “rescind” and “nullify” any current or future office bearers in a same-sex relationship.
“We believe that the actions of Neland Avenue CRC have disrespected and disregarded the deliberation and decisions of our corporate body and therefore are a breaking of covenant,” the committee’s report said.