Marcia Mantel

Will you be there?

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons | No Comments

Diaconal Ministries Canada and Christian Reformed Home Missions invite you to join us at the Day of Encouragement this Saturday in Ancaster, Ontario. There will be times of sharing and connecting, great worship, and plenty of opportunities to be equipped in all different areas of ministry in your church and community.

Our theme for this year is Mess is More: Finding Mission in Mayhem.

Life can be messy. It doesn’t take long to think of times in our lives which have been filled with disappointment and pain. And when our church is intentional about engaging with its neighbours, we seem to encounter situations that can be overwhelming, daunting and sometimes even discouraging. And yet, these situations are also full of opportunity.

Jesus left the perfection of Heaven and chose to live in the messiness of earth. He entered into it, felt the pain of it, and was full of compassion and mercy for a hurting world. As followers of Christ. we are called to respond with the same love and compassion -and empathy. Those who are hurting around us are people who share in the same brokenness of a fallen world as we do. This is the common ground on which relationships may be built. This is the place to begin mission in that mayhem.

The Day of Encouragement is meant for you to come and be encouraged and equipped to do just that. Wherever you serve in the church and community, this day is for you.

So come and join the many people who will gather together in Jesus’ name! Come learn and share, and be inspired to follow when you hear Jesus calling you to walk with Him into, and in spite of, the messiness around you.

We pray that the Day of Encouragement will bless you richly! See you there!

Click here to go to the website to register and learn more.

Walking with Deacons: Rachel Brouwer, DMD

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fellowship-crc-st-thomas“Meet Brad, Phil, Bob, James and Margriet (at left) – the diaconal team from Fellowship CRC in St. Thomas, ON! This is a team that is passionate about understanding what it means to be a compassionate follower of Jesus to those who need assistance. They also recognize that those who need assistance aren’t always just the materially poor. So they’re growing where they’re planted and investigating ways to minister to and serve their neighbours in the St. Thomas suburb that is home to their church. We’re excited to see how God will use you in the upcoming year!”

This was written by Rachel Brouwer, a Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD), after a visit with these deacons. DMDs are encouragers and coaches for deacons. They are experienced in diaconal work and are available to help deacons understand their role and work out their calling in the church and its community. DMDs are available to connect with and visit every diaconate (team of deacons in a church) in every CRC across Canada. Rachel is one of the DMDs in Classis Chatham, and, through her experiences, she blesses the churches, like Fellowship CRC, that she serves.

RachelBrouwerRachel (at right) works as a Church Mobilization Coordinator for International Justice Mission Canada, a global organization that protects the poor from everyday violence in the developing world. She is passionate about helping the church respond to God’s call to seek justice on both a global and local scale and sees the role of deacons as being critical in leading this effort. Rachel is a life-long member of Talbot Street CRC in London, ON where she has served as an elder and is the current chair of deacons.

During her visit with the St. Thomas deacons, Rachel shared resources and promoted the Day of Encouragement. Through Rachel, the deacons became aware that DMC has resources and assistance to offer and were grateful to know this as they look forward to a year of serving the church and community.

There is a DMD ready and willing to help your church, whether you are looking for resources or you need advice and encouragement. Click here to find the DMD in your region.

Tips for Deacons: Starting Well in September

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September marks a new season and a new start for your church. Maybe it seems as though your diaconate is starting all over. Maybe you have new deacons and are making new plans together. Wherever you are at, September always brings transition of one kind or another.

Here are some suggestions to ease the transition for your new deacons and for your diaconate as you move forward together.

The Top Ten Transitional Issues to Consider as Deacons:

(follow the links for resources connected to each transitional issue)

  1. What deacons do: start with our FAQ section for some basic information
  2. How to start well: Check our website for devotions.
  3. Form a strong team: consider mentoring and reverse mentoring.
  4. Build Community: Click here for some suggestions.
  5. Gifts for Ministry: Examine what gifts you have around your “diaconal table.”
  6. Organizing your ministry plans: Develop a Diaconate workplan.
  7. Get help: schedule a Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) visit
  8. Develop your ministry: Guidelines for setting an offering schedule, benevolence, etc.
  9. Diaconal Ministry Shares: Why do we pay them?
  10. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Check out the FAQs or contact the Diaconal Ministries Canada office (Samantha).

Saying “Good-bye”

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Hans asks me how I’m doing as he walks in to the office where I am working, casually dressed, with an easy, relaxed smile on his face. This is usually the way Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC) staff interact with Hans. And on this day, it’s almost like we are about to start talking about what we’re working on; it’s almost like nothing has changed. Except that it has. It was only a few weeks ago that Hans completed his last day with DMC. And a week before that, I had the opportunity to sit down and reflect with him on his tenure as National Director of DMC.

The last 15 years at DMC has been characterized by Hans’ dynamic yet steady vision, which was consistently supported by the Board and had already begun to develop years ago through his experiences. Under Hans’ leadership, DMC clearly articulated its purpose to walk alongside Canadian CRCs sent to join God in His work of reconciliation, transforming communities into places of shalom. And diaconates have an important leadership role in that, Hans maintains, as long as they are able to reimagine themselves as something other than simply an administrative body.

It is clear from the way in which Hans talks about it, that becoming a deacon at the age of 40 made a difference in his life and helped to develop his passion and vision. At the same time as he was beginning to feel less fulfillment in his chosen field of accounting, he was, as a deacon, doing more than simply those administrative tasks: he was connecting with people from the community who came to the church looking for help. This fit his gifts well and God used these experiences to encourage him to attend Calvin Seminary in 1993 and serve with World Missions in Honduras and Costa Rica from 1995-2001.

Hans’ time in Central America would provide a different lens through which he would view the church in Canada. As he witnessed oppression and poverty alongside of the growth and development of missional communities in Honduras, he recognized a profound role for the church in pursuing holistic ministry. In this context, distinctions between elder and deacon, missionary and development worker mattered far less than the pursuit of justice and mercy with the marginalized and poor.  In the Canadian context, however, he also saw a role and opportunity for deacons to be catalysts for community engagement. But it was not just about the deacons –the health of the church seemed to him to be directly proportional to the effectiveness of the diaconate.

All of these experiences and learnings would bless DMC as Hans became National Director in 2001. By that time, the groundwork had been laid for a centralized mission which, conversely, was strengthened by decentralizing DMC staff and Diaconal Ministry Developers to better serve the churches coast to coast. A national, classis-based model was beginning to be realized. By 2002, Board members stretched across the country and DMC was focused on finding Diaconal Ministry Developers to serve each classis.

This was the first of a number of significant changes in DMC and the CRC that happened during Hans’ tenure. DMC contributed its voice to the conversations on the changing view and role of deacons. Women increasingly brought an important dimension to diaconal work as the full gifts of the body were being represented in leadership. As churches increasingly felt called to their local communities, Hans appreciated how they also began to take the risk of the Community Opportunity Scan as a tool for community engagement. And, more recently, the Diakonia Remixed report was not unfamiliar to Canadian deacons because it had already been the language of DMC. When Synod affirmed the report, the work of many deacons across Canada and the work of DMC was also affirmed. Finally, DMC also began to give intentional focus to the area of justice and to help churches understand how fundamental it is for deacons and churches to love their neighbours in concrete and visible ways, look deeper than charity to seek out the root causes of poverty and marginalization in their communities.

While DMC’s focus on justice, for example, is the kind of thing often seen as a measureable indicator of success, it is also the unmeasurable things that take good measure of Hans’ years as National Director of DMC.

At his recent retirement party, staff celebrated how Hans was a thoughtful, engaged and gentle servant- leader. He had a unique ability to be a strong administrator yet remained flexible to accommodate new ideas. He thinks deeply, lives his convictions, encouraged his staff and gave them the freedom to use their gifts. One of his most appreciated characteristics is that he relational and caring: the culture of DMC has been deeply impacted and strengthened by his person, experiences and abilities. We are grateful to God for his character and leadership.

So when Hans walks into the office where I’m working, I put aside my work and give him a hug, grateful for the opportunity that I have had to work with him and grateful for the great gift that Hans was to DMC and to the CRC in Canada.  And that is one thing that will not change.

A Step Towards Reconciliation

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“When you hear about all the assimilation policies one after the other, you sit back and think ‘whoa,’” says Shannon Perez. Shannon has experienced and led the Blanket Exercise, an interactive workshop developed by KAIROS that walks participants through the history of Canada from the perspective of Indigenous peoples, dozens of times. As a Sayisi Dene woman, Shannon knows firsthand that even those who know and have lived parts of the history, like herself, can learn much from the experience of “stepping into the moccasins” of Indigenous peoples and hearing the whole sweep of history at once.

Shannon has spent much of her time in the last year training Blanket Exercise facilitators across both Canada and the United States, and she knows there is much more work yet to be done, despite all the progress that has been made. “There are still people who don’t know about residential schools,” she says.

Many who have gone through the Blanket Exercise are now looking for more opportunities to learn, so the Christian Reformed Church has responded with a 7-part small group series called Living the 8th Fire, based around the CBC’s 8th Fire documentary series, a hugely successful series that launched its narrator, Wab Kinew, into national fame. “When we sit in circle after a Blanket Exercise, one of the most common questions is: so now what?” says Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. “We usually respond with encouragement to learn more and build relationships. In a sense Wab Kinew’s invitation to ‘get to know the neighbours’ in this excellent video series is a way to begin some of that learning and living in relationship with Indigenous neighbours. We know that the journey of reconciliation is a challenge, a blessing and a deeply spiritual journey. The 8th Fire videos and this curriculum draw us into this journey in a friendly and moving way.”

The curriculum provides more time and space to explore topics that people heard about through the Blanket Exercise, says Shannon. If the Blanket Exercise is about getting your feet wet, the Living the 8th Fire series is about diving deeper.

Shannon led the series for a mixed group of Indigenous and settler people last year at her church, Good News Fellowship in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her pastor, Kasey Vander Veen, participated. One of the sessions uses the CBC 8th Fire episode “It’s Time” and includes a quick summary of 500 years of history, narrated by Wab Kinew. “It really makes you realize—there’s a lot to be done. Where do we even start?” Kasey, whose background before becoming a pastor was in counselling, says that he learned that settler people need to be much more sensitive to the trauma that Indigenous people carry as a result of colonization. “We say sometimes, ‘just get on with it’, but would you say that to someone who experienced the Holocaust? We don’t understand trauma, especially intergenerational trauma like Indigenous people are experiencing.”

Kasey also emphasized that having these conversations with both Indigenous and settler people in the room is invaluable. “When you have these discussions with Indigenous peoples rather than about them, you get a lot more sensitized to what’s going on. It totally changes the experience.”

Shannon, who played a key role in fine-tuning the curriculum, agrees. She highlights that the course is designed not only to teach about reconciliation, but to be an example of reconciliation in action. “Because we’re talking about Aboriginal culture, we wanted to include Aboriginal culture in the design.” The course uses Aboriginal prayers and sharing circles frequently. When the course was held at Good News Fellowship, an Aboriginal elder participated and often led the group in Aboriginal ceremonies. “We’re honouring Aboriginal culture and helping people to get more comfortable with it,” says Shannon. After watching each video, the group would have a sharing circle, which for Shannon was one of the most memorable parts of the experience. “Even people who had already seen the videos were affected by them again,” said Kasey.

The course is designed so that the facilitator doesn’t have to be an expert in the subject, with a consistent structure for each of the seven sessions. Each session, the group opens with prayer, follows a warm-up activity from the curriculum, watches an 8th Fire video, shares in circle, and closes with prayer.

Kasey says the 8th Fire and other opportunities he’s had to learn about the relationship between Indigenous and settler Canadians has helped corrected some of his own assumptions and helped him to understand where my Indigenous neighbours are coming from—like the First Nations people that he meets at the park down the road or the Metis woman who lives on the same apartment floor as he does.

“It’s time that we talk. The 8th Fire is about us all coming to the fire together. These things happened…now what? What does reconciliation mean? The Apology for residential schools happened…now what?” he says.

Kasey says we have to take these first steps of reconciliation, even if the challenges at hand seem overwhelming and we don’t know exactly where they will take us. “Then you see some little kid on the Internet whose heart is touched by something in the news and ends up raising a bunch of money. They just took a step and didn’t know where God would take it. We just have to take those first steps.”

Does the prospect of reconciliation overwhelm you? Invigorate you? Leave you with a desire to learn more? Whoever you are, Living the 8th Fire may be a good next step.

If you would like to learn more about running the 8th Fire series at your church, visit this page on the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee’s toolkit or contact Shannon Perez (Justice and Reconciliation Mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church) at camc@crcna.org.

written by Danielle Rowaan, Justice Communications Team Coordinator for several justice ministries of the Christian Reformed Church 

DMC Walks Alongside New Deacons

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I have been a first time deacon for just over a year. Having my name drawn was scary but exciting. I did not know what I was in for, yet I was eager to see what God had in store for me.

Over the past year I have attended the Day of Encouragement (DOE) in Ancaster and a Deacon’s Dialogue for Classis Quinte. At the DOE I decided to go to the workshop facilitated by Bill Groot-Nibbelink (a Diaconal Ministry Developer) and I am so glad that I did!

The amount of information that I was exposed to by listening to other deacons’ experiences and the resources that Bill presented to us were instrumental in helping me feel more comfortable in being a deacon. The online resources available on the Diaconal Ministries Canada website are invaluable to all deacons new or experienced.

We also had Bill come and speak to Westside and First CRCs (in Kingston) about Guidelines for Benevolence and some other topics which were helpful.

I have appreciated the work that he and all the staff are doing at Diaconal Ministries Canada. Thank you! Thank you for the work that you do in equipping deacons in Canada!

-Written by Jennifer Feenstra-Shaw, Westside CRC in Kingston

Diaconal Ministry Coast to Coast

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There are around 250 Christian Reformed Churches in Canada -from Houston, BC to Saskatoon, SK., Montreal, QC to Charlottetown, PEI, and everything in between. There are urban churches, suburban churches, rural churches and small town churches.  And most of those churches have diaconates.

But those diaconates do not look the same. Some have 12 deacons working as a team and others have 3. There are deacons praying for each other. Some diaconates study a book that develops their understanding and leadership capacity.  Some diaconates struggle with seeing their role beyond collecting offerings. Some laugh together and live fully into their role and work.  Some feel the weight of responsibility or find it hard to manage their time. There are diaconates that discern deeply the best way to support the marginalized and vulnerable. There are those who ask hard questions about injustice and the church’s role.

Many diaconates are made up of some of the most passionate, genuine, thoughtful, sensitive and good- natured people the Canadian CRC has to offer.

There are deacons with cowboy boots and 4×4 trucks that pull up early -and I mean early- on a Saturday morning to move a single mom and her three kids into a new home.  Deacons who come armed with Tim Horton’s coffee and a binder, ready to dig into an evening meeting straight after work with barely time to eat supper (or it might be a Tim Horton’s donut that will get them through).

Deacons are organizing, shopping, cooking and serving dinner to the seniors in their church. Deacons are young and new to the role while others are, well, “seasoned.”  Men. Women. Jokesters. Extroverts and introverts.

There are deacons strategizing ways to connect their church to local opportunities for ministry. Deacons are intentionally learning about vulnerable and marginalized people in their community and the injustices and challenges they face. Deacons welcome refugees.  They challenge the congregation in stewardship. Deacons build relationships with Indigenous communities.

Deacons are also prayerfully discerning -about what ministries to support as a church, and why.  There are conversations about how to work in partnership with elders. Decisions about what kind of support to extend to a family going through crisis.

These are the deacons who shape the ministry of the church in the most profound ways.

We are so privileged as Diaconal Ministries Canada to meet and journey with the Canadian CRC deacons -to journey together, learning about how God is calling our churches to show compassion and pursue justice.

We would love to hear about your church, your diaconate, your deacons.  Find us on Facebook or leave a comment below.

What does it look like to be a deacon in your context?  How is God working through deacons to bring healing and restoration?

-written by Tammy Heidbuurt (Regional Ministry Developer)

(photo above: First CRC of Chatham, ON deacons)

3 Ways a Partnership with Operation Manna can help your church in local ministry.

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How might a partnership with Operation Manna help your church in local ministry?

Do you and your fellow church members have a desire to walk with your neighbours? Did you know that Operation Manna has been helping churches establish important and impactful local ministries for more than 45 years?

In 2016 alone, Diaconal Ministries Canada worked with more than 30 churches and ministry partners to help them establish and grow. Heartland Fellowship CRC, in Chilliwack, BC, is just one of those churches. They partnered with their community to build trails through a local forest, which has opened up exciting connections within the community. They’re the feature of a video that we just posted to tell the Operation Manna story. You can watch it here.

But first, here are three ways that Operation Manna can help your church in local ministry:

1. Diaconal Ministries Canada has experienced staff dedicated to the Operation Manna program.

  • We provide support to your ministry through prayer, encouragement and consultation (planning, organizing, training, or even providing a “sounding board” for your ideas and vision).
  • We connect you to other ministries and churches across Canada involved in similar ministries for learning and sharing.
  • We provide excellent tools to help you develop your ministry.

2. Diaconal Ministries Canada makes grant money available to churches for their ministries.

  • These grants might be needed to help to start a program or ministry.
  • They might also help a church or ministry with limited financial resources be able to partner with others in the community.
  • They might help your church develop a current ministry further or to move it in a new direction.

3. As part of our network, your ministry will be given more exposure and promotion in your Classis and across the country.

Looking for more information? You can find it here.

(above photo: Good News Fellowship CRC walks with their neighbours through the ministry of the Indigenous Family Centre in Winnipeg, MB)

Caring

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Every diaconate wants to demonstrate that they know how to care for those who are going through difficult times. Caring for persons who are traveling through some difficult times is an important part of the deacons’ calling -for those who are within their church family and also those outside of their church community.

Every diaconate has vouchers or gift cards that they can make readily available to those people who need a hand to get through some tough times. This is often necessary and seems the only way out. At our diaconal meeting, someone will be assigned to hand out a gift card and we move on to the next item on the agenda.

Does this then only become a role that we perform rather then really show that we care? Should we send our deacon on her/his way with a gift card and not also offer a prayer that God will use this as an opportunity to show that care involves our hearts -that we do not just hand out a card but also take the time to involve ourselves in their suffering?

If we are the hands and feet of Jesus then finances are only a part of what we want to give. Bringing hope will mean walking along side of them in their journey. Demonstrating that we care is more than a financial fix. It is the being there with them that may bring more healing then anything else you may offer

-written by Len Bakelaar (Diaconal Ministry Developer, Classis Huron)

“The Open Door Project”: an Operation Manna partner

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It’s late on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and I am in a narrow office overlooking Edmonton’s river valley. The office is part of Grierson Institution, a small prison in downtown Edmonton where federal inmates serve time before being released to the community. On this particular afternoon, I am chatting with a man named Kevin. Kevin is in his early 50’s, and will soon be released after 3 years in prison. This is his second prison sentence, and this time around, he is serious about wanting a fresh start, a new beginning.

As he thinks about that new beginning, he has some questions: what church will be willing to take him in? What are his job prospects? Where will he meet positive people? Will his old community take him back? What are Edmonton’s halfway houses like? His questions continue for the rest of the afternoon.

By the time we are done chatting, the sun has set. I start my walk home in the dark, but not before giving my friend my phone number, urging him to call me when he gets out. Each week, I meet men and women like Kevin – folks who want to leave the chaotic and confusing lives that led them to prison, but who aren’t quite sure how.

As one of two reintegration chaplains at the Open Door program (an Operation Manna partner), I have the privilege of accompanying folks leaving prison and transitioning into the Edmonton area. Through a volunteer mentorship program, men’s and women’s reintegration support groups, arts and crafts initiatives, spiritual retreats, entry level work opportunities, and the one-to-one support of chaplains like myself, the Open Door program tries to convey a few simple messages to inmates who are working towards positive change in their lives: second chances are possible, and you are not alone . . . we’re in your corner. We’ve found that those simple truths – when they are embodied by a supportive community of staff and volunteers – can make all the difference in the world for those leaving prison.

We’ve found that our program fills a need in Edmonton, where more inmates are released than almost any other urban centre in Canada. We welcome over 50 former inmates to our support groups each year, and 25 individuals participate in our mentorship program yearly. My colleague Debbie and I journey with over 100 former inmates each year, driving them to landlord meetings, visiting them in hospital, meeting with their parole officers, introducing them to potential employers, and drinking hundreds of cups of coffee as we listen to their stories of struggle, celebration, and hope.

Even though our communities often fear folks who’ve been in prison, we find that inmates are often much more afraid of us – the community – than we are of them. We try to work through their fear as best we can, trying to be an open door to folks who experience one closed door after another when they’re released.

And after 20 years of doing this work in Edmonton, we’ve found that the Open Door works. Over the years, 2/3rds of those we support do not reoffend, a vast improvement over national reoffending statistics. Gregory Boyle of HomeBoy Industries insists that we are all called to “stand with the disposable until we stop throwing people away.” In a small way, that is our calling at the Open Door program – to stand with folks like Kevin, folks many would rather keep at the fringes of our communities, until we stop pushing them away but instead offer them the second chance they need.

by Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning, chaplain for the Open Door project, which receives grant money and development services as an Operation Manna partner.

What to know more about Operation Manna and what partnership means? Click here.