e-QuipThe Diaconal Blog

 

Blyth Deacons partner for the good of the community

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons | No Comments

Blyth, Ontario CRC deacons wanted to get to know the food banks which serviced their small community:  The Salvation Army (SA) and the North Huron Foodshare.  When they initiated conversations with the SA food bank, they learned of another church in Blyth, Living Water Christian Fellowship, that also wanted to know more about how they could work together, serving the food bank clients in Blyth more meaningfully.

Blyth deacons then organized a meeting between these 2 churches and the food banks.  They also decided to invite food bank clients to join in on the conversation. Along the way, a local restaurant owner offered to host the meeting and provide food for lunch.

At the meeting, people were asked what they liked about the community of Blyth and why they lived there. The conversation eventually turned to the challenge of transportation for people: the food banks are 18 km away from the community of Blyth. The SA offered their 7-seater van to be used for a once-a-month shuttle from Blyth to the foodbank.  Clients in another smaller community nearby heard about this development and asked to be included on the shuttle run.

As the churches began to work in partnership with the SA, the director there began to refer some of their Blyth clients to the church-community for further support.  This act spread out to other service providers who also began to turn to the church-community as a resource.  One caseworker said that she never thought of turning to a faith group for help, but was impressed by what was happening.

By God’s grace, this development will continue to expand and initiate additional opportunities for the area churches to serve the vulnerable residents in Blyth.

(photo of Queen Street in Blyth is from Google maps)

“Caring for our Community”: an Operation Manna update from Chilliwack, BC

Posted by | Engaging Community, Operation Manna, Uncategorized | No Comments

Last May, Canadian CRC congregations were blessed, through the Operation Manna (OM) campaign, to hear the story of how Heartland Fellowship CRC in Chilliwack, BC was getting to know its neighbours and blessing its community through trailbuilding. By giving to OM through the offering, churches across Canada became partners in this exciting project.  Recently, Diaconal Ministries Canada asked Heartland and the Chilliwack Park Society to update the churches on what has been happening. Marc Greidanus of the Chilliwack Park Society sent the following update.

We wish to extend a heartfelt thankyou to all the churches that have supported Operation Manna!
In partnership with Heartland Community Fellowship, the Chilliwack Park Society has enjoyed a fun and productive season.  Our Community Forest park project with the City of Chilliwack has been a great success.  trailbuilding2The park is open and seeing lots of use, especially from young families.  Unity Christian School’s woodworking class built a beautiful bridge and viewdeck out of donated cedar.  The kids from the Ed Centre, Chilliwack’s alternative high school, have provided hundreds of volunteer hours, gotten their exercise and put their passion into the trails.

quiettimeKylie Greidanus, working with the local school district, has created a full day forest field trip curriculum for local elementary schools and has taken many classes into the forest, from kindergarten to grade 3.  In addition to hiking, learning about forest succession and the local flora and fauna, the kids most enjoyed their quiet time in the forest, where they are encouraged to draw what they see, hear and smell.

(left): Holly Vermette from Heartland, enjoying her quiet time.

Finally, our society was able to mobilize community volunteers and clear and repair most of Chilliwack’s most popular local hiking trails for everyone to enjoy.  A fantastic season!  Thank you Operation Manna and the CRC for supporting us in caring for our community!

“Ministry in Mayhem”: this year’s Ancaster Day of Encouragement

Posted by | Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons, News & Events | No Comments

“The CRC, and the church in general, is so much bigger than our own congregations. Great to get that larger perspective and be encouraged as we go back to our own community.”

The Day of Encouragement (DOE) is all about perspective. It is, as this participant said, about “that larger perspective,” the Kingdom of God, and how God is at work in our communities. It is also about perspectives: sharing your own and learning from the perspectives of others. As perspectives are widened and deepened, participants at the DOE are equipped and encouraged to go back to their communities and find “ministry in mayhem.”

And that was the theme at this year’s Ancaster DOE held Saturday, October 15 at Hamilton District Christian High School. Pastor Willemina Zwart (Good News Church, London) gave the keynote address and those who came found her “very inspiring” and were encouraged by “her enthusiasm and her love for the messiness of life.”

doe-1The numbers of registrants were down, but that did not diminish the blessings of the day. Over 40 gifted leaders facilitated workshops that participants found “very pertinent to [their] church life right now” and that gave them “new insights.” For some, the fellowship, networking and the connedoe4ctions with others were the most encouraging part of the day.

It was a day of blessing. It was a day of sharing. It was a day of encouragement. No matter what area of ministry participants are engaged in, there is something or someone to speak into it. And along the way, maybe some perspectives were changed by what was experienced. For one participant it meant that she was “gonna dare to let more mess happen” in her church. Praise God that the Spirit is alive and at work, challenging and shaping members of the CRC in Canada.

Were you there? What is your perspective? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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

Posted by | Equipping Deacons | No Comments

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

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, resources | No Comments

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”

Posted by | News & Events | No Comments

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.

Doing Justice to Short-Term Mission Trips

Posted by | Doing Justice | 2 Comments

Short-term mission trips are a hot topic in the Christian Reformed Church right now, and in the broader Western church in general. Millions of North Americans travel to both far off and nearby places every year with the intention of sharing the good news of Christ to those living in poverty, or places where the gospel is not well known.

These trips, otherwise short-formed to “STMs,” usually involve travelling to a different country for a brief period of time—anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. Most groups are composed of volunteers within a church congregation. These volunteers sacrifice time, money, and resources to travel, serve, and share the gospel. It sounds great, right? What could be possibly be wrong with that?

Short-term missions frequently do very little to address injustice.

This past weekend I spent three days in Ridgetown, Ontario, at a festival called “Cahoots!” It’s organized by the Student Christian Movement and the Beansprout Collective, and is in its third year.

The idea behind Cahoots! is to gather anyone who is interested in the intersection of faith, justice and activism. All are welcome: LGBTQ+, refugees, people of colour, privileged white folks, clergy, queer persons, and anyone on the margins of the church or of society.

By no means was this a “Reformed” event, and it pushed me far out of the comfort zone I sat in for nearly 20 years at a fairly traditional CRC. However, I definitely found the presence of the Spirit among the wonderful, ramshackle group that gathered. And, interestingly enough, I found myself a minority. The amount of straight, white men there was minimal. Perhaps I was given an extremely small taste of what life on the margins is like for many people.

Part of my participation at the festival was leading a workshop with my good friend, Justin, on STMs, entitled “Doing Justice to Short Term Experiences.” Justin has spent large parts of his life involved in short-term missions in Canada, the Philippines, Guatemala, and this coming autumn, South Africa. Justin brought a lot of knowledge of cross-cultural experiences, while I brought a keen understanding of Biblical justice, and my own STM experience in Northern Ireland, to the workshop.

During the lead-up and the debriefing of the workshop, I spent much time reflecting on what I had been reading, and what I heard during and after the workshop. I was left with four ideas about short-term experiences that I would like to highlight:

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about the people and place you’re visiting. Churches usually send out short-term missionaries with the intent of hearing from the volunteers when they are back in North America, rather than hearing from people in the receiving place. This attitude can allow for neo-colonialism, paternalism, and privilege to rear their ugly heads, creating what is now commonly known as “White Saviour Complex.”
  2. It’s not a vacation. Cross-cultural experiences are complicated, and we need to learn how to take postures of listening and humility—not which posture is best for our next “selfie.”
  3. Language matters. The commonly accepted term for missions in the CRC comes from the Latin missio, from mittere, which literally means “to send.” The notion of sending Christians out to evangelize is a popular and attractive one to many Western Christians today. However, as we embrace this sending, it sometimes speaks to the faint (and often unnoticed) colonial repercussions of concepts like the Doctrine of Discovery. This is not to deny the importance of mission, but our sending can come at the expense of transformed relationships, and be tinged with paternalism.
  4. Robust preparation is crucial. In order to communicate and learn well across cultural boundaries, education about the country, city, or village being visited is of paramount importance. What is the theological background of the receiving location? Who are the leaders in the community? Are the people being sent empowering and inviting the community they’re visiting to participate in our process?

Ultimately, a cultural and structural change within our churches needs to happen. There must be a fundamental shift in the way we talk about, practice, and listen to stories of short-term missions. Rather than calling them “missions,” we may be better off to call them “learning trips” or “cross-cultural experiences.” We need to begin asking if these trips are creating any lasting or transformative change in those being sent, or those receiving.

If the goal of Biblical justice is to return to the shalom we experienced when God created us, then the motives and end goals of short-term mission trips need to reflect this.

Want to talk more about short-term missions and your church? Contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, and dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

A Step Towards Reconciliation

Posted by | Doing Justice | No Comments

“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