deacons

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)

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.

Changing the Conversation about Climate Change

Posted by | Doing Justice | No Comments

Climate change, global warming, and the greenhouse effect—we’ve heard the same language over and over again. The earth is getting too hot, it’s happening too fast, and humanity is to blame.

And, while the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly positive that global warming is real and being caused by humans (97% of scientists), some Christians disagree. Perhaps it’s a general distrust of science, or perhaps we believe that we cannot really change the infrastructure of the world’s fossil fuel consumption, or perhaps—more ominously—we just don’t want to change our lifestyles.

The goal of this post is not to feed the flames, or to argue. The goal is to help us as Christians to think more critically about both our place in the world, and about God’s commands concerning stewardship of the earth.

And this is where deacons come in. One of the last sentences in the Christian Reformed Church’s charge to the deacons is: “Be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils.” We often equate injustice with humanity. We think of words like poverty, homelessness, disability, crime, and violence. But injustice is also about God’s good creation. It is about how we, as humans and image-bearers of God, relate to our surrounding natural environment.

In Genesis 1, God gave us the cultural mandate to rule and have dominion over the earth. We are to be stewards of creation—caring for the earth rather than abusing it.

In Psalm 24:1-2 (NIV), we read: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”

While we are to subdue the earth, we are also to remind ourselves that the earth is not ours. It is the Lord’s, and we have a great responsibility to care for it. And yet, there is a hostile climate—no pun intended—associated with the larger conversation surrounding global warming in the church.

Consider 2 Peter 3:10-12 (NIV):

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”

The earth is going to be laid bare, and a new heaven and new earth will be created at the second coming of Christ. So, why bother caring for the earth? It’s holiness and a strong faith that matters, right?

It’s more complicated than that. How we choose to live our lives and treat the environment has much broader implications than we tend to realize.

With a warmer climate, a farmer in Kenya may not be able to predict when the rainy season will be coming, and therefore be unable to produce food for their family. A massive storm—more destructive than storms have been in the past—could hit the coast of the Philippines, destroying the communities there. Some plants and animals might become endangered, or extinct. Our decisions affect more than just our local community and ourselves.

At the end of the day, the question we should be asking ourselves is: Is the way that we’re living sustainable for the earth and everything living on it? If we don’t have any answers, or our answer does not consider the global impact of our lifestyles, it is time we started digging deeper.

There are all sorts of steps we can take towards ecological justice: calculate our carbon footprints (and offset the carbon we produce), grow some of our own food, start community gardens with our churches, know where our food is coming from, connect with organizations such as A Rocha or Citizens for Public Justice, or watch the Climate Conversation video series produced by the Office of Social Justice. The list can go on.

Christians—and deacons, especially—must work towards a vision for ecological justice, even if we don’t believe climate change to be a reality. Our creator God commands it.

Questions or comments? We would love to take part in respectful dialogue. Please leave a comment below, or contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

Synod 2015 and diaconal ministry

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

Dear Deacons:

This is a significant year for deacons in the Christian Reformed Church.  The 2015 Task Force report approved some important principles for diaconal ministry in the 21st century.  The report addressed the role of deacons in congregations and communities as well as the role of elders. And, Synod approved deacon delegation at Classis & Synod.

So, what’s up with deacons going to Classis & Synod? And, what’s up with the upcoming changes to the Church Order? I will try to summarize some of the more significant decisions. Please feel free to call DMC staff and Board of Directors if you have any questions.

  • Both Deacons and Elders give leadership to distinctive areas of ministry. However, deacons and elders also have some common areas of ministry. (see changes to Article 12 & 25).  “It is not simply that the church has deacons, but rather it is the case that the whole church is itself called to diakonia (works unto others)” (2013 Report page 4 & Ephesians 4:11-13).  Deacons are important ministry leaders.
    • Implication? Deacons are not to just perform diaconal ministry on behalf of the church, but to mobilize and equip the church to fulfill its calling.
  • The proposed changes to the relationship of elders and deacons point to the importance of the two offices working together for the sake of God’s mission. The CRCNA agencies are committed to supporting our congregations to strengthen their missional and incarnational presence in our communities.
    • Implication? Dialogue is needed at the Council level and Classis level meetings on how to strengthen the partnership of these two leadership roles. Contact DMC staff for suggestions.
  • The 2015 Report was also guided by the ‘principle of parity.’ This parity is best demonstrated by diaconal presence in the major assemblies of the church.  This is “not about equal representation but about the full representation of the whole church which these offices represent” (2015 Report page 329).  For this reason, we recommend that each classis examine their agendas to reflect these new changes (see changes to Article 34).
    • Implication? Diaconal involvement should be invited to shape agendas at Council and Classis.

At many classes across the country, deacons have already been included.   But with the Church Order changes adopted by this synod, each church now needs to send an elder, deacon, and a minister to classis meetings unless “great distance or other weighty reasons” prevent them from doing so.

What implications will this have for your leadership role, your church, and the denomination as a whole?  Together we hope to shape the answers to this question.  So, let’s continue the conversation.  Let us know how we can support you along in this journey at Classis or at your local church.

-written by Hans Kater, National Director, Diaconal Ministries Canada

 

for more on Synod 2015, click here

NEW! Next Devotion in the series

Posted by | Doing Justice, Equipping Deacons, resources | No Comments

Follow the link below to download the eighth devotion for deacons in the latest set of devotionals from Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC).

In our conversations with deacons across the country, DMC often summarizes the ministry of the deacon into 4 areas: community ministry, compassion, justice, and stewardship.

This devotion is the second of three which will focus on deacons and justice.

Each devotion is available in a package with additional resources and discussion questions.

We pray that you will be blessed by these devotions, and that, together, your diaconate may grow and deepen its relationship with each other and the church and community you serve.

Download devotion 8

Visit the devotion webpage for the earlier devotions in this set, as well as the complete first set of devotions.

NEW! Devotion #7

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Here is the seventh devotion for deacons in the latest set of devotionals from Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC).

In our conversations with deacons across the country, DMC often summarizes the ministry of the deacon into 4 areas: community ministry, compassion, justice, and stewardship. This devotion is the first of 3 to focus on deacons and justice.

Each devotion is available in a package with additional resources and discussion questions.

We pray that you will be blessed by these devotions, and that, together, your diaconate may grow and deepen its relationship with each other and the church and community you serve.

Download devotion 7.

Visit the devotion webpage for the earlier devotions in this set, as well as the complete first set of devotions.

NEW! Devotions for Deacons #6

Posted by | resources | No Comments

Here is the sixth devotion for deacons in the latest set of devotionals from Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC).

In our conversations with deacons across the country, DMC often summarizes the ministry of the deacon into 4 areas: community ministry, compassion, justice, and stewardship. This devotion is the third of 3 to focus on deacons and compassion.

Each devotion is available in a package with additional resources and discussion questions.

We pray that you will be blessed by these devotions, and that, together, your diaconate may grow and deepen its relationship with each other and the church and community you serve.

Download devotion 6.

Visit the devotion webpage for the earlier devotions in this set, as well as the complete first set of devotions.

A New Year: setting goals as deacons

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, resources | No Comments

The beginning of 2015 may feel like a new start after the break for Christmas. Of course there is some continuation of existing ministry patterns and activities; however, some of those activities may follow the established agendas of past leaders or they may cause your diaconate to lose focus because of old dilemmas and diverse passions.

Consider the beginning of a new year as a gift, an opportunity to review, reconsider and resurrect energy and focus!

Set some goals in your diaconate for the next 6 months, but also for the long-term (goals which might take 2 – 3 years to realize and implement).

Why set goals?  They will…

  • provide a focus for ministry.  Meetings can be repetitious and reactionary or, alternatively, they can be places to develop meaningful, just-filled ministry.  Decide next steps to meet your goals.
  • give you, as a team, a common purpose based on your charge.  Time can then be set aside each meeting to note the steps taken to achieve the goals.
  • help you to be accountable to each other as each person with unique gifts works to contribute toward the goals.
  • assist you in evaluating time and efforts together as a diaconate.  Are your time and gifts in diaconal ministry being used to love God and your neighbour?
  • serve to offer the experience of accomplishment. Take time to celebrate positive outcomes!

At your next meeting, re-consider your ministry goals and focus on those that will also engage your church members:

Diakonia, as the work of service that restores shalom, is not confined to any particular office but belongs to the church as a whole. The calling of deacons is not to perform that service on behalf of the church but to equip, empower and enable the church to live out its own diaconal calling.”  (Diakonia Remixed Report to Synod, 2012)

The multiplication of ministry will happen with the pursuit of shared goals.  The division of the workload will follow as congregational members are invited to be involved!!

–written by Katie Karsten, Justice Mobilizer for Diaconal Ministries Canada

Need some help? Click here to find a workplan template from Diaconal Ministries Canada (under Workplans & Handbooks).

NEW! Devotions for Deacons #5

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, resources, Uncategorized | No Comments

Here is the fifth devotion for deacons in the latest set of devotionals from Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC).

In our conversations with deacons across the country, DMC often summarizes the ministry of the deacon into 4 areas: community ministry, compassion, justice, and stewardship. This devotion is the second of 3 to focus on deacons and compassion.

Each devotion is available in a package with additional resources and discussion questions.

We pray that you will be blessed by these devotions, and that, together, your diaconate may grow and deepen its relationship with each other and the church and community you serve.

Download devotion #5

Visit the devotion webpage for the earlier devotions inthis set, as well as the complete first set of devotions.

Beyond a Bed: tools for deacons who want to walk alongside

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A deacon is in the waiting room of a community walk-in clinic. There is a woman beside her, slumped in her seat. She is dozing lightly; she looks exhausted. After a number of minutes, the woman seems to abandon hope of a nap. She stretches, sighs and sits up. The deacon beside her begins a conversation. It doesn’t take long until the woman shares how tired she is. She doesn’t have a bed and is having difficulty sleeping on the floor. Not to mention the nagging cough that has plagued her for months. As the deacon’s name is called and she rises to go and see the doctor, she tells the woman she wants to help and asks her for her phone number.

On Sunday at the deacon’s church there is a notice in the bulletin, asking for the donation of a bed and mattress. There is prompt response and the deacon calls the woman from the clinic to arrange a time to bring over the bed. The woman tearfully accepts the gift and begins to share more of her story. It is a story of broken relationships, untapped potential, and a lack of opportunities. There is so much behind the story and the deacon is sure the church can continue to help.

This is now more than a bulletin announcement, more than the donation of a bed. It has become about Carol. About her life. Her future, her gifts and her needs. Hopefully it will become a long-term relationship. There is beautiful potential here, which will only be fully realized by a church prepared to walk alongside and a diaconate which has discussed and decided how they are able to help.

Although this story is only loosely based on an account told by a CRC deacon, the usefulness of guidelines for helping and benevolence is real. Who will we help? How often? What boundaries might be needed? Where can we refer those whom we cannot help? Guidelines are intended to help deacons establish a framework for responding to people who request help.

Does your diaconate have something in place?

If not, check out these tools developed by Diaconal Ministries Canada staff.