Written by: Victoria Veenstra
Rehoboth is a Hebrew word meaning ”wide open”. As the pandemic closed the physical doors of the church last spring, the church looked for ways to continue to be ‘wide open’ to their local community in new and creative ways.
Rehoboth CRC is located just up the road from a co-operative housing building in Bowmanville, ON. Before the pandemic, the congregation was running a breakfast program called “Brunchkins.” Twice a week they connected with the school-age kids in their community while providing breakfast and lunches to them. The church and the housing complex are only 350 meters apart so connecting with their literal neighbours was important to the church. When the pandemic hit last spring, the program “came to a crashing halt,” recalls Michael Vandenberg, a deacon at Rehoboth, “so we had to get creative and pivot.” The church and deacons wanted to continue connecting with the families and children they had met through Brunchkins but knew it would need to look different.
In March of 2020, Diaconal Coach Bill Groot-Nibbelink informed the church of COVID-19 grants being provided by Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew Canada. The church decided to apply and they received funding which allowed them to begin providing groceries straight to people’s doorsteps. As the program got rolling, local residents would text their food list to the volunteer team. “People were really thankful for the volunteers who could do their shopping; someone else who could tackle the grocery store for them,” says Vandenberg. Dropping the groceries off also allowed some face-time with the members of that housing complex to keep building relationships.
And God continued to put people in the path of the deacons. At the start of the pandemic, a mom with two young boys lost her partner in a motorcycle accident. The church quickly stepped up by purchasing and delivering groceries. She was overwhelmed and told the volunteers, “this is too good to be true!”. Vandenberg recalls how much this impacted him, as he thought of his own wife and young children.
This practical help the church was able to give this mom was multiplied throughout the coming months as other people, particularly single parents, received groceries. Prayer guided the deacons throughout this project as they asked God to show them the individuals that needed support and to open hearts and minds. And God answered, shared Vandenberg, on his first trip to the co-op. While there, he ran into an individual who could use a hand with groceries while their kids played.
Vandenberg called the experience “an eye opener” for members of his congregation. Taking the role of servant leadership benefited not only the outside community but also church members. “The church is a great place for people to grow through these kinds of experiences. It had an impact on people who played a role including developing and refining their faith journey. This experience definitely helped me and my wife. It’s one thing to go to church and talk about it all but to actually hit the ground running with it takes your faith to a different level.”
Vandenberg understands that sometimes members are hesitant to become deacons and wonder what it will look like or require of them, but he would encourage them to look to God who opens doors and equips His people for the work. “You have no idea what God’s going to do. As soon as you get a taste of helping someone else, that selfless act, that’s where pure joy starts and ends up being the thing that you talk about at the end of the day.” For other churches looking to do ministry in their context, Vandenberg recommends prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit.
The church was able to run this program from March of 2020 to October 2020. As the pandemic continued late last year, the offer of practical help was still front and centre. Church members have stepped up to offer ongoing funds to continue to support the surrounding community. While they’ve shifted from regular grocery trips to providing bagged lunches to the children at Jackman Road, the relationships created with neighbours are ongoing!
Is Your Church Looking to Love and Serve its Community?
Not sure where to start? Contact your local Diaconal Coach or one of our Regional Ministry Developers. While the Covid-19 Grants are no longer available, your idea could be a great fit for our NewGround program!