“Building bridges between deacons, churches, ministry and the community.”

This is the mission statement of the Northern Alberta Diaconal Conference (NADC). One way they accomplish this is through their annual Day of Encouragement, typically held at King’s  University in Edmonton in early November. 

So when Covid-19 hit back in March, Jesse Edgington, consultant with NADC, knew that this year’s Day of Encouragement (DOE), like many events in the past six months, would need to look very different. “As things got derailed because of the pandemic I, like most people, began to realize that large, in-person gatherings were not going to be possible and that our roles in community and church were going to change.”

Prior to Covid, as Jesse began his planning, he had been looking at diving deeper into advocacy and peacemaking and how NADC could offer relevant and practical help to deacons and churches.  “At first, the DOE was going to focus on things like how to campaign to people in power and be active in community events to advocate for the vulnerable and how the church could tangibly care for people on the margins.” Seeing the need for deacons and churches to reexamine their role and find innovative ways to do ministry in this new, shared reality, Jesse says the theme shifted slightly in its focus.

Since advocating and caring for the vulnerable in our communities would need to look different for the next while (and possibly forever?!), Jesse felt it was important for all ministry leaders to hear the stories of struggle and pain and to hear about the realities of trauma that are happening all around us to different people on multiple levels. “Hearing these stories is only the beginning – through these we hope to also hear the positive stories of hope and healing; of relationships flourishing and solidarity with others despite the isolation of a pandemic.”

Many of these stories will be shared through a dynamic list of guest speakers and panelists who are actively present in the lives of people, whether students, seniors, or refugees. “My hope,” Jesse shared, “is that these stories will inspire others to do the same in their own contexts. I hope this event will encourage deacons and churches to creatively consider what they can do for others: whether it is a neighbour next door or a stranger who calls or comes to the church or by using the resources of agencies like World Renew to bless someone across the world.”

New this year for the annual DOE is a more direct involvement of Diaconal Ministries Canada, and more particularly, Rachel Vroege, Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada. “This theme of wellness and healing in a time of isolation spoke strongly to me, both personally and as a coach to deacons and churches,” Rachel shared. “As people in our neighbourhoods and church communities grapple with the disruption of food supply lines, jobs and schools, family and social connections due to the novel COVID 19, it has become very apparent that we need to find creative and persistent ways to take care of ourselves and others.”

In her work with deacons, Rachel reminds them of Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable, and even more so now, as the COVID pandemic has revealed the gaps in our society’s ability to care for the addicted, the elderly, and refugees. 

“My hope for this year’s DOE,” Rachel explained, “is that every person will continue to learn more about how to care for themself and others from those working in the areas of spiritual and mental wellbeing.”

Another exciting change for this year is that as this conference has moved online, it has been opened up to deacons across the country who can now partake in the learning without the added cost or hassle of travel! “I really hope that the deacons who join us will hear a story that they can relate to, empathize with and address in their own ways in their own context,” Jesse noted. 

This year’s online DOE is taking place on Saturday, November 7, from 10am to 2pm Mountain Time (12-4pm EDT). To see a full list of speakers and to register for this free event, visit the Eventbrite page. OR to find out more, visit Diaconal Ministries’ website or email dmc@crcna.org.