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Owned by the Deacons

Posted by | Equipping Deacons, Uncategorized | One Comment

Ever wonder how an organization starts? Well sit back and take a walk down memory lane with me…

Diaconal Ministries Canada had its early beginnings around 1998 at a Classis renewal gathering in Chicago. Canadian ministry leaders, and folks representing Diaconal Ministries Eastern Canada, Northern Alberta Diaconal Conference, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (now known as World Renew) and British Columbia Diaconal Conference, happened to be having lunch at a local Chicago restaurant. Discussions and conversations began, and soon there was talk about “what If… we form an umbrella (diaconal) organization from coast to coast? An organization that would be responsible for overseeing the training of deacons in the CRC from Vancouver BC. to Halifax NS?” Quite exciting stuff!

Since we were out for lunch, the only paper available was the napkins on the table. Soon these napkins became full blown flow charts with various arrows from east to west and west to east. They included circles, squares, even triangles.  Leader’s names were put in the various provinces so committees could be formed; with hope that one day these small napkins might evolve into a national organization.

It was an exciting time and after a few more years of discussions (and maybe some more napkin drawings), in 2001 Diaconal Ministries Canada was formally organized. It has grown to an organization that is the envy of many other CRC agencies.

There are approximately 20 Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMD), representing the 12 Classis across Canada, who take it upon themselves, with the help of staff, to train and build relationships with deacons coast to coast.

Have you contacted your DMD? Click here  to find out how

    -written by Gary Veeneman, DMD for Classis BC SE and NW

 

 

 

Creating Safe Spaces for Dialogue

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I remember that summer day when I was travelling with some friends in the US.  I was the only Canadian in the car and, as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, my friend proceeded to give me a short list of conversation topics to avoid during the meal.

You see my friend and his wife had pre-decided that they were going to avoid any topics that were sure to spark debate and highlight the presence of entrenched ideological divisions within the group.

I assured my companions that I was quite naive about America’s hot button topics and so would not knowingly threaten the delicate balance that was trying to be maintained.  I then proceeded to rave about how Canadians did not find themselves so polarized about such issues.  “In general,” I boasted, “we Canadians are able to agree to  disagree over a warm cup of Timmies and with a maple syrup smile.”

Alright, so that’s not exactly what I said, but you get the gist.

When I reflect back on that experience, I am embarrassed about how naive I was.  There were, in fact, Canadian specific issues that were creating deep-seated divisions among Canada’s citizens/nations. I just was not aware of them.

I think it’s now safe to say that Canadians are not immune to the social and political issues that are polarizing groups in the United States.  There is a prevailing climate of division around justice issues surrounding refugee settlement in       Canada, Islamophobia, and oil pipeline expansion.

The question is, how do people who are called to love their neighbours [and enemies] (see Matthew 5:44) engage in matters of difference, as opposed to avoiding them?  How do we create safe spaces in our church communities for dialogue to flourish with the hope that the division gap will become smaller?

Jeanette Romkema, Partner and Senior Trainer at Global Learning Partners offers the following fantastic tips in her blog, “Tips for Entering and Staying with Tough Dialogue.”

  1. Be genuinely curious.
  2. Don’t enter to “win.”
  3. Talk less, listen more.
  4. Use good questions for understanding.
  5. Ask head and heart questions.
  6. Be gentle.
  7. Prepare yourself.
  8. Stay humble.

I encourage you to read the whole article, so you can obtain practical ways to enter one-to-one dialogue with those whom you may be in disagreement with.

One-on-one dialogues are helpful, but I think the health of our church communities is at risk if we don’t    consider how we will create space for polarizing issues to be discussed.

The Quakers have the time-worn tradition of engaging in a community dialoguing technique that they call scrupling. This was and still is a way for Quakers to engage with a difficult problem or issue as a community.  “Scrupling is not an argument, a debate or a panel discussion – but a serious conversation to seek a way forward,” (Read more here).  It was the method used in 2010 to discuss the erosion of democracy in Canada by the Harper government and the method used a century prior when discussing slaveholding.

As a facilitator who regularly convenes people in learning spaces to discuss topics and issues that make most people cringe and uncomfortable, I know it is crucial to the health of a community for people to feel that they have a safe way and space to process the difficult issues  No matter how divisive those issues have the potential to be.  Not speaking about them can lead to the adoption of entrenched positions that over time fray our bonds to each other and encourage the dehumanization of “the other.”

Paul’s warning to the Galatians is timely for the North American church today: “but if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be consumed by each other” (5:15, ESV).  The remedy is love (see 5:14), and it is through speaking the truth in love, that the Body of Christ grows in maturity (see Ephesians 4:15).

To make a commitment to stay at the communication line and speak the truth in love, whether we find ourselves intimately connected to the issues or distant from them, is just one of the ways that we live as ministers of reconciliation and work towards authentic unity in our communities.  It is this authentic, gritty, non-conforming, diversity loving unity that Christ says will demonstrate to the world that He was sent from the Father (see John 17:21).

So in 2017, it is clear as day to me that Canadians do not agree to disagree with a maple syrup smile.  What is not yet clear is whether Canadians and more specifically the CRC church, will respond to this growing climate of polarization with the age-old “nothing’s wrong here, everything’s fine,” or with compassion and a commitment to lean into the tough spaces.

Questions to Consider:

  1. How might not creating space for tough dialogue harm your congregation’s health, impact the wider community?
  2. What healthy and robust communication practices does your local congregation have for dealing with the difficult issues of the day?
  3. What can you do to encourage spaces for healthy dialogue in your church community?
  4. What resources/tools/support would you need to accomplish the above

– Bernadette Arthur, CRC Race Relations Coordinator

Urban Ministry Lectures

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CRC Campus Ministries (U of T) is partnering with Trinity College Faculty of Divinity, Wycliffe College, Young Street Mission and St. James Cathedral Centre to sponsor a lecture series led by Dr. Mark Gornik in Toronto on March 13 and 14, 2017.

Gornik is the author of a number of books including “To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City”; he is also founder and director of City Seminary of New York.

Click here for the poster detailing the events or visit this website.

DMC and World Renew Collaborate on “Helping Without Hurting” Workshops

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Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew have collaborated a number of times to lead an interactive “Helping without Hurting” workshop, most recently in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

At that event, DMC’s Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) in that region, Jean deBeer felt that participants “left the workshop enriched and challenged to ask themselves if [the ministry] they were doing or supporting was ultimately something that provided more than just the immediate relief of a perceived need, but actually something that is relationship-building and inclusive to community.”

Jean feels “quite passionate about issues relating to poverty” and was determined to clear any barriers in order to bring the workshop to Saskatoon. She also felt the timing was right. A few years ago, Jean, along with her fellow DMDs, had been given the book When Helping Hurts to read and discuss at the annual DMD gathering.  “It definitely stuck with me,” says Jean. Because of her conversations and meetings as a DMD with the deacons of Bethel CRC and Sonlight CRC, she also perceived that it was the “right time” for them all to learn more about how to address poverty.

World Renew’s Co-director Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo and DMC’s National Director Ron Vanden Brink facilitated the workshop, which was attended by members of the CRC, and the local Mennonite, Catholic and Baptist churches.  Participants were challenged to engage their community, considering assets and not just needs. One church was hoping to take what they learned and do a Community Opportunity Scan. Overall, the workshop was informative and challenging. As Jean put it, “we are all more aware of the need to go beyond providing immediate relief!”

The next workshops are scheduled for March 2, 2017 at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, BC. and March 4, 2017 at East Hill Community Church in Vernon, B.C.

Churches invited to be part of the Restorative Justice Process

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community | No Comments

Restorative justice, in its simplest form, is the attempt to make things as right as possible between victims, offenders, and the wider community when some harm or crime happens.  But what does that look like for those of us who work mostly with offenders, the folks who’ve hurt others or caused some sort of harm to others?

Most of my work is with men and women who’ve done federal prison time, and are transitioning into the Edmonton area.  They are trying to write new chapters for their lives, to walk new paths, to live in ways that are not defined by their pasts.  What does it for them to “make things as right as possible”?

Part of the answer, I think, is for faith communities and churches to create safe, welcoming spaces for folks leaving prison.

Every other Saturday, I facilitate a men’s group that usually consists of about a dozen men who’ve done time, and a dozen volunteers who want to support their reintegration. The group provides the space for our friends to explore a new identity, a new story for themselves – one that is not defined by crime, past abuse, or poor decisions.  Rather, through discussions, outings, and – most importantly – eating together, the men who attend can start to heal, seeing themselves as people with a new future.  They can start to ask what it might mean to make things right with the people they’ve hurt.  And when they mess up or take a few steps back, our group is there to pick them up again.

Churches and faith communities are just the sort of places capable of providing this sort of community.  It can be as simple as connecting with a local prison chaplain, reintegration chaplain, or community support program and asking where to begin.

Another important way to empower offenders to “make things right” with the wider community is to give opportunities for them to give back.  Are there jobs that we can offer to former inmates as they make a new start, so that they can provide for loved ones, support themselves, be part of a healthy workplace, and contribute to the wider community?  Are there volunteer opportunities that churches or their partners can offer, so that they can be givers and not just service-recipients?

Finally, churches and faith communities can make space for former inmates in their pews (or folding chairs or coffee shop benches).  Many former inmates long for a sense of belonging.  Churches can offer just that by the simple act of inviting them to church on Sundays, for coffee afterwards, or for lunch at the nearby diner when church is over.  Those simple invitations can be an echo of Jesus’ invitation to “all those who are weary and heavy-burdened,” and can be an opportunity to journey with someone who – like all of us – needs a fellow pilgrim to join them on their way to making things right with those they’ve hurt.

-written by Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning (Rev), Reintegration Chaplain, Open Door Program (The Mustard Seed, Edmonton, AB)

The Open Door Program (participants and staff pictured above) is an Operation Manna partner.

 

Christmas Reflection from DMC’s National Director

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I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women! They’re His people, He’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”  (Revelation 21:3-5 The Message)

poemPastor Phil Reinders once wrote that Advent is a season of expectant waiting, tapping into the sense we have that all is not well, the longing for the world to be made right again.  It’s a season for restless hearts and people weary of a broken world who want, with all our being, to know there’s more than this.  (Seeking God’s Face.  p.23)  As deacons that’s where our hearts are at – longing to see the world made right – and doing all we can to join God where He’s already working in our neighborhoods – and around the world.

As we move to within a few days of Christmas – of incarnation day – of the day The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood (John 1:14 The Message), it’s my prayer that you will experience the Incarnation in a fresh and energizing way.  That no matter how busy you are – and no matter how many good works you’re involved with (Ephesians 2:10), and no matter how quickly the time flies by – you’ll sense God with you.  I pray that this Christmas you’ll pause long enough to experience the Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love that His presence in our world is supposed to bring.  And I pray that experiencing Jesus in this way will give you renewed energy – and hope – to carry on in 2017 knowing that there’s more than this!

-ron vanden brink

Willoughby CRC Hosts Play for Restorative Justice Week

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About 60 people gathered at Willoughby CRC (Langley, B.C.) on Nov 19 to see a dramatic presentation of “Forgiven/Forgotten” that set the tone for Restorative Justice Week.  The event was facilitated by Willoughby’s Just-Faith Forum, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee and Trinity Western University’s school of the Arts, Media and Culture.

After the CRC in Canada (with its various partners) completed a 2-year study on the intersection of justice and faith in the Canadian CRC context, a one act play toured the country and brought the results of the study to life. Churches across Canada, like Willoughby CRC, responded in various ways to the tour.  Willoughby formed a JustFaith committee and, this Fall, helped to facilitate the production of the Forgiven/Forgotten play.

In this play, the talented cast of four with the traveling theatre company, Theatre of the Beat, engaged the crowd with a dramatization of what ordinary people experience when someone incarcerated returns “home” from prison.   The complete human drama of returning to society is usually unspoken and disregarded in our society, but it gripped us intimately that evening as it became real on the stage.

Through the actors’ dramatization, it became clear that sending someone to prison doesn’t do justice to the needs of the human beings involved; rather, it harms. The script is outlined: “Torn between compassion and their fear of the unknown, a church is thrown into turmoil upon hearing that an offender will be serving his parole in their community.”  It is precisely the human dimension of justice that is neglected by the formal criminal justice system.  Crime in our society is regarded as a legal offence against the state by having broken its laws; how people, even victims, are harmed, and who should meet their needs is not central to our present justice system. Restorative justice provides a different way.

The ripple effect of an incarceration and the impending parole disturbs the well-being of a human community.  The actors poignantly represented a variety of human reactions and unspoken fears. The wife of the prisoner struggles to keep her needs and situation secret as she desires church fellowship. Her desire to hide the fact that her husband is coming home from prison is made complex by her desire for normalcy in her young son’s life.  Church members, upon learning that the unknown prisoner husband will be coming to their community, anxiously confront their fears. The pastor wrestles with his theology as the gospel becomes personal.  Restorative justice calls for meaningful human response, the affirmation of each person’s worth, and for inclusion.

This play gets beyond the rhetoric of headlines and explicates the community drama behind the scenes of the prison and release experience.  It clearly shows the importance of restorative justice.  Although it is not necessarily without some pain as personal feelings and biases are faced, it is a ministry that brings reconciliation and needed community support for the prisoner and his/her family.

-written by Henry Smidstra, organizer of the Forgiven/Forgotten play (italicized paragraph added for context)

For more on restorative justice, click here.

Blyth Deacons partner for the good of the community

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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)