About 35 participants from churches and Christian schools across British Columbia recently participated in a three-day conference teaching restorative practices, including the skills needed both to prevent conflict and to address conflict in healthy ways when it does arise.
“Attending this conference has had a significant impact on my approach to leadership,” said Daniel Roukema, pastor at Bridge Community CRC in Langley. “I did not anticipate how restorative justice practices can be implemented almost immediately in so many different church settings: council meetings, congregational meetings, catechism classes, ministry leaders meetings, small group discussions. It really does come down to a way of ‘being’ together.”
The event, which took place at Willoughby CRC in Langley, was in part a response to Synod 2005’s recommendation that restorative justice practices be employed by local churches. (Synod is the annual leadership meeting of the CRC.) This event was sponsored by several CRC groups: BC Safe Church Team, Diaconal Ministries Canada, the Office of Pastor Church Relations, and the Office of Social Justice. Attendees came from about 15 Christian Reformed churches as well as several other denominations and Christian schools.
FaithCARE, which stands for “Faith Communities Affirming Restorative Experiences,” is a program of Shalem Mental Health Network, an interdenominational organization that first brought the training to churches in Ontario in 2007. The seminar was facilitated by Bruce Schenk, Canadian director of International Institute for Restorative Practises, a FaithCARE partner.
“Practices that nourish healthy, honest, respectful, noncombative human relationships are what restorative practices are all about,” explained Henk Smidstra, a member of the local organizing team. “It is about speaking the truth in love and creating shalom, about nourishing healthy congregational life.”
Joel Melissen, an assistant principal at Surrey Christian School, was motivated after the conference to find ways to incorporate what he learned into his school community. “I was encouraged during the seminar about the possibilities that exist around how restorative practices can be used proactively as a way to build a strong community instead of just [using them] reactively when responding to conflict.”