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From Vancouver Island to Prince Edward Island, from young adults to retirees, about 200 people traveled to Waterloo, Ont., last weekend to talk about how to do ministry as the Christian Reformed Church in Canada. Participants from 12 classes (regional groups of churches) were joined by many denominational staff members.

The weekend provided opportunities for participants to share stories of local ministry and for denominational personnel to hear how those stories relate to the denomination’s new ministry plan. The Canadian gathering is one of four leading to a binational gathering planned for August 2017.

Elly Boersma, 29, and Chris de Winter, 33, came from St. Catharines, Ont. Both expressed a desire to learn about how the denomination is helping local churches. Richard Wikkerink, 50, of Ancaster, Ont., echoed that desire. “I came to learn more about direction of the denomination as it relates to the local church,” he said. “I want to take back a larger story of the denomination and the great resources that are coming to us.”

Victor Chen, 70, is from Richmond, B.C. “I came hoping to hear stories that would inspire me and my congregation to be better ambassadors for Christ. There are many diversities across Canada and we need to use those diversities to further the kingdom.”

Ministry of the local church was central to the conversation. Glenn Smith, part of the CRC’s Mission Montreal, noted the ministry context of a very secular country. “It is virtually impossible to publicly believe in God. This is the Canada we live in,” he said. “It shows up in hyper individuality, hyper sexualization, hyper consumerism. No church can think about mission without taking that seriously. Local congregations have been shoved to the sidelines of life. When we embrace Canada, we need to think about that change.”

Michelle Visser-Wikkerink shared stories from her work as director of the CRC’s Indian Family Centre in Winnipeg, Man. She told of the many ways she was mentored by people who had been in jail, people with addictions, and people who live on the street in learning how to minister in her local context. “They were the message, I was the stranger. They fed me, they clothed me, they invited me in,” she said.

She explained the tradition of a Native circle, drumming four times and asking everyone to pray facing in each of the four directions. She explained the significance of eagle feathers and passed around bowls of tobacco. “[Tobacco] is the currency of thanks. You give it as a thank you, you give it as a covenant. If you accept the tobacco, you have said yes to what I ask,” she explained. She noted, “Just because the church may not understand the traditions of the Native community, that doesn’t make them wrong.”

As people gathered in groups, sometimes with people from across the country, and sometimes with people from their own region, they shared their stories.

“I’m so excited by the energy in this room,” said Kathy Vandergrift, who is just ending her term on the CRC’s Board of Trustees. “This is a launching pad, the beginning of a ministry plan that has lots of flexibility, a recognition that ministry in Canada needs to relate locally and regionally. What we do in the next three years is going to be very important. Grab this moment and make it work well.”

Canadian ministries director Darren Roorda said he hoped the event equipped and encouraged people to “be really contextual in their regions” and for participants to tell the denomination what they need to create healthy ministry.

Three U.S. regional gatherings are planned for the coming year. The first, with a multiethnic focus, will be held in June in Grand Rapids, Mich. In November another gathering, with a focus on servant leadership, will be held in Florida. The third, with a “glocal” theme, will be held in California in early 2017. The culmination of all the gatherings will be a binational event in Detroit, Mich., in August 2017.

Director of ministries and administration Colin Watson said that while the annual synod fills a governance function, these gatherings focus on ministry, collaboration, and mutual encouragement.

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