On Saturday October 28, more than 200 people gathered at Clearview Christian Reformed Church in Oakville, Ont., to sing, create crafts, laugh, and give God “Every Praise” at this fall’s Friendship Festival. It was a day filled with excitement, vibrant worship, games, food, storytelling, and fellowship.
Jacqui, a friend who attends the Friendship group at First CRC Guelph (Ont.)—one of hundreds of church groups bringing together adults with and without disabilities in friendship—really enjoys the annual event and has attended seven times. “I love all the singing and just being with the friends all day,” she said.
Friendship Festival started in 2009 when Herb Goodhoofd, who worked with students with developmental disabilities during his years as a teacher, came up with the idea of bringing friends from nearby Friendship clubs together for a day.
The 2017 festival’s theme “Every Praise Is to Our God” was captured in chalk art by artist Elise Goodhoofd during worship. Attendees were encouraged to submit their name or a word that was incorporated into the piece.
Friends from various clubs shared their musical gifts. “I had a good time at the festival. I enjoyed handing out festival wristbands to people at the start of the day. I enjoyed Karina’s song,” said Joel Dickinson, a friend from Oakville who also participated in worship. “I played guitar and sang with Kevin and Herb at the beginning of the festival.”
“There is a freedom at an event like this: come as you are, worship how you want,” said Marlene Nirula, a Friendship leader at Clearview CRC. “There is no judgement, no awkward stares . . . sing, dance and join in. All to the glory of God.”
Friendship club leaders also had the opportunity to learn about the new Friendship curriculum Together in a seminar led by Friendship Ministries staff Tom VanWingerden and Heather DeBoer (formerly of CRCNA’s Office of Disability Concerns). Together is an inclusive Bible study designed to explore God’s Word with Christians of all ages and abilities.
“Attending a Festival is a great reminder that we are part of a larger ministry,” said Betty Druif, a Friendship leader at First CRC Guelph.
For Nirula, who has been part of Friendship clubs for 30 years and is also a member of the organizing team, events like these are important because they create a place where everyone belongs.
She describes an experience while working with another agency promoting belonging for people with disabilities, Christian Horizons: “I had a conversation with a mother (of a child with a disability) shortly after they arrived at Family camp. It was their first year at camp. She was overwhelmed by the welcome from the volunteers and was moved to tears. She told me, “Nobody has ever celebrated the arrival of my child before.” It was heartbreaking for me to hear,” explained Nirula, “I try my level best to take great delight in all of God's children and to let them know that they are rejoiced over.”