From May 24-26, 119 participants representing every Christian Reformed classis (regional group of churches) in Canada and about half of Canada’s 263 CRCs, came together at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alta. This 2019 Canadian National Gathering was a follow-up to one held three years ago in Waterloo, Ont.
Every Canadian CRC congregation had been invited to provide at least one nominee to attend. Each classis then made a selection from the list of nominees, confirming their representatives in late 2018. Canadian ministries director Darren Roorda said the purpose was to provide “a time of spiritual discernment and reflection to determine bold steps for the next phase of ministry locally and nationally for the CRC in Canada.” Roorda was one of 40 denominational ministries staff, planning and worship team members and a couple of reporters supporting the Gathering.
The theme of the weekend, From Emptiness to Fullness, guided months of pre-Gathering homework. Starting in January, organizers invited participants to prepare by reading prescribed books, memorizing and studying scripture passages, and practicing spiritual disciplines—praying, fasting and meditation. Throughout the weekend, small break-out meetings and plenary sessions, even meals, were shaped around the theme. There was intercessory prayer for the gathering, both on and off site. Jeremy Benjamin, a Christian Reformed musician who has been on a cross-Canada tour, and a band of musicians from local CRCs led worship times. They were powerful and moving, on occasion causing a number of participants to weep.
Chaplain Harold Roscher, director of the Edmonton Native Healing Centre, one of three urban Indigenous ministries operated by the CRC, opened the session Friday afternoon with an acknowledgement that the land on which the Gathering was taking place was Treaty 6 territory, home to Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples. For the remainder of the weekend, Roscher helped open each session with drumming and leading a song of invitation—“an indigenous Christian expression of Christ’s call to come into his living stream that flows from his throne,” Roscher said—written by a Mohawk friend.
“A highlight for me was to drum with the worship team on my big drum,” Roscher said a few days later. As an indigenous man, Roscher said he recognizes the drum beat as a representation of the heartbeat of Creator God. “In 2003, I was not able to have it played in my ordination service [but now we have come] to a place at the national gathering where the heartbeat of the Creator has called many people to a new understanding of Christian indigenous worship. It was a good step on the journey of reconciliation with indigenous peoples.”
While there are many things to celebrate about the CRC in Canada, Friday’s sessions also involved participants reflecting and sharing hurts, anxieties, disappointments, and perceived shortcomings. This resulted in feelings of heaviness for many participants and led to expressed lament. Brian Kuyper, one of the planning team members, asked those assembled to kneel in a corporate confession and afterward, to stand open-handed, ready to be filled. But what do Canadians in the CRC hunger for? And what are the challenges and obstacles?
Prior to the Gathering, each classis had been surveyed for its hopes and desires for the Christian Reformed Church in Canada. The priorities were tabulated and arranged nationally and locally with the five most commonly mentioned ones guiding discussions in the various breakout groups. For example, the survey identified a need to refocus attention on prayer and other spiritual disciplines as the church carries out its mission at the local, regional and national level. Another identified priority was ensuring that the CRC and local congregations become places that reflect the cultural, ethnic, age and ability diversity of our communities and country.
On Saturday afternoon, each classis group was asked to report one key thing it felt God urging it to do. Participants were then encouraged to speak to their church councils and pastors when they return home, preparing for Fall classis presentations. Roorda, as Canadian ministries director plans to attend each of these.
“The work you’ve done won’t stay here,” Kuyper said. “I hope your classis will listen and will try to implement what we (and God) have done this weekend.”
The gathering culminated Sunday morning with an exuberant combined worship service and communion with Edmonton’s Fellowship CRC.
Hilda VanderKlippe, participant from the Village Church in Classis Niagara, captured the heart of the Gathering with her reflection on Mark 6, one of the prescribed scripture passages, that describes the feeding of the 5,000.
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You feed them.’ The disciples responded, ‘With what? It would take a small fortune to buy food for all this crowd!’” Said VanderKlippe, “As I reflected on this passage I felt God telling me that I am like the disciples. When faced with a big task, the disciples looked at their limited resources, and I often do that, too. Jesus knew very well that the disciples could not feed this large crowd, but he asked them to do it anyway. God-sized visions are always beyond our own resources. This forces us to rely on God instead of doing it on our own strength. As we go home, God will give us dreams and visions that are much beyond our capacity to bring about. Let’s give our few loaves and fishes to God and then watch him multiply them so that it will be enough [for the church] to do whatever he asks us to do.”