Reconciliation with and justice for Canada’s native peoples provide the whole agenda at the Canadian National gathering of Canadian Christian Reformed delegates meeting on the campus of Algonquin College in Ottawa from May 25 to 28. This third national gathering of the Canadian CRC follows earlier gatherings in 2016 and 2019, for the purpose of celebrating, discerning and envisioning “bold next steps for the CRCNA in Canada locally, regionally, and nationally,” as described on crcna.org.
Delegates at the 2019 gathering decided that our church must focus on reconciliation and right relationships with Indigenous peoples as we hear the gospel call. Ministry staff followed up by organizing a Hearts Exchanged workshop program, an eight-month commitment to co-learning, which included participating cohorts from every Canadian classis in 2020, 2021, and 2022. The CRC Canada Ministry Board (formerly called the CRC Canada Corporation) decided to build on the momentum of Hearts Exchanged by organizing the 2023 Canadian National Gathering around the Hearts Exchanged theme.
Al Postma, transitional executive director for the CRC in Canada, described it this way in a post about the gathering’s theme: “Entering into a journey of reconciliation is not only important in itself, it also builds capacity for all of us to live into the variety of ministry opportunities God is calling us into our own contexts.” The team organizing the gathering anticipates that the “belonging and reciprocity (experienced at the gathering) will inform their work in other areas,” he said.
About 150 people will participate in the National Gathering this year, with 10 people sponsored by each Canadian classis. Classes were asked to nominate four delegates (Classis Lake Superior, which is bi-national, nominated two and sponsored five), while the remaining delegates were invited based on their participation in the Hearts Exchanged workshops, or chosen for their knowledge and expertise as people from under-represented groups—Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
National gathering registrants are coming to Ottawa prepared. They were asked to join and watch online presentations, respond to challenges and questions, and meet in small groups by Zoom to get to know each other and respond to what they had heard and seen in the online presentations. During the months of March, April, and May, registrants from the same or adjoining regions met by Zoom every few weeks, roughly 15-20 hours of preparation time.
When in Ottawa, delegates will attend five plenary sessions, including “Theology in the 21st Century” by Ray Aldred, director of the Indigenous Studies program at the Vancouver School of Theology; 12 elective breakout sessions that include art, music, and deeper discussions about trauma, reciprocal mission, and right relationships and responsibility; a concert with artist Jonathan Maracle; and three circle conversations, where participants will hear and share on an equal footing. They're also expected to determine how to share their Hearts Exchanged experience with their home congregation and classis. The third circle conversation will focus on that.
The gathering’s 60-page program lists the following as sources of support: “Ministry Shares; CRC Classes across Canada; CRC agency and ministry sponsors including the CRC Extension Fund, Diaconal Ministries Canada, Resonate Global Mission, ReFrame Ministries, and World Renew; external partners including Citizens for Public Justice, The Micah Centre, and NAIITS (originally North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies and now called NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community); generous individual donors; and (participants) via your registration fees.”