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Deacons Share Stories of Service at Synod Dinner

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Four deacon delegates to Synod 2024 who shared their stories of helping neighbors: Grace Miedema, Cherri LeForestier, Eric Tisch, and Elizabeth Koning.

A collection of pennies for a pregnancy center. A Thanksgiving basket for a refugee family that included lamb instead of turkey. Being a friendly face to a mother thousands of miles from home. Building a community refrigerator and food pantry.

These are all examples of the work deacons at congregations in the Christian Reformed Church in North America have undertaken to serve God and their neighbor. And they were all highlighted at the annual deacon’s dinner during Synod 2024.

Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. It met June 14-20 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

2024 was the first year where delegations did not have to send delegates from all three offices—minister, elder and deacon. Only 34 deacons were delegated to Synod 2024, and 15 classes did not send a deacon.

Cherri LeForestier, Classis Quinte, shared the story of an unusual collection at her church in Whitby, Ont., involving pennies that ended up helping a local pregnancy center. LeForestier was forwarded an email one day that had been sent by an anonymous congregant who said he collected pennies and was willing to donate 25 cents to the church’s deacons for every penny that was collected. Pennies had been removed from circulation in Canada in 2013.

“With the agreement of the donor, we aligned the penny collection with an offering series for one of our local community partners, a pregnancy help center,” LeForestier said.

A display was set up in the church’s foyer. The collection was promoted on social media. In six weeks, nearly 14,000 pennies were collected, weighing a total of 87 pounds.

“It was something everyone could participate in,” LeForestier said.

The anonymous donor counted the pennies and rolled them. After he was done, he stayed true to his word, writing a check for $3,500, which the deacons turned over to the pregnancy help center.

Elizabeth Koning, Classis Chicago South, spoke of an effort at her church to provide Thanksgiving baskets to local refugee families. Deacons from the church contacted a local refugee center to ask where families were coming from, and what would be fitting in their culture to receive in a basket.

“We put together a basket so that they would have a first or second Thanksgiving in the U.S. that was really festive but also recognized where they were coming from,” Koning said.

For example, in the case of a family from Afghanistan, they received lamb instead of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey.

Grace Miedema, Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan, shared an experience of befriending a refugee mother from the Congo who lived in her community who had nine children. She made regular visits to the family, helped with rides and helped some of the woman’s children find employment. Another church member helped the family find housing.

“You come with who you are,” Miedema told the gathered deacons. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people … whatever gifts you have, those are the ones you use.”

When Miedema and her husband moved, the family she had helped assisted in her move.

Eric Tisch, Classis Hamilton, shared about how his congregation built a community refrigerator and pantry that is connected to the church.

“We said to the church, it’d be a good opportunity for our congregants to actively put something in (the refrigerator) and for people to take something out,” Tisch said.

The story of the community refrigerator was picked up by a small newspaper, and then later by a much larger paper in Hamilton, Ont. As a result, other congregations contacted Tisch to find out how to start up a similar ministry. (For example, at Covenant CRC in nearby St. Catharines, Ont.)

“It really spurred on a lot of conversation in our classis about community fridges,” Tisch said.

The deacon’s dinner was organized by Jodi Koeman of World Renew and Mark Vanderwees of Diaconal Ministries Canada.

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