Reconciling, Restoring, Encouraging, Seeking Justice

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Specialized Ministries are an important face of the Christian Reformed Church. Together, these ministries help to bring about changes that reconcile people and restore communities.

Specialized Ministries address a variety of needs in the CRC: the quest for social justice and racial reconciliation, care for people who are abused or disabled, navigation of congregational conflicts, the support and development of chaplaincy ministries.

Everybody Belongs. Everybody Serves.

Disability Concerns works to ensure that all people, regardless of their challenges, are able to participate in the life of the church.

The ministry encourages that participation in several ways, including writing materials for churches to help them better incorporate all people into the life of their congregation, says Rev. Mark Stephenson, director of Disability Concerns.

The office also advocates on behalf of people whose voice and needs the church might otherwise overlook.

“We affirm that everyone is created in God’s image, reflecting his nature,” says Stephenson.

One of Disability Concerns’ newer services is providing resources for serving the needs of people with mental illness. Such ministry can be frustrating, “leaving one with a feeling of powerlessness when it comes to ministry in these difficult situations,” says Rev. Randy Blacketer, pastor of Neerlandia Christian Reformed Church in Alberta, Canada.

Many pastors and other pastoral caregivers feel inadequate in caring for people and families who face challenges such as depression, bi-polar disorder, or eating disorders.

“There is a great deal of fear by other members of the congregation toward those with mental illness,” writes one pastor in a survey done by the office of Disability Concerns. “Erratic behavior can make it difficult for people to bond. . . .”

To help congregations enhance ministry to and with people who have mental illnesses, Disability Concerns formed a Mental Health Task Force, which has a number of resources available on its website: www.crcna.org/disability.

Since ministering to someone who has a mental illness can become  complex, the Mental Health Task Force has held conversations with representatives from the CRC’s other Specialized Ministries, including Safe Church Ministry, Chaplaincy and Care, and Pastor-Church Relations.

“With some issues, we can be more effective in our ministry with churches if we work together,” said Rev. Norm Thomasma, director of Pastor-Church Relations.

For example, sometimes a person with a mental illness may be either a victim of abuse or an abuser in a church, an area of concern addressed by the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry. And CRC chaplains receive extensive training in caring ministry—many work in the mental-health field.

“By talking and planning together, the hope and dream of our ministries is simply this: that churches receive additional help in dealing with complex and often difficult pastoral situations,” Stephenson noted.

—Disabilities Concerns and CRC Communications

Working on Behalf of the Abused

In a culture in which violence, disrespect, and abuse are far too common and reflected also in the church, Safe Church Ministry provides resources to fight against those forces and maintain healthy church environments.

Healthy churches proactively acknowledge the issues and work toward solutions. They have policies for preventing abuse and minister to victims and abusers with compassionate understanding, as well as with justice and accountability.

They take seriously claims of misconduct against a church leader and follow the procedures put in place to guide those affected through that extremely difficult situation.

In addition to abuse by church leaders, Safe Church Ministry addresses issues such as child abuse, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and teen dating violence.

 “It is our desire that all of our CRC church congregations be safe places; safe from any threat of abuse, where each person is regarded in light of their infinite value, where relationships are characterized by openness, honesty, and respect,” said Bonnie Nicholas, the new interim director of Safe Church Ministry.

“I covet your prayers as we together wrestle with the issue of abuse and its devastating effects on individuals and on our church communities.”

—Safe Church Ministry
and CRC Communications

Reaching Out in Los Angeles

Rev. Richard Jones was impressed by the racial solidarity he experienced when he attended his first Multiethnic Conference, in 2009, as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.

The CRC’s Office of Race Relations holds the conference biennially just before synod, the annual leadership meeting of the CRC. A former Reformed Church in America and African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, Jones was then settling into a new position as pastor of Los Angeles Community CRC. He wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference, but he enjoyed it from the start.

“It was a privilege to attend. It was so good to see people from all over the church,” said Jones. He left the conference full of excitement for expanding the ministry of his congregation.

Jones said he has always harbored concern for those who live in the neighborhoods around his churches. But the conference, and especially resources from the Office of Race Relations, really helped him to focus his energy when he got back home.

“We often think of diversity as being between blacks and whites, but it is so much more,” he noted. “There are people of many nationalities who live in the neighborhoods around our church.”

Jones ministers in an area where gangs are a menace and many families struggle to pay their bills. Also, his church and the surrounding community have had an influx of Spanish-speaking people.

“We need to understand people’s worlds,” he said. “We may be alike, but how we understand God is different.”

Members of his church reach out to the Los Angeles area by cleaning up trash and helping to paint houses, among other works of service.

“Many people struggle with us Christians not representing Christ very well,” Jones said. “We need to remember that we are one in Christ. It is a sad testimony if we can’t get along.”

Rev. Esteban Lugo, director of Race Relations, said Jones is a wonderful example of the type of church leader with whom his office works. He is one of the people of color who have joined the CRC and are working to expand its horizons, Lugo said.

Jones said his approach is simple: “We’re all trying to get to the same heaven. Because we are saved, we know that is where we are going. Now let’s get busy and get out there and take on the challenges.”

—Office of Race Relations
and CRC Communications

Tapping the Power of Stories

What is the power of a story?

Every society known to history has used storytelling as a way to entertain, to remember lessons of the past, and to transmit values into the future. Socrates, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. all knew and used the power of stories to elicit lasting thoughts and responses. Every good speaker, leader, or persuader knows the power of story to penetrate the mind and touch the heart.

Rev. Ron Klimp, director of the CRC’s Chaplaincy and Care Ministry, says it is his conviction that chaplains have “some of the greatest stories never told.”

Chaplains are often in the presence of great drama (human crisis and trauma) and great transitions (from despair to hope), he observes. 

“They are often blessed with the opportunity to walk with pilgrims through the valley of the shadow of death into the light and hope of a new day,” Klimp said. “Their fellow journeyers don’t always get well, get rich, or get free; but they often come to a place of new understanding, peace, and power by regaining a spiritual hope that transcends all the darkness around them.”

If you haven’t heard a chaplain’s stories, it may be because you haven’t asked—or because the chaplain failed to recognize the power of those stories. “We are aiming at fixing that,” he said.

A workshop at this year’s annual CRC Chaplains Conference, titled “Stories Matter,” was led by Michael Kelly Blanchard, musician, songwriter, and storyteller; and David Blauw, an RCA chaplain from Holland, Mich. Their message helped chaplains to understand the power of stories and learn how to craft and tell their stories more effectively.

Klimp urges churches to invite a chaplain to tell his or her story sometime in the near future (maybe on Chaplaincy Sunday, the second Sunday in November). “Be prepared to gain a whole new appreciation for the amazing job that our chaplains are doing to touch the hearts of the secular world—non-Christian, pre-Christian, or post-Christian—with the love of our amazing God,” Klimp said.

— Chaplaincy and Care Ministry

Two Ministries Work Toward Excellence

Each year the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence and Sustaining Congregational Excellence programs, sometimes in conjunction with the Office of Pastor-Church Relations, put on educational events across Canada and the United States. The events give pastors and ministry leaders opportunities to share best practices, learn from each other, and join together for encouragement and renewal.

Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) is geared toward supporting and enhancing the ministry of pastors and their spouses. Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE) provides grants to help churches develop ministries that can bolster the health and vitality of Christian Reformed congregations.

Through presentations and activities the learning events focus on healthy congregations. One main presentation this past year centered on hospitality. Rev. Cecil Van Niejenhuis, pastor-congregation consultant for Pastor-Church Relations, walked attendees through the Bible as they explored how important hospitality is to a congregation’s health.

Pastor Couple (pastor and spouse) Learning Events occur once a year. Pastor-Church Relations staff facilitate the two-day Sustaining Pastoral Excellence events.

Sixteen couples engage in conversations about transitions in life and ministry—a topic that seems to resonate for couples navigating change as part of their life call. The events include open and honest group discussionsand periods of couple time. 

When asked their opinion on the best part of the retreats, couples have responded, “Being forced to talk about/look at issues and topics we would not so quickly discuss or study on our own.” Or, “The mood was great for making people feel comfortable.”

Over the past seven years, Pastor-Church Relations has written two training tools to assist pastors and ministry leaders in their work. The third edition of Toward Effective Pastoral Mentoring was published by SPE in 2008.

This tool is for mentors (those experienced in ministry) to use in mentoring relationships with those new to ministry.

Evaluation Essentials for Congregational Leaders came out in 2010. It assists congregations as they explore evaluations for pastors and other ministry leaders. In 2012 a guide will be published on how to handle the search process for a new pastor from beginning to end. All of these resources are free. See www.crcna.org/pastoralexcellence for details.

Pastor-Church Relations, Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, and Sustaining Congregational Excellence have appreciated as Specialized Ministries in working together to foster health in pastors, ministry leaders, and congregations.

—Norm Thomasma, Pastor-Church Relations, and Lis Van Harten, SPE-SCE

Seeking God’s Justice

Working in a powerful way, though often in the background, the CRC’s Office of Social Justice (OSJ) strives to “strengthen and focus the justice lens of the CRC,” says Peter VanderMeulen, director of OSJ.

OSJ bases its mission on Isaiah 1:17: “Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of the orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”

It works to promote change—true justice in God’s world. It both tackles and offers information on tough issues: immigration reform, women’s rights, care for creation, restorative justice for victims of crimes, and peace in the Middle East.

For example, OSJ has asked supporters to send a card for peace in the Holy Land to Canada’s prime minister and to give public witness to their belief in the shared call of Christians to be peacemakers, a role that can mean participating in great feats as well as taking everyday actions to live peaceably and encourage peace.

“The OSJ is here to support you and encourage your congregation as you seek justice—by offering worship resources, education, advocacy, and especially, support for those seeking justice,” VanderMeulen said.

—Office of Social Justice
and CRC Communications

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