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“It was a fantastic problem! We had 40 moms with about 80 kids trying to find enough parking places—which our facility didn’t have,” said Pastor Martin Spoelstra of Discovery Church in Bowmanville, Ontario.

Members of the Tea and Tots group at Discovery Church in Bowmanville, Ontario.

Things have come a long way since September 2006, when the church first opened its doors in a residential community filled with young families. About 150 people come for Sunday worship services. Most of them are about 30 years old.

“The kids are coming in droves,” Spoelstra said. One of the reasons for the increase is the church’s new Tea and Tots play group.

Chantel Westerman, Discovery’s youth director, had gone to a nearby midwife center as she looked forward to the birth of her second child. There she began to make connections with other moms who were looking for a social outlet for themselves and their young children. That’s when the idea of Tea and Tots came to her.

Discovery received a Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE) Health & Renewal grant to launch the Tea and Tots ministry. The first gathering attracted eight moms with little ones. Just over two months later, 20 to 30 moms were coming each week to join church members and their children, building relationships and community.

“I have personally learned how lonely a world it can be for a lot of people,” Westerman said. “Tea and Tots has been a huge blessing in getting to know people, hearing their stories, offering prayers, and . . . opening our doors and being vulnerable to the community around us.”

Hospitality is also the focus of another SCE Health & Renewal grant project in Lincoln, Neb.

Northern Lighthouse CRC initiated the Bread of Life project, which fosters care and community in the congregation and with inmates from the local prison through Sunday meals.

“We see the value of hospitality as a biblical calling,” says Pastor Jeff Heerspink. “We realized the inmates were not getting lunch if they came to church and understood this as an opportunity for building relationships. People need and are desperate for community, whether they are inmates or not.”

The project means that “people do not need to rush off to eat as they can stay, go deeper in the Word, share experiences, pray together, and build relationships in small groups,” Heerspink explains.

SCE’s Health & Renewal (HR) grants encourage churches to think creatively about how they can nurture the health of their congregation and how they can impact their communities. Grants are awarded for projects a church designs for its particular ministry setting. Since no two settings are identical, each project is unique.

Funded projects have focused on leadership training, youth ministry, outreach through community gardens, small groups, prayer, worship, vision casting, discipleship, and more. If you have an idea and want to explore it, please contact the SCE office toll-free at 877-279-9994, ext. 2805.

Christian Reformed congregations with 150 or fewer active adult members are eligible for SCE programming. The deadlines for HR applications are June 1 and December 1. More information can be found at

Learning to Listen

Last fall three specialized ministries of the Christian Reformed Church began intentionally working together more closely.

The staffs of Safe Church Ministry, Pastor-Church Relations (PCR), and Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE) have been exploring how we can do more together.

In our conversations we have identified a common thread that runs through these ministries: We are intent on helping congregations live out hospitality, a key teaching of the Bible’s story. Hospitality is about creating space and making room in our lives for the sake of others. It’s about using our resources of time, space, listening ears, and seeing eyes. It’s about offering ourselves to others.

The office of Safe Church Ministry has been encouraged by the use of restorative practices such as the listening circle. These circles allow for conversations that, for many reasons, might not otherwise happen. Listening circles provide occasions for words to be spoken in grace and truth, and for participants to focus on hearing one another.

The gift of simply but honestly being heard can be a surprising taste of shalom. It also can begin the process of healing for broken relationships—making room for each other and nurturing an attitude tilting toward the other’s flourishing.

One of the consistent themes in the work of Pastor-Church Relations is viewing conflict as an opportunity to engage with others for listening and growth. Seeing differences as potentially enriching rather than instinctively threatening is a persistent refrain.

Recently Rev. Norm Thomasma, director of Pastor-Church Relations, participated in a joint leadership event sponsored by Classes Georgetown, Holland, and Zeeland. He focused on types of conflict and the ways in which conflicts might be opportunities for relationships to deepen as we make room in ourselves to hear what is being said.

Rather than posturing or making disagreements hurtful and personal, hospitable listening focuses on simply ensuring that we hear one another. It allows us to make room for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ while focusing our attention on issues.

Hospitality includes concrete activities such as providing meals and inviting others to join the circles within which we live; it also describes an attitude that is rooted deep in our spiritual core and deep in the heart of the triune God.

Healthy conversation and respectful deliberation are marks of hospitality—and marks of a church intent on becoming more and more like the God in whose image they are being renewed.

—Rev. Cecil Van Niejenhuis is pastor/congregation consultant with Pastor-Church Relations.

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