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COVID-19 and Coffee Connections

April 28, 2021

A big part of Rev. Lesli van Milligen’s work is to connect with ministry leaders about faith formation. She is the regional catalyzer for Ontario and Eastern Canada for the CRC’s Faith Formation Ministries (FFM).

With restrictions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, connections have had to move online for more than a year. Recently, van Milligen has been working on what she refers to as “C2P2” — the COVID Coffee with Pastors Project.

Van Milligen’s region covers Canadian provinces from Manitoba to the eastern seaboard, including Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. Classis by classis, she has been inviting pastors to meet virtually with her for coffee and to discuss their pandemic experiences and needs.

The invitation to coffee is mailed in a colorful bubble-wrap envelope that also includes a Starbucks instant coffee pouch, a tea bag, and a sticker of a Reformer or two (Calvin, Zwingli). In a note, van Milligen explains the reason for the stickers: they “highlight the idea that we probably all need a Reformer hanging around to remind us of the interesting opportunities being present to the church today.”

Each coffee visit lasts about 30 minutes. Van Milligen said she usually asks pastors two main questions: “What have you been learning in this pandemic ministry shift?” and “What resources do you need for support?” She added, “More often than not, I have the opportunity to pray for [these leaders], and I now know better how to pray for the congregations and the pastors of my region.”

So far, she has met with pastors from Classes Hamilton, Niagara, and Quinte, and she is working her way through Classis Eastern Canada. While this means of connecting is new with the pandemic, van Milligen is well known to the pastors and churches in her region. When she began her work, she said, she did coffee tours in person to check in and build denomination-church relations. Despite the change of venue, the response has been positive. “The check-ins have been a good way to make sure we are resourcing local congregations where they need it,” she said.

The challenges of the past year have brought not only pain and difficulty but also creativity, endurance, and new opportunities, she said. One story of hope comes from Hebron CRC in Whitby, Ont. Mark Jallim is a commissioned pastor and church planter at Hebron CRC. Making use of Hebron’s move to online gatherings, he has planted a church that is entirely online — Living Hope.

Another commissioned pastor at Hebron CRC, George Zhao, leads a Mandarin-speaking congregation, which has read the Bible together four times during the pandemic. They meet online every day except Saturdays to read the Bible as a community for 90 minutes.

“The Hebron CRC supports both of these ministries in a variety of ways,” shared van Milligen. “This is an interesting story of fruitfulness in the middle of the pandemic. These efforts represent the kinds of stories I have been gathering in my virtual coffee visits.”