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Hearts Exchanged at Calvin Seminary

October 25, 2023

A new course offered at Calvin Theological Seminary aims to help prepare ministers in the Christian Reformed Church to participate more fully in the journey of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

“Truth, Reconciliation, and Hearts Exchanged: A Canadian Model” is being offered to students at Calvin Seminary for the first time this fall. The three-week intensive course began Oct. 16 and will run through Nov. 3 as part of the seminary’s Lifelong Learning Continuing Education Program. The course is provided online, with four live video “class” sessions to facilitate interaction among students and presenters, and with online content to review between sessions.

Hearts Exchanged has been offered regularly across Canada since 2020 as a reconciliation program designed to equip Reformed Christians to engage with Indigenous people as neighbors and fellow imagebearers of God. Open to anyone in Canada with a connection to the Christian Reformed Church (congregations, partnered ministries, or schools), Hearts Exchanged is normally an eight-month learning journey with monthly sessions and self-guided online learning and small-group discussions between sessions.

Content was designed in consultation with Indigenous leadership and relies on Indigenous ways of knowing, said facilitator Cindy Stover,  a justice mobilizer with CRCNA Canadian Ministries who helps to lead both the regular Hearts Exchanged learning journey and the seminary course.

The course offered at Calvin Seminary this fall is intended to be a concentrated version of Hearts Exchanged, she noted, and it uses much of the same content focused on decolonization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

At the same time, she said, “It's different in that it's aimed at seminary-level students, so there are more in-depth readings from relevant texts and theologians. . . . We've also framed the content following the trajectory of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and we are considering this pattern through the lens of Indigenous peoples' relationship with Creator God.”

Shawn Brix, Calvin Seminary’s Canadian church relations liaison, participated in the Hearts Exchanged journey and became convinced that its content would be helpful to seminary students, so he began the conversation to bring a modified version to Calvin Seminary.

“Since the release of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015, much of the national conversation in Canada has been centered on the tragic legacy of colonialism and, in particular, the residential school system,” explained Brix. “As the official seminary of a binational denomination, Calvin Seminary wants to ensure it is forming leaders who are prepared to engage the important cultural issues of the day in both Canada and the U.S.”

In addition to equipping students for engagement in reconciliation and justice, the course is also the seminary’s response to a specific call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said Brix:

Call to Action 60 challenges theological seminaries ‘to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.’”

Four Canadian students are enrolled in the course at Calvin Seminary this fall. Brix hopes the seminary can offer the course again, noting that a number of factors are involved in course offerings. As a fall elective, the current course was available mostly to students, but in the future, Brix said, the seminary may also run it as a summer offering so that pastors and other ministry leaders can take advantage of it as a continuing-education opportunity.

Rebecca Hall, a student in the course this fall and a pastor at Woody Nook CRC in Lacombe County, Alta., said, “Hearts Exchanged is helping me, as a pastor, equip our congregation to continue in Christ's call to reconciliation. I have been enriched in this course by learning about the God-given wisdom in Indigenous ways of thinking.”

The course is important to the education of seminary students and pastors, said Stover, because people doing ministry in Canada need to be aware of the history and context of the country, including harms done by the church in relation to Indigenous people and communities.

“We hope that the course will help to shape the ways in which current and future pastors lead their congregations toward building relationships of respect with Indigenous communities in their local contexts,” she added.