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Ministry Report in a Pandemic Year

December 23, 2020

Because of COVID-19 and other challenges, this has been a year of hardship and pain, a year of illness and struggle, a year of many changes and reevaluations, and a year in which the church has been reminded it has a broad mission not confined to any one place or time.

Leading to lockdowns and the need to stay at least six feet apart and to wear masks, the pandemic has caused us to question “many things we took for granted,” writes Colin Watson, Sr., executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, in the introduction to the CRCNA’s 2020 Annual Ministry Report.

“We have faced grief and loss. There have been financial hardships. We have debated and argued with each other,” Watson writes.

“But we’ve also been reminded that church is much more than a building or a collection of buildings. The church of Jesus Christ is a group of redeemed people on mission with God in the world.”

With that in mind, he writes, “We have found new ways to tap into the Holy Spirit, to discern where God is calling us, and to creatively pursue this mission.”

Watson suggests that we have needed to question what the church will look like in the future, how our world will rearrange itself, and what our place will be in it. Meanwhile, many of us have been asking how we should respond to the call of God going forward.

“What are the core things that we believe God has called us to do together, and how can we accomplish those things in new ways, given our current realities?” Watson asks.

And part of that reality is racism.

“In the midst of all this, we’ve also been faced with numerous instances of racial injustice and an increased call to do something about it. It has been a challenging year as we have navigated these difficult questions individually and corporately.”

Inviting readers to look over the reports from the CRCNA ministries, Watson states that — just as individuals and churches have had to do — the church’s agencies and offices have needed to adapt and rethink how best to do the work of God in 2020.

“I hope that as you read about ways that ministry has been reimagined in order to continue God’s kingdom work, you’ll see yourselves as key partners in all of it,” he writes.

Here is a snapshot of the many activities the CRCNA agencies and offices engaged in this year:

Back to God Ministries International

  • adopted a new name, ReFrame Ministries, that it will begin using in 2021.
  • reached 55 countries through radio, TV, and print and nearly every country online.
  • sent 233,000 devotional emails daily.
  • reached about 502,511 people with online videos every month.
  • cultivated a community of 7,000 prayer warriors.

Resonate Global Mission

  • saw more than 7,900 new believers come to faith in Christ.
  • supported 34 campus ministries that serve 42 different campuses.
  • provided many ministries and churches with training, coaching, resources, education, and funding.

Calvin University

  • added new master of arts programs in media and strategic communication, as well as geographic information science.
  • received a $22.25 million gift to launch the Calvin University School of Business.
  • received an $11 million gift that will deepen the institution’s commitment to teach from a Reformed Christian perspective and expand its ability to shape Reformed Christian thought and leadership around the world.
  • partnered with Calvin Theological Seminary to offer a series of more than 20 three-week courses that helped participants ages 17-90 from all over the world to think about what it means to be “A Christian Witness in a COVID-Shaped World.”

Faith Formation Ministries

  •  partnered with Disability Concerns to develop the Third Third of Life Toolkit, a collection of free online resources for ministry to and with people ages 55 and over.
  • hosted or participated in 103 workshops and events, in which over 200 churches were represented.
  • curated resource webpages to help families and church leaders adapt to new methods of church in a pandemic reality.
  • made the family faith formation resource Everyday Family Faith available in both English and Korean.
  • created many new Dwell at Home resources for family faith formation, including Jesse Tree: God’s Big Advent Story and God’s Big Easter Story: A Holy Week Journey for Families.
  • made Dwell Digital free to CRCs, allowing leaders to share lessons with parents during COVID-19 closings.

Calvin Theological Seminary

  • went online May 23, 2020, to celebrate 61 graduates who came from Brazil, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States.
  • held the third biennial Loving Your Neighbor Conference on July 6-7, 2020, focusing on “Forming Citizens of God’s Kingdom in Prison and upon Reentry.”
  • launched two fully online master of arts programs: MA in Ministry Leadership and MA in Bible and Theology. These join other Distance Learning options.
  • welcomed the first cohort of students to be accepted into the new Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree program, led by Dr. Danjuma Gibson and Dr. Geoff Vandermolen.

Worship Ministries

  • made 14 endorsed coaches available for one-on-one coaching, church consultations, or workshops, in person or online.
  • had 157 participants in attendance at the Church Sound Bootcamp, held in Byron Center, Mich.
  • granted 11 certificates in worship leadership to CRC worship leaders.
  • had 82 attendees at “Telling God’s Story: A Day of Learning and Inspiration for Worshipers, Leaders, Musicians, and Preachers,” held in Hamilton, Ont., and cosponsored by Worship Ministries and the Presbyterian Church of Canada.

Candidacy Committee

  • endorsed 60 persons as eligible for call as candidates (including 36 first-time candidates).
  • consulted and partnered with ministries and regional leaders in facilitating the ordination transfer of 15 persons who were previously ordained in other settings, and in the ordination of over 40 persons beginning work as commissioned pastors.
  • worked in partnership with Calvin Theological Seminary to refine the program toward candidacy in the CRC for those who attend seminaries other than Calvin Seminary.

Chaplaincy and Care Ministry

  • recruited and advised 275 students, pastors, and applicants for chaplaincy ministry, making six college and seminary visits and arranging 66 personal meetings.
  • assisted candidates through their education and/or specialized training.
  • provided continuing education through conferences, ministry updates, and shared information.
  • endorsed 12 new chaplains for ministry in institutions and organizations.

Pastor Church Resources

  • provided churches with direct assistance through the Financial Shalom program, which alleviates financial challenges facing CRCNA congregations and pastors.
  • created, through its Financial Shalom program in response to the pandemic, the CRCNA’s COVID-19 Church Engagement Fund.
  • sent grants to around 140 churches struggling to pay their bills.
  • saw that almost 100 churches accessed PastorSearch—a process that helps churches find pastors.
  • created the Crossroads Discernment Toolkit, a new resource available on the PCR website. This user-friendly resource can also be used by churches in any season of critical discernment.

Raise Up Global Ministries

  • hired Juan Sierra as Coffee Break program manager.
  • translated “Loving Your Neighbor in the COVID-19 Pandemic” into 23 languages and distributed this study to over 200 partner organizations so that thousands of people could safely put their faith into action.
  • helped eight Korean Coffee Break groups move to Zoom-based training online during the COVID-19 pandemic. English and Spanish workshops followed their lead and have planned monthly online workshops.
  • provided 269 Timothy Leadership trainings to 3,272 people in 36 countries.
  • provided 35 Educational Care trainings to 713 teachers in 12 countries.

Centre for Public Dialogue (Canada)

  • connected with Do Justice readers from every Canadian province and territory.
  • met with over 60 churches through workshops and presentations across Canada and has continued to connect with churches digitally during the pandemic.
  • interacted with more than 40 members of Parliament in meetings, public events, and correspondence.
  • cohosted a climate-awareness lecture series titled “Understanding Our Climate Crisis.”

Disability Concerns

  • continued to support its volunteer network of nearly 450 church and regional disability advocates as they work within their communities and congregations to create more accessible spaces — both attitudinally and physically.
  •  continued to build its social media presence to expand and strengthen its network of advocates and provide current information from the disability community.
  • worked with CRC and Reformed Church in America people who have no/low vision to develop resources to encourage others to create more welcoming and accessible spaces and events.

Office of Race Relations

  • consulted with 25 congregations seeking anti-racism assistance.
  • worked with seven classis leadership teams to increase awareness of and commitment to integrate race relations work in church mission.
  • expanded readership of the Race Relations newsletter.
  • restructured the Race Relations newsletter to provide most articles in Spanish and English.
  • cosponsored a Stand against Racism online event, attended by 122 participants.

Indigenous Ministry (Canada)

  • supported the celebration of Indigenous Ministry Sunday by approximately 150 churches across Canada, by compiling prayers, liturgies, and song lists.
  • facilitated 11 KAIROS Blanket Exercises and other workshops.
  • met with 576 people via mental-health counselors at the Edmonton Native Healing Centre. Food distributions included the provision of 484 food hampers and 2,016 bowls of soup on Wednesdays.

Office of Social Justice reported

  • over 11,000 advocacy actions taken.
  • 42 workshops in congregations on U.S. immigration.
  • 90 Climate Witness Partner churches addressing climate change and living by example as stewards of creation.
  • 317 churches supported with resources for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday worship services.

Safe Church Ministry

  • offered a Safe Church 2020 webinar series called “Connect, Collaborate, and Coordinate to End Abuse.”
  • increased the frequency of webinars in response to isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several were recorded to use as future resources.
  • offered online book studies on Ruth Everhart’s The #MeToo Reckoning and Chuck DeGroat’s When Narcissism Comes to Church.
  • helped to implement recommendations adopted by Synod 2019 regarding abuse of power.

World Renew reported that

  • 274,495 participants improved their lives through community development programs supported by 76 denominational and Christian partners in 1,226 communities and 21 countries worldwide.
  • 1,132,433 survivors of violence, drought, flooding, and storms benefited from disaster-response programs in 29 countries.
  • World Renew Disaster Relief Services contacted 994 disaster-affected households to assess their needs and repaired or rebuilt 214 damaged homes.
  • 147 refugees were resettled in Canada, and 42 sponsoring groups submitted new sponsorship applications for 178 refugees.