Representatives from Christian Reformed congregations across Canada met May 24-26 at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alta., for the Canadian National Gathering 2019. The event brought people from each of the 12 Canadian classes (regional groups of churches) to pray, discuss ministry in the Canadian context, and discern where God is leading the Christian Reformed Church in North America and how we can join the work he is doing.
Each classis was asked to send one representative for every two churches in their region, creating a space for voices from coast to coast, rural and urban settings, established and emerging churches, and a variety of congregational experiences.
The event was different from a typical conference in that there were no keynote speakers, and as Director of Canadian Ministries Darren Roorda pointed out, there were no thick agendas, motions on the floor, or votes.
While meetings that feature speakers and thick agendas have their place in the life of the church, he noted, this event was more about sensing God’s leading.
“I found the weekend to be very uplifting and encouraging,” Roorda said. “From a local church perspective, I think, we did very well as a group working through the material and hearing God's leading. I look forward to working with each classis group in preparation for the fall.”
Richard Bodini, a member of the planning team for the Gathering, agreed. He said he could tell from “watching the participants, listening to them work, interacting with them in the in-between moments, and reading their responses to their work,” that “National Gathering 2019 for the CRC in Canada was a success. I was humbled to read and listen to participants' responses. They played full out in their time of interaction. I witnessed the Holy Spirit at work throughout the weekend -- and certainly before and, the Lord willing, after.”
One example Bodini pointed to of the work of the Spirit was that the text chosen -- in 2017 -- for Saturday morning’s sessions was Ephesians 1:15-23. “Saturday night at supper, the BTGMI staff person came to me with a Today [devotional] booklet. The text for Saturday, May 25, was Ephesians 1:15-23,” he noted. “Not only were we reflecting on this text, but CRC homes throughout Canada and the U.S.A. were reflecting on it. So were the thousands who use the Today booklet in other languages around the world. God be praised.”
The theme of the weekend was “From Emptiness to Fullness,” guiding discussions in small groups and plenary sessions through the weekend from looking at challenges and shortfalls in the church to how the Holy Spirit may be leading us to fill these empty spaces.
A church service with Fellowship CRC in Edmonton modeled fullness in shared communion and a reminder that we are not our own, nor do we need to work in our own strength: we belong to God, who has created, saved, and equipped us to work with and for him.
The first plenary session Friday opened with an acknowledgment of territory, led by Harold Roscher, director of the Edmonton Native Healing Centre, recognizing that all Canadians live on treaty land that is home to Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit peoples. For the rest of the weekend, Roscher opened each session with drumming and a song of invitation to step into the river of life flowing from God’s throne.
Roscher’s presence and participation was significant as the CRCNA is learning to work for healing and reconciliation. “A woman came up to me after worship on Friday, saying through her tears that she had waited forty years to hear the call of the drum in worship,” said Roscher. “She thanked me, and I said to myself, ‘Thank you, Creator, for making me play the drum.’ I believe that moment will translate into other opportunities around Christian Indigenous worship and reconciliation within the CRC.”
In discussion groups, some challenges and areas for growth identified were the busy pace of life that can put church “on the back burner”; grace needed in LGBTQ and other matters of cultural change; membership and commitment questions; and how to show hospitality to newcomers and others not already in the church.
Strengths that were recounted included genuine care for people, financial generosity, a heritage of good theology, and a desire to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Several ways to move “from emptiness to fullness” emerged, such as staying connected as churches and as church members while also reaching out in welcome, creating safe places for tough discussions, involving youth and young adults in the life and leadership of congregations, sharing our faith stories, prioritizing prayer, supporting our congregational leaders, and continuously discerning and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Daniel Beimers of East CRC in Strathroy, Ont., part of Classis Chatham, shared an image that captured some of the challenge and hope many CRC congregations are facing. He suggested that when we put on the armor of God, we feel like we can do anything; however, we’re afraid to put it on because of what God might ask us to do.
He urged action, noting, “Whether it be five feet from where you are or halfway around the world, the Holy Spirit is going to take you where your skills and where your passion needs to be felt most, and where you are going to make the most impact for the kingdom of God. . . . If I’m experiencing God, he’s going to ask me to go along with him, and I cannot stay stationary if I want to be part of God’s work.”
In Saturday evening’s session, planning team member Brian Kuyper reminded participants, “The Holy Spirit is here. We invited him, but he was here before we got here.”
Kuyper added, “The work won’t stop here. Pray that we will take what God has done here this weekend back to our churches and classes. Pray that the work and its fruits will continue.”
Participants prepared for the Gathering for several months ahead of time, with suggested reading, devotions, and times of fasting. And now that the event has passed, their work changes, as they take their learning back to their classes and churches in presentations and discussions, helping to encourage and mobilize others.
Chris deWinter of Trinity CRC in Classis Niagara is a member of the CRCNA Canada Corporation of the Council of Delegates, the interim governance body that serves on behalf of synod. He added, “The Holy Spirit is at work in his church, calling us into new places . . . places we don’t know, perhaps, but places where the blessing of God resides. I’m really excited to see how the church responds to that call and how God blesses us as we respond to that call.”