In her ministry, Rev. Mary Hulst preaches weekly, counsels and encourages others, and “jumps into a freezing-cold pond once a year.”
Hulst is the campus chaplain at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where jumping into the Calvin Seminary pond in winter is an annual tradition. She was also recently announced as a keynote speaker for Inspire 2019, a gathering of Christian Reformed Church leaders planned for Aug. 1-3, 2019, in Windsor, Ont.
Using what she has learned, especially from Calvin students, Hulst will be talking at Inspire 2019 about what it means for all generations to seek faith and “to be church together in the 21st century” — in a time of increasing diversity on many fronts.
As chaplain, Hulst serves the entire Calvin community, not just students but staff and faculty as well. And in her work, she does much more than listen. She tries to step into the world of others and be God’s presence for them.
“So I carry the sorrows of everybody with me, but I’m also very aware that I’m not able to fix them, and it’s a prompt toward prayer,” she said. “I say, ‘Lord, these are your beloved children; please take good care of them, and please help me to do my best on your behalf here.’”
Hulst points out, for example, that some 70 percent of Calvin students do not identify with the Reformed tradition; 50 percent graduated from public schools, and 24 percent are from countries outside North America.
“I’ll talk with one student who came here against his parents’ wishes because they are nonbelievers and do not understand why he chose a Christian college,” she said.
“Then I’ll have a conversation with a student who grew up as a pastor’s kid, watched the church beat up on her parents, and wants nothing to do with faith.”
While there is a lot of variety in the students she serves, said Hulst, she also sees commonalities. An increasing number of students are facing mental health challenges. Many are also deeply anxious about finding a job after they graduate. At the same time, though, many students have a deep desire to know how following Jesus matters in the real world, she said.
“This generation is not content with easy answers. They want to know why Christians aren’t leading the efforts to care for creation, or caring for refugees, or living in impoverished neighborhoods,” she said.
“They also want to know why we believe what we do. They live in a world with friends from all religions — why should they stay with Christianity, or ask their friends to follow Jesus?”
Older generations, she said, can learn from young people and their search for meaning and in striving as Christians to help make the world a better place.
“Young people want to be invited in. They have things to say. They have gifts to use. They are ready to take the mantle of leadership,” said Hulst.
“Showing them that the church is a viable institution that they can invest in and that will help them serve their world is crucial — and incredibly exciting.”
Hulst will be bringing to Inspire 2019 her experience, knowledge, and deep care for the concerns and challenges young people face, but she also brings congregational experience.
Prior to becoming a chaplain at Calvin in 2009, Hulst served as senior pastor at Eastern Avenue CRC, Grand Rapids, Mich., for eight years.
Thinking about her work, and that of other ministry leaders, particularly volunteers in the denomination, she realizes the needs that Inspire 2019 can help to address.
Inspire 2019, she said, will be a chance for all ministry leaders to take time away from their work, listen to thought-provoking speakers, attend workshops, and especially find renewal in meeting with others.
“Inspire lets us listen to each other, hear good ideas, and wonder about how we could take those ideas home and use them—it’s a great way to get refreshed before a new ministry year,” said Hulst.
“It’s also great to attend with others from your congregation so that you can spark good ideas in each other. Often it’s the conversations to and from these meetings and over meals that really bear fruit as we process and dream together.”
The denomination’s response to Inspire 2017, which drew over 800 CRC ministry leaders from across North America to downtown Detroit, Mich., Aug. 3-5, 2017, was overwhelmingly positive. In written evaluations, participants said they felt renewed and reinvigorated for ministry after participating in the event held at Detroit’s Renaissance Center.
In addition, there will be dozens of breakout sessions and workshops on topics covering congregational life.
The Inspire 2019 website says, “Whether you're a deacon, elder, Sunday school leader, Bible study participant, worship leader, mission team member, or community outreach coordinator, or you fill another role in your church community, you will find relevant workshops to help you in your ministry.”
Registration for Inspire 2019 will open on February 1. Participants coming from the United States are reminded that they will need a passport or enhanced driver's license to cross the border. For more information on the event, visit Inspire 2019.
On the CRCNA’s Facebook page about Inspire 2019, it says: “Inspire 2019 will be an exciting and uplifting three days designed for church volunteers and ministry leaders from Christian Reformed and Reformed churches across North America.
“Come, discover new resources that can benefit your congregation. Connect with people who are involved in similar types of ministry. Share your stories and learn from others.”