In June 2016, the Christian Reformed Church in North America released its new ministry plan,“"Our Journey 2010," which lays out goals for denominational agencies and congregations in their callings and ministries. As part of the ministry plan, the CRC is sharing glimpses of ministry occurring in congregations across North America. Recently CRC news reporter Chris Meehan took a short journey to see how the CRC is joining with God to do ministry in southern Ontario. Here is the first of his reports.
Devon Davis was shooting darts a while ago in a local bar when someone told him about the weekly Stone Soup Dinner at the nearby Destination Church. At this meal, everyone brings something to contribute toward the dinner and eats together.
It sounded good, so he decided to check it out.
Asking around, Davis learned that the person to talk to about the meal was Beth Fellinger, the pastor of the church, which is located on the main street of town in a building with a checkered history, including time as a bar and strip club.
“I ran into Beth and started talking to her. I went to the dinner, but a lot more happened: my life changed,” said Davis, who lives with disabilities.
Like many people who call this church home, he says he has found hope and the ability to keep going, even after the recent deaths of his parents.
“I love coming in here now and listening to her messages on Sunday. They really hit you and get under your skin. You get good feelings and ideas from them,” he said.
Fellinger, who started new churches in other denominations before joining the CRC, founded Destination more than six years ago with the help of Fellowship CRC and Christian Reformed Home Missions. From the start, this ministry in St. Thomas, Ont., focused on meeting the needs of people such as Davis who live in the immediate community.
Hit by poverty and unemployment, St. Thomas has some industry, said Fellinger, but several business have closed or moved on. At the same time, the city is working at redevelopment, especially in rebuilding its historic train depot, and central city area is coming alive again.
“We knew that planting a new church in the traditional style of a church building on the outskirts of downtown wouldn’t do us any favors here where we are in St. Thomas,” said Fellinger as she took a break for lunch on the day of the Stone Soup Dinner.
“We wanted to create a DNA that would honor Reformed theology and at the same time honor the times we are living in and the community in which we find ourselves.
“We wanted to add value to people’s lives, to be a spoke in the wheel and bring Jesus to the center of the city.”
The former bar has been refurbished with a bamboo floor, new windows, glossy wood walls, a platform for worship, and artwork from church members.
During the week, tables line the walls, and on Sundays they are pulled out and placed in front of the platform for the service that includes lively music.
“In coming here, we were joining God in what he was already doing,” said Fellinger. “We are also doing whatever we can to help the people.”
Destination holds a farmer’s market every Saturday, provides space for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, teaches people life skills such as how to dress and prepare for a job interview, offers debt counseling, and provides a group for single moms.
“It’s important to see that the journey the CRC is taking has led to ministries such as this,” said Fellinger. “We are a ministry that builds relationships with people where they are. God is working in everyone who walks through our doors.”
Eva Kuhn, who struggles with depression, was sitting at a table that afternoon with her young adult son. They come in here often, just to be together and to talk with others.
Before becoming a part of Destination, Kuhn had tried different denominations, including a Catholic and a Baptist church.
“When I went there, I just felt a void,” she said. “But from the first day I came in here, I fell in love and thought this is where I have needed to be all of my life.”
Fellinger’s smile and upbeat personality were “like a ray of sunshine,” said Kuhn.
“Something clicked, and so I kept coming here. . . . To help out, I hand out bulletins on Sunday morning. I help in the kitchen and clean up.”
Her faith in God has been renewed at Destination Church, and she says, “I feel like I’ve grown. I used to be afraid just going down the street, and now I don’t feel afraid anymore. Something has been lifted.”
Roy Heikamp said he grew up in a distant city in a “stodgy old Christian Reformed Church, and . . . didn’t like it.” A couple years ago, after losing his job in a furniture store when he was sick with cancer, he got connected with Destination Church.
He does odd jobs around the church and likes playing euchre at a table with friends during the day at Destination. Taking time to pray alone and with others and to worship are also important.
“We are an outreach church. We reach out to help people come to faith. People come in grieving and drunk and in pain, and we try to give them God,” said Heikamp.
George Cutney, who helps with the Stone Soup Dinner and does other jobs, recalled going to another church where people were nice enough on Sundays. But outside of church, when they saw him on the street, they often looked away, as if they didn’t know him.
“I guess I wasn’t good enough for them,” he said, taking a break from helping prepare the weekly dinner. “But here [at Destination] they are open to people of all walks of life who can come in and have a cup of coffee and get warmed up and talk about God if they want to.”
Also, he said, when people from the church pass him on the street, they smile and say “Hello.”
As the afternoon moved toward evening, Devon Davis stood at the door and greeted people coming in for the Stone Soup Dinner, the weekly event that first drew him to the place.
Stocked with various ingredients that people donate for the meal, the Stone Soup Dinner draws its name from folk tales about people who don’t have enough food for a meal but can bring a bit of food that they do have to help make a meal for everyone.
Also, said Davis, he’s been told that the practice has a connection to a Bible passage, Ezra 1:6, which says, “All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.”
“To me, this is a fun church that is for everyone,” said Davis. “I don’t know of any other church that is open through the week like this one is. People who get beat down in their life for some reason can come here and ask for help.”
It’s sort of like the Stone Soup Dinner, he said; people bring what they can and share it at Destination, and God provides the rest.
Watch a Home Missions video about the church: Destination CRC.