On June 7, CRC chaplains from around the United States and Canada gathered in Grand Rapids for the Annual Chaplains Training Conference. This year’s conference, Coming Home, was an opportunity for chaplains to come together, learn, have fellowship, and connect with their CRC family. Chaplains serve in a variety of challenging settings, such as hospitals, prisons, and the military, bringing peace and comfort to people in crisis. Their work is, at times, mentally and spiritually draining, so this conference was an opportunity for them to remove themselves from their daily challenges and reconnect with their roots.
This was my first conference (I started working in the Chaplaincy and Care Ministry office five months ago), and I had not met any of our chaplains, but even so this conference felt like coming home. Chaplains are incredibly patient, empathetic, and kind. They are non-judgmental, and very good at active listening. Even though I hadn’t met anyone, it felt like people knew and cared about me. This, I believe, is a chaplain’s most outstanding gift: the ability to shine hope and compassion, creating a safe space regardless of their surroundings.
The three-day conference consisted of seven different sessions aimed at continuing our chaplains’ education. Some were informative, such as the speaker from Beckett Law who came to speak on the religious liberty act. Others addressed challenges in chaplain ministry, such as disaster response or medical assistance in dying. Still others offered a return to one’s theological roots, discussing things like biblical hospitality. Each session was enlightening and inviting, and allowed our chaplains to consider and discuss difficult topics in a safe space.
Chaplains also came for spiritual renewal and fellowship. We opened our conference with a meaningful opening worship in which we sang, prayed, and shared our stories. A door was set on the stage, and we were invited to write down our hopes and fears, and stick them to the door. That door stood for the rest of the conference as a reminder of God’s invitation to take our burdens, and that we could find rest in Him. This, and the other worship services, brought us together spiritually, and set a tone of unity and compassion for the rest of the conference.
Additionally, this gathering was a time to remember those we lost and celebrate the good that God has done. We held a dinner in memory of eight former chaplains who passed away in the past year, including two former directors of Chaplaincy and Care Ministry: Rev. Hal Bode and Rev. Herm Keizer. We also held a banquet in which we recognized thirty-one chaplains with a significant anniversary (every five years), one, Rev. Jim Kok, having completed fifty years in chaplaincy. We appreciated six people who were retiring. Major InSoon Hoagland, the first woman of color to become an ordained military chaplain in the CRC, had just retired from the Army without a retirement ceremony, so our military chaplains stood at attention as CH LTC Scott Koeman presented her with the American flag.
These moments, and many more, embedded the feeling of homecoming in me. I had spent five months working vigorously on the logistics of the conference, making sure everything ran smoothly. However, the theme itself came out in the caring hearts and unified love of the people there. CRC chaplains are a family, drawn together by a denomination, celebrating together and meeting challenges together as only they can. They were an inspiration to me, and I am glad to have the opportunity to meet them again next year.