Why would CRC members spend an entire Canadian National Gathering (three days!) focused on themes of reconciliation? Good question, we’re glad you asked.
National Gatherings are an opportunity to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church. Following the 2019 Canadian National Gathering, there was agreement that justice and reconciliation might be a good focus of a future National Gathering. And then, as the detailed revelations of unmarked and forgotten graves at residential schools surfaced in the summer of 2021, it became clear that justice and reconciliation are important aspects of the church’s gospel call in this place called Canada.
As Christian Reformed people, we express a commitment to living out justice and reconciliation as part of our response to God’s call on our lives. This is reflected in our mission and vision statements, in Reformed creeds and confessions, and is a key part of our current ministry plan, Our Journey 2025. And today—in Canada—these commitments are not abstract ideas. Indeed, Christian Indigenous leaders refer to today as a 'kairos time for reconciliation.'
In this context of opportunity and responsibility for reconciliation, CRC members across the country have engaged in Hearts Exchanged—a learning journey of heart and mind that stretches and encourages us to live our commitments to reconciliation. The Spirit’s call to live reconciliation and justice has been clear in Hearts Exchanged learning communities and is also an important context of the church’s presence and ministry in Canada today.
Many of us know what it’s like to feel like the odd person out. We’ve experienced that sinking gut feeling in the spoken and unspoken messages from those around us that says we don’t belong. Being excluded is a sensation we like to avoid, and—for many Indigenous people —this sense has been particularly true. Especially in the church, Indigenous people have been told to discard cultural identity and practices before they can feel welcome in a church community.
Adrian Jacobs (Senior Leader for Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation, CRC) has emphasized the importance of a friendship relationship instead. “When the Two Row Wampum treaty was made between my people and the Dutch, we were very different and we worked together. We can be reconciled by returning to some of this history and making or re-making friendships,” he said.
As we shift from places of suspicion of one another to places of belonging, it informs the rest of our spiritual lives. Knowing belovedness within a community can inform all of the other ways we hope to grow as a church of salt and light in Canada today. This includes such areas of ministry as how we pray, our spiritual practices, our ability to engage intergenerationally, and how we plant churches. What would it look like for each of our churches to be places where everyone belongs?
“Entering into a journey of reconciliation is not only important in itself, it also builds capacity for all of us to live into the variety of ministry opportunities God is calling us into in our own contexts,” says Al Postma the Canadian Transitional Executive Director. “As individuals approach the national gathering, we anticipate that belonging and reciprocity will inform their work in other areas.”
The prayer of the planning team for the 2023 CNG is that as fellow image bearers gather together, hearts will be exchanged, and people will return to their home churches with a fuller understanding of how to invite and experience belonging.
Marlene Wolters—a longtime CRCNA member and Indigenous Christian—puts it this way: “In 2019 I attended the Canadian National Gathering. It was profoundly impacting for me personally and I can guarantee that should you attend this one you also will be impacted. Your journey with Christ will deepen, your understanding of yourself will deepen.”