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For over 10 years, a day of encouragement and equipping has been held for deacons and church leaders in the Maritimes. This fall, on Nov. 8 and 9, church leaders gathered for a time of learning, encouragement, and inspiration at John Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Truro, N.S.

Participants worshipped together, heard presentations, attended workshops, enjoyed fellowship, and some also engaged in an optional outing on the Friday evening. Diaconal Ministries' staffer Erin Knight sat down with Karla Winham, the Eastern Canada Diaconal Coach for Diaconal Ministries and co-organizer of the event, and asked her to share a bit about the event.

1. We see you’ve rebranded this long-time event. What’s with the new name, “Spark!”?

For several years, this event was called the “Maritime Day of Encouragement.” In the past, we had received feedback that the name “Day of Encouragement” didn’t fully encompass what the event was about, so our planning team followed the lead of other one-word conference names (like Inspire, Inhabit, Reimagine…), while keeping the familiar phrase in the tagline, “A day of encouragement, learning, and inspiration.” 

When I first became a Diaconal Coach almost 3 years ago, we were asked to choose a word for how we saw our role as coaches. The word I chose then was "spark." As a Coach, I strive to bring energy and confidence to diaconates, to provoke new ideas and help ignite what’s already built and smouldering for hopeful change. This name and imagery seemed suitable for this conference, because I still believe that’s what we’re all called to be — as diaconal coaches, as deacons, and as the church in the world.

2. What do you hope deacons will get out of an event like this?

From a practical perspective, I hope deacons will be equipped with new tools, helpful resources and fresh mindsets for dealing with the issues they face in their role. I hope they’ll learn to look beyond charity to addressing root causes. I hope they’ll be encouraged to appreciate the gifts inherent in all generations in their churches. I hope they’ll be inspired to think of creative ways to respond to the changing world as they look for new ways to reach out and partner with their communities. 

But beyond that, I hope this event has sparked all these ideas and more in the attendees who aren’t “ordained” deacons, but are also called to bring Christ’s love to the world. For deacons, it can be exhausting to feel like you’re always the ones pushing something new that challenges the status quo. By educating and inspiring church members to “get on board,” an event like this can make the deacons’ job of animating their congregations that much easier. I hope the conversations that started at Spark! will continue in each church.

3. Were you pleased with the attendance? (We heard you had more people show up than were registered!)

The attendance was excellent! We had 45 pre-registered, and 50 showed up. We had representation from all six churches in the Maritimes, including deacons, elders, youth workers, pastors and more. On Friday night, there were at least two people from another church who are connected with us through our church’s community garden. This is a great sign that this subject matter is not only of interest to CRC folks. I was also thrilled with the turnout at our “Third Space” event Friday evening. It’s the first time this has been tried as an official part of this event, and I was a little nervous about how it might be received.

4. What have you heard from those who attended?

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. All the speakers were first-rate, and people were also appreciative of the overall organization of everything from registration to the yummy lunch to the times of worship. One attendee told us that the Friday evening session “set the tone for the whole weekend,” and that there were “wow moments” throughout Lesli VanMilligen’s workshop about young adults. Beth Fellinger’s “heartfelt talk” was the highlight for at least one participant. Several people appreciated the emphasis on intergenerational worship and would like to see more of that in the future. I personally felt blessed by having musicians from three churches participating on our praise team, and our “theme song” was a hit! (Father Let Your Kingdom Come – Porter’s Gate; check it out here). 

5. Tell us a bit more about your planning team and how this event came together.

René Wall was one of the main organizers, along with myself. She and I have worked together on many events over the years. René brings a practical perspective and the gifts of administration and technological know-how. My role is to be an “ideas” person and cheerleader and to help with the grunt work! We both know how to work to our strengths, and we know who else in the congregation to call upon for help. This is not a one or two-person job!

The CRCNA Connections Project was a wonderful partner for this event and offered travel scholarships to assist people who had to drive a long way or stay overnight in order to attend. Faith Formation Ministries and Resonate Global Mission also paid for the time and travel of their speakers. Diaconal Ministries Canada recommended staff member Cindy Stover as a justice speaker and also provided some refreshments for our Third Space event. 

We could not have done this event without such enthusiastic support from our denominational ministries!

6. What’s next for “Spark!”?

For now, we’re resting. (Actually, René and I are both fully occupied with other projects!) We’ve looked over the feedback forms and suggestions and already have dreams and ideas for the next Spark! event in two year’s time. We’re wondering whether we might partner with other local churches to offer this inspiration and encouragement to more people, and what exactly that might look like.

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We want to thank Karla for her tireless work and the inspiring energy that she brings to events like this, but even more importantly, as a Diaconal Coach. A little birdie told us that she was a driving force behind this event – from communicating with and securing most of the speakers to organizing the Friday evening outing to trying to create a buzz amongst churches and diaconates. 

Events like this are happening all across the country each year. Diaconal Ministries Canada is willing and able to provide resources, financial support, speakers and more to diaconates looking to plan and host these large gatherings. Contact your local Diaconal Coach or our head office today if you are looking to plan an event like this in 2020! We’re here to help!

(This article first appeared on the e-Quip Diaconal Blog of Diaconal Ministries Canada.)

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