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In November we held a conference here in Truro, Nova Scotia called “Spark!”. It was a new take on an old conference – we’ve held a Day of Encouragement event here every two years for a long time, providing an opportunity for the CRC churches in the Maritimes to gather for a day of learning and fellowship. When I was asked to write about it for Do Justice, my first thought was, “this wasn’t specifically a ‘justice’ conference…” But the more I reflect, the more I feel that the themes of justice and mission and the future of the church are all intertwined.

The words are like a prayer weaving together the threads of this weekend.

Throughout the conference, we focused our hearts with times of worship including our theme song, “Father, Let Your Kingdom Come”. The words are like a prayer weaving together the threads of this weekend: “May the works of my hands bring you joy”… we reflected on the work we do in our own congregations - the day-to-day service of deacons and elders, the practical aspects of bringing creativity into worship, the challenging work of advocacy – and we pray that this work will be for God’s glory. 

People just aren’t coming through our doors.

We kicked off with a keynote address on the Friday evening. Lesli VanMilligen (of Faith Formation Ministries) and Beth Fellinger (from Resonate Global Mission) prompted us to think about how the world around us has changed, and our old ways of “doing church” are no longer working. No matter what amazing new programs we launch or how exciting our worship services are, people just aren’t coming through our doors. Since they aren’t interested in coming to us, we need to go to them if we’re going to share God’s message of reconciliation. 

This point was driven home with a picture of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras, a marvel of engineering built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. It did just that; unfortunately, the hurricane moved the river and wiped out all the connecting roads. The bridge now stands over dry land, disconnected and useless. Like that river, society has moved out from underneath the church; we are challenged to step out and show the world what Jesus is all about in new ways. Quite appropriately, we followed this keynote speech by stepping out into a local pub to share a drink while dreaming and scheming about ways we might take church out of the building and have our own “Third Space” ministry in a pub or coffee shop.

We pray that we might learn to speak God’s shalom

May the words from my mouth speak your peace”… we reflected on the things we say and believe – about people of different generations, about those who are suffering from systemic injustice, about the strangers we are called to welcome – and we pray that we might learn to speak God’s shalom. 

Saturday offered a variety of workshops and small group sessions, all geared towards encouraging us in our personal faith, equipping us for our work within our churches and inspiring us to join God’s mission in our communities. 

Justice Mobilizer Cindy Stover led a workshop on “Demystifying Justice”. It helped participants understand more about what justice means in a Biblical context, and how simply giving money to charity doesn’t necessarily bring justice to vulnerable people in the long run. Cindy encouraged us to follow through with advocacy and to pursue reconciliation in one or two focus areas rather than being overwhelmed by trying to address every injustice we see. 

Lesli van Milligen provided workshops on faith formation in different generations. We learned valuable insights to help us understand, mentor and support the young adults in our congregations, while honouring the valuable contributions of our older members. Beth Fellinger’s story-rich workshops provided inspiration for us to engage in God’s mission locally with excitement and confidence. 

We celebrate that God is already going before us

You make all things new, in places we don’t choose”… we reflected on how we might be called to leave our comfort zones - to seek out the vulnerable, to demonstrate the good news of Jesus, to move towards justice in our own communities – and we celebrate that God is already going before us, inviting us to join him in making all things new.

I hope that this weekend sparked some deep conversations and new ideas. And I hope those sparks might ignite God’s plans that are already smouldering in our congregations, as we work together on His mission in the Maritimes.

Father, let your Kingdom come!

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