Monday, June 22, 2009

Membership Sunday @ Calvin CRC

This past Sunday I found myself back at Calvin CRC. I'm still on my EPDL, but several people were going to become "official" members of Calvin, and since I've had interactions with many of them, I wanted to be there. I always enjoy it when people enter into full membership at our church. This process is different for everyone. It always starts with someone walking through the doors of our church and members welcoming new folks. We then let them alone for a little while, just to see if they are church shopping, or more serious about building a relationship with this faith community. After some time we will enter into some dialogue about becoming a formal member of Calvin CRC. We don't just want to have people's membership's transferred from other places and then have them stand up in church for 2 seconds during a service to welcome them some six months later (this used to be done in my church when I was growing up). We want individuals to feel that they are joining a faith community that cares for them, needs them, will offer them support, and in turn, they will give support to the community. For some, it has meant a simple coffee with myself, Pastor Ken, and/or an elder because they are transferring from another CRC church. During that time we/I share our stories together about life and church life. We talk about Calvin and its many ministries and ways he/she can get involved. For others it may be a bit of a longer process. There may be more time spent talking about the theological elements of Calvin. Why we believe what we do, and the way worship goes, etc. The end result is that when a person is ready to become a member, we have come to the conclusion that this is a good thing for everyone involved. This past Sunday we saw several people join our Calvin fellowship. The service was great on many levels. First, because of how we do membership here. We call those able and willing to come forward and face the congregation. We go through a litany with them which ends up becoming a re-affirmation of faith for those who have already done some sort of profession of faith in another church, or a profession of faith if they haven't yet. I love the interactive nature of the litany. Second, because after this we usually try to get one person to give a testimony of their life and why they have ended up in Calvin's fellowship. In the 7 years I've been at Calvin, I've been blessed exponentially by these testimonies. Two individuals did theirs on this Sunday. One came from someone who has been attending Calvin for quite some time, the other, fairly recently. As I heard the stories, one thing struck me in both testimonies. These people came to Calvin because an existing member of Calvin had invited them. Once in the fellowship, they decided to stay. Something to take note of for all of us. Third, I like the way we continually try to incorporate our children in the service. We had a baptism that morning too, and the children are asked to come to the front to witness it. This day they were also asked to help out with a fundraising drive for First Place Pregnancy. Using two wagons, they walked up and down the aisles getting baby bottles filled with change. We could have simply had those bottles placed in a box in the fellowship hall. Instead, we made this a community event, with our children in the thick of it. It was great to see, and gets at some of the stuff I've been talking about with family/intergenerational ministry over the past while. Finally, after the baptism was done, we entered into a corporate reaffirmation of our commitment to God and to each other as a faith community. Reading these words always reminds me of why I am part of this faith community, and that there is some responsibility/expectation in being part of it. Below are the words that we said out loud:
Membership Covenant for Calvin CRC
Having received Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and also publically professed my faith in Him, I commit myself to the Lord and to His family at Calvin CRC - I commit to glorifying God by:
  • Acting in love toward other members
  • Building up the body of Christ through my speech and actions
  • Prayerfully supporting the leaders of the church as they guide us in following Christ
  • Bringing the life-changing message of Christ to our neighbours and each other
I commit to sharing in:
  • Faithful participation in Calvin's worship services
  • Regular participation in the sacraments
  • Receiving the preaching of the Word as God's Word to my life
  • Welcoming and enfolding new participants in the life of Calvin Church
  • Growing in Prayer and Scripture reading and Christ-honouring conduct in my daily life.

I commit to serving in Calvin's Ministries by:
  • Discovering my spiritual gifts and talents, and using them for ministries in Calvin and beyond as God give opportunity
  • Continuing to grow in the knowledge and practice of our Reformed heritage
  • Giving regularly of my time and financial resources, as God has blessed me.
I commit every area of my life to Christ:
  • Knowing that all of creation is under His rule
  • Desiring to serve Him everywhere without fitting in, as light in the darkness and salt in the spoiling world.

Praise be to God.

I find that if we all take these words seriously, we will be a much healthier community of faith. I know it's easier for some than for others, but periodically reading this in church helps us to remember once again what we are about. That can only be a good thing.

So, it was good to be in church this Sunday. It was good to welcome new members into our fellowship. It is my prayer that they will find a place to receive, as well as to give to this community of faith. Both are important. It is also my prayer that we who have re-read our covenant will examine how we are doing in this faith community. I know that we are not a perfect faith community, but I also know that we have many wonderful people here at Calvin. Some are more active than others, and the challenge is to see the value in engaging in this community of faith because we are richer when all of us do. It's so true that in order to get something out of this faith community, you also need to put something into it. For those that maybe feel a bit disconnected, may be slowly drifting out the back door, please don't go without telling us why. Only then can we grow together as we seek to find ways to correct those issues.

Blessings to all of us in Calvin, and I trust that if you are reading this as a non member of Calvin, that your church is striving to be an active, vibrant, fellowship of faith and nurture in Christ. If not, hey, why not consider giving Calvin a try. As this Sunday shows, others have come and liked it. : )

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Calvin's Church Picnic - June 09

On Tuesday, June 9 I arrived at Andrew Hayden Park with Shawn, my trailer, and two BBQ's in tow. The reason? Our annual Calvin church PICNIC!!!! Yeah!!! : )
The weather at the beginning of the day didn't look promising. Raining pretty heavy. However, things cleared up in the afternoon, but it was still pretty cloudy, windy, and a bit cool. I wasn't sure how many of our "Calvinites" would come out for the picnic, but alas, many did. That was encouraging to see.
Louise and I kind of head up the social stuff that goes on at Calvin, and here you see Louise with the "chief chef" hat. Hey, you know who's in charge when they are wearing that big of a hat.
Apparently the hat made the rounds. Seems like Ed is in charge now.
Or maybe it was John.
Now, I'm no BBQ expert, nor do I claim to know much about wind direction and climate (I leave that to Pastor Ken, as he sails a lot), but as this picture shows, there seems to be a bit of a problem here. Lots of smoke came out of those BBQ's and seemed to fly right in the face of those barbecuing...not to mention the shelter filled up with smoke too. But, again, I'm not the expert! : )
The cooks did a GREAT job of working through their smoke inhalation and cooking the many, many, many hamburgers and hot dogs.
The end result was some great food.
The line up was long, but the socializing was good.
It seems that everyone was hungry today. We just had enough food in the end. Great planning Louise.
Jeremy and David really enjoyed the food. What do you expect from young teenage males!! : )
Annetta doesn't seem too thrilled about my picture taking. Good thing she didn't have her mouth open while chewing.....
The three musketeers fellowshipping together....or is that the three stooges...I always forget! : )
Shawn and Emily catching up on life after not seeing each other all year. Welcome back from Kingston for the summer Emily.
Some of our young people. VERY shy as you can tell. A prize for anyone who can tell me who they are....and you three can't guess!
That joke that Annette told Wilma must have been a doozy!
Thanks Louise, and all the others, who helped to make our picnic another fun success. Lots of great fellowship, food, and fun. We'll do it again next year for sure!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Door Is Open - Memoir of a Soup Kitchen Volunteer

During my time at OIM, Jason gave me a book to read by someone who volunteered in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. It delves into the complicated world of poverty. As I began to read it, I couldn't put it down. Though not written by a Christian, the author, Bart Campbell, had much to say about we who are Christian, and others who help out. He had much to say about those who live on the streets of Vancouver too. Below is a summary of the points that struck me the most in the book..... 1. Definition of Skid Row: Came "over a century ago in Victoria amongst lumberjacks who patronized one seedy neighbourhood for heavy drinking and brothel visits. . . [and] . . . nicknamed the place 'skid road' after the greased log runways down which they slid lumbers to the rivers . . . [so] . . . 'skid row' suggests fast, slippery descent, an unstable way of life, a hopeless address" (16). 2. There are "various styles of homelessness . . . vans and cars that barely run. . . 'squatting' . . .sleeping in parks and hedges. . . emergency shelters . . .etc." (23) 3. For many homeless people "all those years of living completely in the present make chronology difficult for them. They often can't tell you if the event they are describing occurred last year, or five days ago. Everything is completely arbitrary; there is no emotional sequence" (24). 4. "If you take the time to think about it, you realize that homeless people are not stupid, 'cause nobody stupid is gonna survive on the street. You gotta be smart and strong when you're homeless" (25). 5. Comment about the food homeless people receive from the eight sisters at St. Paul's church, "The sisters should try eating what they serve" (30). 6. "Christian Charities . . . want to help in some small, Christ-like fashion. Creating and maintaining soup kitchens is a compassionate response to the shock of seeing hungry, homeless people on the streets" (31). 7. "Poverty is extraordinarily complicated. . . a single person . . . has to memorize the business hours of every soup kitchen or they will starve . . . breakfast, lunch, and dinner are a matter of persistence" (31). 8. "Soup kitchens are popular not because of their free food, but because they are one of the only places left for the poor urban nomad to find social acceptance - sort of like warm public living rooms where they are never treated as specimens of some disease" (33). 9. "Acceptance is so paramount that soup kitchen protocol insists you don't stare at people who may be pacing, laughing out of context, or talking to themselves . . . total acceptance is the only thing that can connect with such a restless, transitional society. . . " (33). 10. "Once when a pious volunteer asked Brother Tim why he refused to start up a Bible study class, or form a prayer group, like in many of the other Christian Charities, I overheard Brother Tim reply flatly: 'Because I'm not an asshole' (34). 11. Here's an interesting quote: "Christian zealots man the skid row soup kitchens . . . not necessarily to convert, but because it is the only place they can be truly open about their embarrassing Christianity. In a soup kitchen their zeal is tolerated, their blind faith is accepted, just as long as it respects certain limits. Joyous Christians are welcomed - just as are alcoholics, junkies, and the untreated mentally ill - in the same open patient way that everyone else is accepted" (37-38). 12. The author says of himself, "I know now that all that separates me from the homeless men and women I serve is a couple of pay cheques . . . [and I see] . . . how lives can come crashing down in a heartbeat because of some accident, layoff, illness, death of a loved one, or a divorce" (38). 13. Examining our motives for doing what we do.....A woman who says we are winning the war against poverty and "belonged to a suburban prayer group that drives into the city one Tuesday morning a month and makes sandwiches for the sisters. 'But didn't you drive through the neighborhood on your way here?' I incredulously asked. 'Yes, but all those gross drug addicts and sleazy hookers don't count because they chose to live that way. You just can't help some people, so they don't count.'" (54). 14. About training. . . "A perverse thing I've noticed about poverty-related professions is that the more dangerous, useful, and necessary the work is, the less it pays, and the less training it requires" (55). 15. Sometimes we think that homeless people don't notice what's going on around them . . . but the author got heck from one teenaged girl because he never gave her money or cigarettes. His response. . . "I was stunned. It never occurred to me that panhandlers studied the competition - and compared the effectiveness of tactics. I was amazed that they could tell they were being ignored by one person, when most of the world ignores them" (57). 16. "There is no real coordination of poverty programs in the downtown eastside, partly because so many are run by well-intentioned amateurs and self-taught experts who feel quite territorial about their pet programs" (63). 17. "It is expensive to be poor" (74). You'll have to read the quote in context to get the real meaning of this quote. 18. The author's thoughts about prostitutes: "After getting to know some of the women, you soon learn that they're not really prostitutes - just desperate drug addicts renting their bodies for more drugs" (102). 19. The author on why crimes are committed: "Such stupid, pointless crimes that apparently they want to be caught and punished - if only to occasionally reinforce their poor sense of self and place. A jailhouse is, after all, a permanent address, and a prison number is some sort of identity" (112). 20. Brother Tim on his thoughts about prisoners: "Prisoners are always worse, not better, after their prison experiences. They have been programmed to overreact" (115). 21. The author commenting on how homeless people interact with each other: After one buddy thought the other buddy was stealing his $5 the two got into a fist fight. Once they were separated and their wounds were fixed up, they were best buddies again. " 'I don't get it,' I said to Brother Tim as we watched them leave. 'They wanted to rob and kill each other a few minutes ago.' 'They're friends of convenience,' Brother Tim suggested. 'And that's important. All human beings need someone to talk to.' " (118). 22. "The poorest of our society are often the most generous. . . and the vast majority of skid row charity volunteers and employees are only slightly more financially stable than the patrons they are trying to help." (127). Now that's an interesting comment, and from my limited observations, I'd have to say it's true. I'm still contemplating why though. . . 23. "Poverty means different things in different cultures. . . the poor in those [third world] places are seldom as totally rejected as they are in the skid rows of the affluent western world. Here poverty is demoralizing and dispiriting and humiliating. Skid row lives are difficult to understand for people who have never been afflicted by poverty, illness, addiction, or love." (128). 24. Final comment about why the author volunteers. It is honest, brutal, full of meaning, and cuts to the core. I appreciate the quote, and now need to ponder it's depth in my own life as I volunteer for things....."I hang out at The Door Is Open because I want to make my life more meaningful, not his [a drunk, wobbly native who regularly attends the drop in], and he knows it" (136). This was not an easy book to read, but I'm glad I did. It was honest, painful, in my face and challenging. Pick it up sometime and give it a read. It will change your thinking about homeless life, and that will do all of us some good. : )

Ottawa Inner City Ministries - Internship - Thursday

Today was another challenging day for me. . . We were supposed to go out and do outreach today, but instead we held a baby shower for a couple who were going to have a baby very soon. Both had been living on the streets, were on drugs, and regulars of OIM. Both have since cleaned up from the drugs, and are trying to get on their feet because they have a baby coming. They have a place at the YMCA and the boyfriend has casual work. I arrived at OIM and set up some streamers for decorations. The couple arrived a bit early and soon Jason, Jen, the director Gelica (I don't know how to spell her name), and another female who works at OIM a couple of days a week all sat down to celebrate the eventual arrival of this couple's baby boy (they know). We played some games, ate some cake, and I sat and listened to much of the conversation. The couple was very thankful for the shower, and talked about the future like any other couple would. It was a fun time. Jason and I eventually helped to bring the few gifts ,and other items OIM was giving them, to the YMCA. I'd never been to the YMCA before. The main floor was open and nice. Lots of services were being offered, and I wasn't sure if they were solely that of the YMCA or Government as well. We took the stuff up to this couple's room. A small one room place with a double bed and possessions scattered around. The hope is that after the baby is born they will be able to get other housing. As we left them, I was torn with many different kinds of emotions. I hoped that things would turn out well for this couple. They had so many hopes and dreams for themselves and their baby. They also seemed to have so much stacked against them. I asked Jason what he thought of their situation and the chances he thought they had. I wasn't sure if this was a fair question to ask, but I couldn't help it. I think Jason struggled with his answer, and I'm not sure he gave me a truthful one, but I'll respect it because he works in this environment every day. I went home after this for a brief time before coming back for the art class. As I drove home, I felt myself judging in ways I know I shouldn't, praying for this couple that they would have a healthy baby and the skills to raise him well, and wondering how Jason and the others can do this all the time and remain so positive. I wondered if I could do the same and what would motivate me to volunteer at OIM long term, if I decided to do that. Would it be to make myself feel better; to appease some inner guilt feelings about not noticing street people before and treating them with dignity. Or would it be because I have a genuine love and caring for people who are just like me in many ways, but have been marginalized by prejudice and judgements. Lots to ponder as I drove home that day. ART TIME: I arrived at a downtown church to observe/participate in a pilot project that Jason has started. He began an art class for seven street youth. They meet every Thursday evening. A law firm provides the meal and Jason provides the opportunity for these young people to express themselves through art. His hope is not to make budding artists out of them, (though that would be ok too) but to instill in them confidence and hope in their abilities. Apparently some of their art sold at OIM's dinner auction several weeks earlier. Once again, as more of an observer, I did feel a bit out of place at the beginning. The young people that arrived didn't seem to want to warm up to me, which I could completely understand. They talked about another of their group who was pissing them off for one reason or another. They openly talked about their drug habits and partying, etc. I wasn't offended or shocked by it all, but it was intense at times. As this group has continued to meet, it has gotten to know each other, and it seems that not all of them get along. The joys of community : ). The food arrived late, so the YP got down to their artwork. Some were painting, others sketching, and the guys were building models. An Intern who is working at OIM righ now comes to help Jason on Thursdays too. She has some art background, and did very well with the group. I sat down to a paint by number set that Jason had bought for me (he's so thoughtful). I cracked it open and sat across from the girl that works at OIM a couple of days a week. She's part of "the group of seven". This gave me a chance to begin to talk to her and get to know a bit more about her, and her a bit more about me. I was thankful for the paint by number set. Jason hung out and continued his relationship building with various members of the group. They have some great artistic talent, let me tell you. They should be proud of the work they were doing, but many struggled with low self esteem. At the end of the evening, each received $20.00 and a meal. The incentive to attend I think, but you have to find ways to attract these kids, and Jason is doing a great job of it. I liked the night, though I would like it more if I got to know these kids better. Jason is doing some awesome work with these seven. He's had 100 % attendance so far, and that is no small feat in itself! I admire his wanting to instill confidence and a sense of purpose in the lives of these young people. He doesn't know what will come of all of this, but often times I have those same feelings in the youth ministry of our church. We aren't in it for the immediate gratification : ). I pray that this project will see more fruit as it continues. I hope to find out more from Jason in the future. And so ended my "internship" at OIM. Lots of experiences to ponder, and feelings to process. Some are good, others are more difficult. These experiences might lead to more involvement with OIM, but I must be honest with myself and ensure I'd be volunteering with right motives. This sort of work/volunteering surely isn't for everyone. I commend those who do it day in and day out. May God continue to grant you the grace to carry on, and all the rest of us the willingness to see everyone as people worthy of dignity and respect. Blessings Jason as you continue with your God ordained appointments on the streets of Ottawa.

Ottawa Inner City Ministry - Internship - Wednesday

Tuesday was a busy day for Jason, so I was not able to be with him at OIM . Instead, I went to my office and did some work for our upcoming SERVE project. There's always something to do on that front : ). Wednesday's are drop in days for OIM. They hold them at the Salvation Army Church on Gladstone. They used to have drop in days at a larger church, but opted for a smaller venue for many different reasons. I arrived at 9:30 am, but couldn't park at the church, so I had to scout around for a bit for a 3 hour parking spot. As I walked to the church, I was thinking to myself about what I might say today to the people who I would be meeting. Would I know what to say? Would I say something dumb? Would I talk too much? I felt my hands getting clammy and my throat tightening up. As I arrived at the church door, several people had already arrived awaiting the 10 am opening of the doors. I knocked and was let in. I went downstairs and met Jason. He in turn introduced me to others who had been volunteering for some time now. I met one of our Monday night outreach workers again too. My role would be pastoral care today. That basically meant sitting down and listening to anyone who wanted to talk. Those in the kitchen were hard at work getting morning snacks and coffee/juice ready. Jason then showed me around a bit. I saw a place in the corner where hygiene products were handed out to those who wanted them. Upstairs in the sanctuary there was someone who gave massages, someone who gave haircuts (a self taught barber), and someone who did foot care. Up another flight of stairs and there were people who were in charge of handing out clothing. In order to keep things orderly, OIM has a system of giving out numbers to people so they can go upstairs from the common basement area to either get a haircut, or foot care, massage, or clothing. I thought it was a good system. It prevented the mob mentality, or fighting over clothing. At 10 am all the volunteers gathered in a circle for a short prayer time. I was once again asked to pray, and once again couldn't help but feel I was being tested or something. Funny, eh! ? : ) The doors soon opened and in came many people. Most made a beeline for the muffins and breads that were placed out. Coffee was next on the list, and then it was time to stake out a place to sit. As this happened, I decided I would talk with those who didn't have anyone to talk to. I met a shy gentleman who happened to carry on a conversation with me for about 30 minutes. Near the end I could tell he was being nice to me, but wasn't sure if he was enjoying the conversation. He did share much more than I though he would about family, life situation, etc. I met two other men who were eager to talk. I could tell the one had mental health issues, and the other was just wanting to talk because he hadn't talked to someone for several days. I mostly sat and listened. Once again I found myself wondering where the line between fact and fiction really was, but in the end, I don't think it mattered much. Simple fellowship was all these men desired. As lunch approached, I went to the kitchen to catch a brief time away from some chatter. Jason and I were talking a bit, and then a scruffy man came up and wanted to know where we got the donuts from. Jason told him, and then the man gave us a lecture on how stale they were and that we must have gotten them two weeks ago. I found it both amusing, and irritating at the same time. I've discovered that these are two very common emotions in the life of street volunteering. Soon it was lunch. I sat back and watched the proceedings. I didn't want to get in the way. People sat down and the volunteers served them a good meal of spaghetti and breads. They were served for two reasons. First, it helped keep things orderly. Second, if offered them all some dignity in that someone would take the time to serve them for a change. I noticed that a couple of the street folk were helping out too. This happens a lot, and I liked seeing it. Near the end of lunch I was tasked with handing out sandwiches for people to take with them when they left. Many people took me up on the offer for a sandwich or two. Desserts came out as well. After lunch it was time for the food bank. Each Wednesday OIM gets food from the Ottawa Food Bank to distribute at the Wednesday drop in. Each week it's an unknown as to how much, and what they will get. Each week Jason hands out 25 red tickets to the first 25 people who ask for them. These will be the ones who will get to go to the food bank to select food items. I was tasked to help out. I assisted with handing out cans of soup and brown beans. OIM does not just give out bags of preselected food. They want people to be able to make some decisions about what they want to eat. It boils down to dignity once again. Things slowed down after the food bank. Not many people stuck around between 2 - 3 pm, but people sort of came and went. I talked with Jason a bit more and then it was time to head for home. As I walked back to my car, I couldn't help but be in awe of those at OIM, and the many other places that offer assistance to homeless people. They are compassionate, kind, firm, and caring individuals. Everyone volunteers for different reasons. One older man was there for the first time, just to see if he wanted to do something like this more often. He seemed like a natural at it to me. I hoped I gave off some compassionate vibes today. It was enjoyable talking with those I got the chance to interact with. There are some very intelligent people who come to the drop in, and those who are hurting a great deal. I see that for many being on the streets was not by choice. Some have a 1 room place at a boarding house, but use OIM and other places to simply socialize. Some genuinely need the support of OIM, and for some, I think they are simply using the system for what they can get out of it. That used to bother me, but it doesn't any longer. It's not my place to judge, but to be the hands and feet of Jesus. That is hard to do at times, I must admit. Tomorrow it's more outreach, and then attending an art class that Jason has started with some young people on the streets. Go to Thursday's OIM entry to learn more......

Two More Church Visits

As I continue with my EPDL, I continue to go to other churches on Sunday's. Two weeks ago my youngest daughter got sick, so I ended up staying home with her so the rest of the family could go to church. It dawned on me that I could do what many many other people have done in the past (but that I haven't really ever done) and that is to go to church at home. I know that when one is unable to attend church, there is always a service on TV that can be watched. So, I first did some Sunday School stuff with my daughter, and then we both sat down and turned on the TV. There were two options on for that day. The Crystal Cathedral's "Hour of Power," and People's Church in Toronto. I settled on People's Church, but flipped to the other from time to time. Both were nice to experience. People's pastor, Charles Price, is someone I've heard speak at outreach conferences before, and his message this day was very inspiring. The Crystal Cathedral had Tony Campolo as the guest preacher, and at times I felt that he felt a bit out of place there. He too had some very good things to say. After it was over, we simply turned off the TV and my daughter and I stared at each other. No one else to talk to, share the week with, or grow from. It's nice to know that there are TV programs to watch (there are much more on the Internet for sure) when I'm sick and unable to go to church, but I still think I'd prefer the face to face contact of a church community that I'm actively involved in. Some may prefer the quiet place of one's home, but as I've stated in other blog entries, we miss out when we don't commune with fellow faith travellers. I would hope people wouldn't make this sort of "home" church standard fare in their lives.
A week ago I took my son to a church downtown. An older United Church that I've wanted to attend for some time. We were greeted inside the door and handed a pretty thick bulletin. The church was pretty large, but the attendance was very poor. The average age seemed to be about 55 +. The service was good, with a bell choir, church choir and organ for music. We sang hymns, but it was hard to know which of the two books we were supposed to sing from when the time came. Chris liked the sermon, and I must say that it was informative, but not overly challenging for me. This church invited guests to stay afterwards for a time of fellowship, which I appreciated, but we had to leave right away for another engagement. All in all, it looked like this was another slowly dying church filled with many older folk, and not many families or younger folk. I am gaining continued appreciation for what we try to do in our own church (and no, we are far from perfect) when it comes to meeting and engrafting people into our faith community.

Ottawa Inner City Ministry - Internship - Monday

During my EPDL experience, I wanted to spend some time learning and growing through the ministry of Ottawa Inner City Ministry. More specifically, spending time with Jason, their fairly new staff member whose focus is on street youth. I spent Monday June 8 - Thursday June 11 shadowing Jason, and I thank him for the opportunity. I was both looking forward to this time, as well as somewhat nervous about it too. Nervous because I know I come with my own set of judgements about homeless people, and I was hoping to not have them influence me, or even be noticed for that matter, as I went out with Jason on outreach times. I arrived on Monday morning at the OIM office. At the moment Bank street is undergoing construction, so parking was a bit of an issue, but I was allowed to park at the Salvation Army church that day. OIM's office is not easy to find. Just a small doorway among many shops on Bank Street. Once you enter, you have the choice of walking up three flights of stairs, or taking a very old elevator to the third floor. The door to OIM is always locked. They do this to control who enters the office. A necessary thing to be doing. Upon my arrival at OIM, I walked into a small office space. To my left was a kitchen area with a table and supplies on the shelves. To my right was an office desk and computer where the office manager sits. Straight ahead of me was a set of double doors, behind which are some offices and a place to store supplies for the Wednesday drop in and outreach times. I settled in and helped make sandwiches for our outreach time. A group of home schooled kids came to help make more sandwiches and learn a bit about what OIM does. See the picture below. I've been around OIM a bit already, having participated in their "One Homeless Night" event with our youth group back in the Winter (see previous blog entry for more details). Having this homeschooling group come in is a nice thing for OIM. It gives them a chance to have people understand better the situations of those on the streets, and hopefully do away with many of the stereotypes that continue to be out there. Typically, OIM will show a DVD about people on the streets (I've seen it) and answer questions. More than once, I've heard the same question that came from this group of home schoolers, "Do you get the chance to share the gospel with those on the streets?" I might have asked that same question before I became acquainted with what OIM is about, but I now know that that is probably a question that causes OIM some angst. Not because of the question, but because of what it implies in many cases. Jason answered the question, but I think it bothers him when it's asked. On the other side of the room is Jen. She's the front line office person who handles all the volunteers, and lots of other stuff. A dedicated person. As the group continued to make sandwiches, Jason packed up 3 bags of supplies for us to take. In the back office is a space that contains all kinds of food and hygiene items that OIM gets from the food bank, and individuals who donate to them. Jason loaded us up with Gatorade, juice boxes, the sandwiches we made, socks, snacks, and boccie balls. Before we left, I got the chance to see Jason's shared work space. Nice to know that he's just as messy as I am in my office : ). We then headed out to the streets of Ottawa's downtown. I got to lug two of the three bags, me being the "intern" and all. : ) As we began to walk, Jason and I talked about life on the streets, his work, and how it affects him. As we talked, all of a sudden he turned to his right and began walking away from me. He had spotted two teenagers sitting on the sidewalk with their dog. He approached them, bent down to their level, and greeted them. Though casual conversation he found out they had just come from Montreal and were staying in Ottawa for a bit. Jason helped give them information on places to get food, a place where they and their dog would be welcomed, and gave them his business card. The couple was 18 & 19 years old, and mentioned that being a street person in Ottawa was much more difficult than being one in Montreal. After we left this couple we talked about that for a bit. Jason mentioned that in Ottawa there is this sense that the police want homeless people to move on, disappear, stay out of the tourist areas, etc. We met others on the streets. A gentleman just sitting down drawing. We talked with him for a bit, or rather, we listened and he talked. I discovered that often times the stories probably aren't true, but you listen anyways. It's not about the story, it's about respect, dignity, letting these people have a voice. I learned a lot, just by listening. I also learned that posture is important. When talking, we knelt down if they were sitting, so we would be at eye level. Several times as we walked and talked, Jason would be the first to notice a street person. I seemed wrapped up in my conversation with him, trying to find out more about street life, but he was living the time there, sensitive to where God was leading him. I wasn't yet in that frame of mind to see those on the streets as I should see them. I could have walked by them without even noticing them. For Jason, each meeting seemed like a God ordained encounter. Humbling to watch, and neat as well. We were out for about 2 hours and met many people. We gave away most of our food and juice and socks. Many people are getting to know Jason and his outreach efforts. They all asked for something, and often times are quite picky about what they want. At first, I got a bit flustered with that sort of attitude, but why should I? These people have just as much right to their likes and dislikes as I do, don't they? We returned to OIM and I departed. I would be back at 6:30 pm for evening outreach time. 6:30 pm. I arrive again at OIM and am greeted by two others who are making sandwiches. These people go out every Monday night for outreach. Sometimes it's only two, sometimes six. Never is it done alone. Jason arrives and we pack up once again with sandwiches, bread, juice, snacks, socks, etc. Before we go we pray in a circle. I was asked if I would pray. For some reason I think it's sort of a testing ground to see what I'll say in my prayer about what we are about to do. "Internship" you know! : ) In reality it's a good way to gauge someone's motives. The words we use in prayer are a gateway to one's soul.....and motivations. Jason and I team up with another person and we make two teams of three that night. The other person is a female college student (forget her name) who has just begun doing outreach. She's been wanting to for some time, but her parents kept her from doing this for a long time. They were afraid of what might happen to her. Seems strangely familiar. When we did the "One Homeless Night" event with the youth group, some of our parents didn't allow their kids to go either. We saw many people during our outreach time. We handed out pretty much all of our stuff. We met very different people, and often times just listened. I felt a bit out of place in that I was new, didn't have any relationships with any of the street folk, and at times felt a bit out of my comfort zone. It was a good experience though. So many emotions ran through me during this day. I saw the love that Jason has for those he meets. I know his heart breaks for them. I can't say that mine quite does yet. I feel a sense of sorrow for those we meet. Many, out of no fault of their own, are on the streets. Many are out there because they want to be, or have become comfortable on the streets and use OIM as a means to get some "extras" in the way of food, drinks, etc. Some street youth have cell phones, places to stay, and may even be dealing drugs. A completely different world than I am used to. I go home that night with mixed, churning, even guilt ridden emotions. . . For more on my OIM experience, go to the Wednesday post......

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Family Ministry

While camping alone, I read two books on family ministry. This was one area that I was hoping to study more during my EPDL. As I continue to minister in the area of youth, I become increasingly convinced that youth ministry is broader than connecting with young people only.
While doing youth ministry in Sarnia, I concentrated mainly on ministering to young people. Though fun, productive, and rewarding, there always seemed to be something missing for me. As I minister here in Calvin, I've realized that the family unit was that missing piece. Consequently, I've prodded our church to experiment with various ways to do family ministry at Calvin, albeit somewhat covertly : ). We've done inter-generational mission trips, held Youth Church Education classes with children and parents together, and began allowing children to partake in the Lord's Supper (that one was a denominational initiative). In reading these books I am hoping that more ideas and methodology bubbles to the surface for me.
The books I read were Faith Begins at Home, by Mark Holmen,
and the accompanying workbook Take it Home, by Mark Holmen and Dave Teixeira.
I'll begin by highlighting some comments made by Holmen in Faith Begins at Home.
To begin with, I liked the book. It flowed well, had good content and affirmed some things I'd been thinking about for a long time. In the introduction, Holmen makes the very honest comment that "...every family is dysfunctional" (10). He then goes on to outline the way the book will unfold: Chapter 1 talks about the status of the family today. Chapter 2 challenges parents and their walk with God. Chapter 3 focuses on children. Chapter 4 looks at grandparents, elders and mentors as ways to help families. Chapter 5 looks at the church and what it can do to assist families. In chapter one Holmen takes some time to pick apart the family unit. I appreciate his honesty as he talks about his own family growing up. He correctly points out a fact that many of us may not want to admit, namely that "...families today ... find themselves in a cycle of unhealthy behavior, yet when asked how they are doing, they simply say, 'We're fine!'" (20-21). He suggests that "many families 'play Christians' on Sunday mornings, but they don't want to 'be Christians' the rest of the week" (23). That comment gave me pause. I agree with it to a point, but I also know that the flip side of that coin is that many families are simply too busy to 'be Christians' during the week. Life gets busy with children involved in all sorts of things, and our walk with God gets placed way down on the list of priorities, but more about that in a minute. Holmen also rightly says that family ministry "is messy business" (23). Families "face everything from divorce to clinical depression to teenaged rebellion to every kind of addiction imaginable" (23). He then gets to the main point of his book. It's time for families "to make Christ the center of your home" (25). Chapter two gets personal with parents about their role in the family unit. I think that most of us know implicitly that parents play a major role in the influencing of their children. So, "the question is not are we passing things on to our children, but what are we passing on to our children" (41)? Holmen did a study on who was the most significant religious influence in the lives of young people, and the results weren't surprising to me. They just reaffirmed what I already had discovered over time. "The reality [is] that parents are the primary influences in the faith development of children - and that a lot of people topped youth pastors" (42). : ) Holmen made a startling revelation that again caused me to pause: "As a youth and family pastor . . . I was trained . . . [to teach faith to children] . . . but no one trained me to equip the parents to pass on the faith to their children" (44). Now we in the Christian Reformed Church have a long tradition of supporting and maintaining Christian Schools, and they play a wonderful role in the lives of our children. We even use a great picture of a three legged stool in which the Christian School, the church and the family each represent one of the legs. All three must be working together and be balanced in order for the chair to support anything. This implies that all are of equal importance, something which I have struggled with over the years. I do value all three, but I increasingly agree with Holmen when he states that "if a child is not receiving basic Christian nurture in the home, even the best teachers and curriculum will have minimal impact" (44). I increasingly think that the church [and Christian School] are not equal legs in the stool, nor is the stool a good picture of the relationship that all 3 play as they work together. A more apt description would be two sticks angled to support a longer beam. If one of the sticks is taken out, the whole structure falls, but the role of the sticks is to support and keep stable the main angled beam. The church and school need to support the family unit, no matter what shape it takes. The problem is that "over the past 30 to 40 years, there has been a movement away from the home being the primary place where faith is nurtured" (46). Churches, and in our tradition, Christian Schools, have not intended to have this happen, but as families got busier they found the church [and school] as a great place to "pass on the faith nurturing responsibilities" to others (46). From all of this, Holmen then makes a statement that sums up for me the whole struggle that we see with young people and young adults leaving the church. In its most simple form, stripped of all outside influences, I would tend to agree that "the reason these kids don't return to church is because faith hasn't been firmly established and lived out in their homes" (46). Holmen then points his finger squarely at parents with this difficult, but central point: "While it's good that everyone desires that our teenagers have a stronger faith, the truth is that what we see in our teenagers' faith is a mirror image of our own faith. So, the issue is not their faith, but your [our] faith" (48). I challenge you (and me) to take a moment and re-read that quote two or three more times......... Now that stings; cuts to the bone; and should cause us to think long and hard, wouldn't you agree? Holmen suggests that "the makeover in your family begins with a makeover in your heart" (49). As an aside, I am aware that there are many God fearing parents who have seen their children wander away from church and faith. It has been a hurtful process for them and their desire is that their child(ren) return to the Lord. As such, even having stated that parents play a huge role in the faith development of their children, I am aware that there are other factors that affect/influence a child and some of them are beyond a parent's control. Now that your emotions are all churned up, let's stir the pot even more as we move on to the subject of the children. : ) Holmen suggests that for children, it's all about faith. He says that "if you want what's best for your child [spiritually], you can safely conclude that a personal faith is the most important thing that a child needs in his or her life" (70). Further, parents must realize that "if you're not modeling, discussing and sharing your faith with your children in your home, their faith will most likely not stick when they grow older" (71). Holmen described a young person named "Eddie." Eddie was a typical young person in his youth ministry who attended faithfully. However, Holmen never saw Eddie's parents. After youth group, Eddie gradually withdrew from church life and down a path that was not positive. All the youth ministry programs were just that for Eddie; programs. They did not become a way of life because "his faith was not grounded at home ... [but] ... other values were 'impressed' on Eddie" (72). Hence, Holmen unfortunately correctly points out that "due to the influences that Eddie received at home, faith looked like a program rather than a lifestyle to him. And when the program was done, so was Eddie" (72). Holmen then gives some very good advice on how parents can help children with their faith walk. He uses the acronym of T.R.A.I.N. T = Time. Instilling faith in a child takes time. When could that time be....anytime really. Whether in the car (sorry, no ipod can replace good conversation), when your child is sick, going to bed, at the dinner table, on vacation with you, on a mission trip with you (something I strongly encourage now), or simply alone with you on a weekend getaway. All are great times to talk about faith issues. The question is are we going to take advantage of them? R = Repetition. We need to "continually repeat the basic truths of God to our children" (78). A = Acceptance. Acceptance is huge for children as they grow up. They need to know they will be accepted in both the good times, and those times when they screw up. I = Intentionality. We need to "intentionally involve ourselves in the lives of our children" (81). Now our children might think of this as meddling, and we will "probably . . . have some uncomfortable discussions with [our] kids," but in the long run, they will thank you for this (83). N = Never Ending. The simple fact is that once your children are born, they never stop being your children. Sharing your faith walk with your children should never end, no matter what age your children are. Chapter four deals with extended family and elders. Holmen suggests that it's a good idea that grandparents meddle in the lives of their children and children's children. I'm not sure I fully agree with the statement, but I get his idea. He fleshes it out by stating that "when the elder generation disengages from active involvement and participation in nurturing the faith of today's families, they lose, we lose, our children lose, and our children's children lose" (97). Interesting comment. A good way to start this process is to simply give your parents regular prayer requests about your family. If your children don't have grandparents, you can find others who are willing to be "elder mentors" to you and your children. We end the book with Holmen talking about the church's role in all of this. I confess that I REALLY liked what he had to say. Again, it reconfirmed for me what I've been thinking about for a long time, but you might not like what you are about to read. I'm okay with that! : ) So, let me get right to what those points are. 1. Church should not simply be a drop off point for your children, or for you as a parent. There needs to be a partnership between church and family. 2. Unfortunately, "Satan knows that the Christian Church [in whatever form it takes] is one of the most valuable resources families need in order to succeed" (118). Hence, he keeps families very busy today so many don't have that important partnership. 3. Church should be your "third place" (123). Holmen means that the majority of your time as a family is spent at work if you are an adult (or in school if you are a child), and at home. These two places "establish the foundation of much of your daily routine" (123). What fills the 3rd, 4th, 5th and succeeding spots becomes a bit of a battle in the lives of Christian families today. Sports, schools (even Christian ones), hobbies, and other things can become that third spot in many families. Holmen suggests that, though these are "all important when it comes to the growth and development of children, they simply need to be behind church on the priority scale . . . because the church is the Bride of Christ" (123). Hard words to read, but I think very true. It's often said that where you spend your money provides a good idea of where your priorities lie. I think the same is true of your time. If church community is important to you, and you want your children's faith life to grow, then time needs to be spent with a church community. In today's world it's not enough to simply drop off your children at church and hope the youth pastor will teach them faith. In our tradition, it's not good enough to do that with Christian Schools either. It's also not good enough for adults to think they've arrived spiritually just because they've done Profession of Faith. I've seen many parents over my life in ministry model to their children that once you do Profession of Faith, growing in one's faith doesn't seem to be important any longer. If spiritual growth is not high on your priority list, your children will "catch" that very quickly and you shouldn't be surprised that for them, spiritual growth isn't important either. That trend is changing, but there is still a long way to go. 4. Finally, Holmen echoed a key point that I find myself using more and more often in ministry. It's so important to 'plant spiritual roots' in a church, once you find a church that seems to be a good fit for you. It needs to become your family's "third place" if you will. Even though we all know the church is far from perfect, it's so important "to pour ourselves into the church. We need to become active in the ministries, build relationships with the people, and use our gifts to serve the Body" (126). That is because it's pretty much impossible to "really know God or sustain a relationship with him without being actively connected to and with a body of believers (again, this could take many different forms) who are hungering and thirsting to live life God's way" (127). You might be thinking that just because Holmen and myself happen to work in the context of church, we are biased to this point of view, so you can dismiss our arguments (I've had people do that). I point you then to the great story of the man who decided he didn't want to go to church any longer because he was frustrated. The pastor came by for a visit, but didn't say anything. He just sat down by the burning fire in the man's living room and pulled out a burning log. He then quietly sipped his coffee. Soon that burning log died down to only a burning ember. Left alone, it would have become cold all alone beside the fire. However, the pastor took that cooling, flameless log and placed it back on the fire. Soon it was flaming again. The pastor then got up and left. The man was back in church the next week because "he realized that apart from the church, the flame of his relationship with God would weaken over time and eventually die out" (128). Now this doesn't mean that the church should simply sit back and think it deserves people's respect and attendance. That is arrogance and sinful. The church needs to continually seek to be relevant in an ever changing world, but it can't do that without people coming to help keep the church moving. That brings us to the end of the facts of Holmen's book. Again, I liked what he had to say. The church as a whole needs to recognize that family ministry is just as important as ministry to singles, the elderly, etc., because in actual fact, all of these people are part of a family unit too. Christians need to realize that we are becoming increasingly busy as families, but that should not be an excuse to ceasing to instill faith values into our children throughout their lives. The trend today continues to be, "what's in it for me." In reality, faith in Christ has very little to do with self, and much to do with service and community. The church must continue to shout that message to families in a world that shouts loudly to them that church is no longer important. Even though families are the primary place of faith nurture, the church plays an important role. So, there you have Holmen's and my thoughts on family ministry and the church. You may not agree with everything mentioned, but I hope the quotes have caused you to pause in your life and examine how your family is doing spiritually. Some of you may be well on your way and have a good relationship with each other when it comes to discussing spiritual matters. Others of you may have to honestly admit you have things to work on and improve on (I know our family could work on some things for sure). That's tough, but important as a first step in getting your family on the road to growing in faith. It is my hope to be able to use several ideas in our youth and church school ministries that I gleaned from the other book Take it Home. It is important that Calvin become a church that nurtures families, no matter what form they take. We are on the road already, but there's always room for improvement. It kind of goes back to the mirror image that you portray for your children. The church also becomes a mirror for you and your family's spiritual growth. If the church is not seeking God actively, it will affect your wanting to as well. I end with a summarizing quote from Holmen which succinctly states the place of the family and church and what is necessary for the family to succeed in today's world: "I believe that the home is the primary place where faith is to be nurtured. If our families are going to be able to stand up to Satan's attacks, we must have Christ in the center of each and every one of our homes. This begins with the love of Christ in our hearts as parents. It then becomes firmly established in each child as our lifestyle reflects that we're walking with Christ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This lifestyle won't be easy, but that's why God gave us the Church - an intentional Christian community filled with elders and fellow sojourners - to serve as a resource and safe haven for our families. That's it! . . . this is what every family needs to succeed" (132)!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Camping at Riverside/Cedar

On Monday, June 1st, I set off for some more time of solitude, done MY way. : ) I packed up my tent trailer and headed off to Riverside/Cedar Campground, one of several Parks along the St. Lawrence. I'd never been to one of these parks, but had driven by them several times, so I thought I'd give them a try in the off season. Off season it surely was. As I arrived, the gate was open, but the registration building was not. Registration was as simple as picking a site that wasn't already booked to be camped on (a posting was listed) and filling out the form, sliding it in the mail slot, and then paying the next day between 8 - 10 am. After driving around for a bit, I picked my site and registered. I set up, which proved a bit more difficult than I thought it might. We just upgraded our tent trailer at the end of last season. This one was much heavier than our previous trailer. The ground in this camp site was very saturated because of all the rain. The trailer simply sank in the grass. After several attempts, I was able to place the wheels on wood. Not an easy task by yourself. : ) Here is a photo of the final product. The park was pretty much deserted. Only two other campers in my section. This was beginning to feel like my silent retreat in Vermont. : ) After setting up, I took my bike and explored the place a bit. You had to be careful where you went because the Canada Geese are dong VERY well out here. Flocks of birds, and tons of poop. It was everywhere. The only drawback of this park. After exploring for a bit, I got some water for myself. That proved difficult too because the taps hadn't been opened yet. I had to go to a camp site with water to get the water I needed. I then ate supper inside my trailer because the mosquitoes were sucking more blood out of me than the Red Cross would have done for a blood donation. Ah, camping. The joys. The simple things. I love cooking when I camp, and that's about the only time I do like it FYI. I also find that coffee always tastes better when you are camping . After supper I settled in and began to do some reading. It was me, the geese and the sounds of the birds. Before settling in for bed, I called my family to check in. Now, camping is fun, but when it's VERY cold, it's not always fun. This newer trailer just happens to have electric mattresses to keep the camper warm on cold nights. I made sure I had an electric site to try out this new feature. I'm glad I did. It was getting COLD. For the rest of the evening I hunkered down in my trailer and read a book on family ministry. An excellent read, which you can read about in another blog entry if you'd like. At 10 pm, I was too tired to read any longer, so it was off to sleep. The next morning I was up at 9 am. The chill was still in the air. I registered and then made the best breakfast ever. Bacon and Eggs. So much cholesterol....I loved it. : ) I spent the rest of the morning and into the afternoon continuing to read about family ministry. Some neat ideas. Then, being the restless person that I am, I decided to go a bit more East and check out the waterway. I took a tour of the Long Sault Islands. Beautiful driving and country side. On the way back I stopped for supper at a burger place on the side of the road. When I got back, I took a walk around the park and found an inlet with lots of very large fish. They were jumping to feed on the flies. I'm not sure what type of fish they were, but they were big. Then I settled in again for a cold night in my warm tent trailer bed and read a book simply for fun until 11 pm. The next morning was equally cold. After a quick breakfast of pancakes and syrup from Vermont I decided to drive to the Iroquois locks and read while awaiting any ships that might pass through. While there I saw a fox sauntering around the locks, but not much else. Everything was quiet. Two ships were scheduled to come through in the afternoon. I spent the day reading a very challenging book, which you can read about in another blog entry if you'd like. : ) In the afternoon I watched two ships pass through the locks (yes, I'm really a big kid at heart). One just happened to be the Rt. Honorable Paul J. Martin. Just before I left, several seniors came whizzing by on their electric scooters. It was a site to see. Finally, it was back to the trailer again to have supper and continue my challenging book. I settled in for a quiet night and finished my book. In the morning it was pack up time and then back home. This time away was good for me. I was glad to be able to relax in my own way and take in some great reading, growing, and relaxation time. Check out the other blog entries about the books I read during this time.