If isolation was a professional risk suffered by prophets during Biblical times, not much has changed today.
“Justice workers are often missing connections,” says Mike Hogeterp of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue based in Ottawa. Sometimes fatigue can set in when Christian social activists work in isolation within their own churches or communities.
“The same is true for artists and musicians,” adds Hogeterp. “They aren’t sufficiently connected in their own Christian communities.” Only a handful of others at church may share their passions.
An intimate conference in Toronto on October 21 tried to change all that by bringing together social activists, musicians and artists to discuss the intersection of worship and justice. Many of the about 75 in attendance came from southern Ontario with the hope that connections made during the full-day event could be sustained over time.
“We need community to continue and grow justice work,” says Hogeterp. “The work of justice is enhanced when we connect with people of faith, lean into worship and grow spiritual discipline.”
|Nathan Russell, Gloria VandeKemp, Megan Bagg, Adrianna Marcus and Jade Hoekstra (standing) of TDCH in Woodbridge, Ont., perform a play.|
For such a time as this
Justin Eisinga, a Redeemer University College graduate who works at a social enterprise café in Hamilton, said he “definitely” feels a sense of fatigue at times. “It’s easy to get discouraged about doing justice work.” He added he decided to attend the conference “to be filled with hope and inspiration to keep doing the work.” The problems don’t go away, said Eisinga, you need to take care of yourself to be present for the long-haul.
In recent years, Hogeterp says he feels optimistic about the growing recognition within the CRC in Canada about injustices perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples. Reconciliation with First Nations needs to move beyond signing important declarations or reading meaningful liturgies during worship. “Reconciliation is about taking action,” says Hogeterp.
The Centre for Public Dialogue has identified unequal educational funding for schools on-reserve as one of its key advocacy issues. Funding for First Nations schools has consistently been 30 to 50 percent lower than provincially funded schools. Only 40 percent of First Nation kids complete high school. Recent policy and funding changes look promising, but continued action is important to make these commitments real. The Centre’s website offers easy ways to contact politicians about this issue and Christian resources to learn more about Indigenous justice.
The conference was opened with a short but gripping play, performed by five teens who attend Toronto District Christian High School (TDCH) in Woodbridge, Ont. The play’s characters struggle to sort out how they can find practical, sustainable ways to help promote justice and a more equal society. The play recognizes that, at times, issues such as homelessness, abuse or racism become overwhelming to ordinary Christians trying to do the right thing, also by making donations towards good causes.
“The play makes you think. It doesn’t tell you what to think, but opens your mind,” said Gloria Vandekemp, 17, one of the young actors.
Shows across Canada
Directed by TDCH drama teacher Richard Peters and songwriter/musician Jeanine Noyes of Toronto, the play is based on 2015 research findings on Christian Reformed attitudes towards justice and faith. The study was funded by the CRC, the Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Ethics at ICS and the Centre for Community-Based Research in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. Rather than just producing reports that are often quickly forgotten, researchers decided to produce a play to bring the study findings alive. The drama has been performed across the country in the past few years. A production toolkit and video of the play can be downloaded at icscanada.edu/cprse/ justice-and-faith.
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