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From Emptiness to Fullness

2019 National Gathering in Edmonton unites Canadian CRCs

Turning water into wine doesn’t seem very messianic, does it? It’s not as dramatic as healing the sick or raising the dead. But the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John is rich in symbolism, Roy Berkenbosch explained in his May 26 sermon at Fellowship Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Edmonton. It’s also rich in meaning for us today. We have emptied the storehouses of peace and justice; with Mary, we cry out for more wine. And, with Mary, we are reminded that Jesus’ very life is the wine which restores all good things.

One hundred and sixty people from CRCs across Canada joined Fellowship in worship at The King’s University that last Sunday in May. We were part of a “National Gathering,” the third of its kind since 2002. Berkenbosch’s sermon expounded on the event’s undergirding metaphor of moving from “emptiness to fullness,” or – as the Gathering organizers hoped – moving from some of the challenges facing the church into a greater awareness of God’s presence and grace.

Participants from 115 different churches spent time Friday, May 24 in small groups discussing emptiness – ways that the Christian Reformed Church in Canada has fallen short. During this time of lament more voices echoed Mary’s cry to her son, listing everything that has run out.

“Jesus,” said the pastors, “we have no support.”

“Jesus,” said the lonely, “we have no friends.”

“Jesus,” said the newcomers, “we have no welcome.”

“Jesus,” said the volunteers, “we have no energy left.”

“What if,” one person wondered, “we get so comfortable with emptiness that we stop seeking God’s fullness?”

These moments of painful honesty were interspersed with times of worship led by Jeremy Benjamins. As a result, you could hear people humming fragments of “I Am Not My Own” throughout the weekend. Its lyrics repeat the Heidelberg Catechism’s powerful promise of whose we are and what we’re here to do, and these words carried us forward.

HUNGER
On the second day, discussion focused on how to meet some of the needs that had been identified: a hunger for community, for reconciliation, for renewal. Denominational ministry leaders were in attendance to share information about tools that the CRC has for individual churches, including resources like those from Faith Formation, Safe Church, Race Relations and Indigenous Ministry.

“In our brokenness,” said Pastor Richard Bodini, a member of the Gathering’s planning team, “we see God’s hand at work and a way forward. God’s Spirit is alive in his church, in this little denomination called the CRCNA and in this little piece in Canada.” Emptiness? Yes. “But also our faithful God’s abiding presence and power.”

On Saturday participants met in Classis groups to wrestle with challenges specific to each region. Each group has committed to a one-hour discussion at their Fall Classis meeting that explores “bold next steps” for ministry.

“He called Lazarus out of the grave,” one person declared, “and he’s calling his church out of the grave, too.” What does fullness look like? Maybe it resembles walking forward in faith. A commitment to pray. Obedience. A passion for justice. A big imagination – so that we can imagine better ways to live and to love. These were all mentioned during the final sharing session on Saturday.

Just before everyone dispersed on Sunday, Roy Berkenbosch gave another description for the path to abundance: “Keep on incarnating Christ’s love in the world,” he said – to everyone in Edmonton, and to everyone who wants to follow Christ. “That’s how 21st century water is turned into wine.”

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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