Silent Retreat

January 27 10:00 – 4:30 St Andrew’s By-the-Lake Anglican Church, Centre Island

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

Looking for some calm, quiet space in the midst of your busy life? Interested in a time of being still with God in a beautiful place? Every year, our campus ministry hosts a silent retreat: a day in which we invite you to set aside some time and space to listen and reflect. This year we will be hosted by St. Andrews By the Lake Anglican Church on Centre Island (as the Anglican convent where we usually meet is undergoing renovations). We invite you to join us for our Silent Retreat on Saturday, January 27, from 10 am to 4:30 pm. The retreat is open to all those connected to the campus ministry community or at a university here in Toronto, so feel free to forward it to others who might be interested.

Schedule

The day will begin at 10 am with coffee/tea and scones followed by a time of prayer and entering into the silence together at 10:30am. The day will unfold in silence, including a silent lunch together and a quiet afternoon coffee break. We will gather at the close of the day to end our silence together and reflect on our experiences. Carol will be available for pastoral conversations during the day if things emerge you need to talk about. 

Getting there

As we are meeting on Centre Island, you will need to catch the Ward’s Island ferry (round-trip ticket $9). The church has a van that will pick people up from the 9:30 am ferry, or you can start your day of quiet with a 25-minute walk to the church (probably you would want to take the 9am ferry). We will ensure you can catch the 4:45 pm ferry back.

Resources

Some reading material and resources will be available for those who want them on the day. Please feel free to bring along any items that will deepen the experience and the silence for you. Suggestions include a journal to record any of your reflections, a Bible, devotional materials, poetry, art supplies and/or books on faith. Additionally, you can take time outside on the beach or walking around Centre Island, or do the labyrinth on the church grounds.

Contact/Registration

The cost for the retreat is $40.00 which includes lunch and two coffee breaks. If this amount causes any hardship, bursary options are available. Friends are welcome to join. Please contact Carol (carol.scovil@gmail.com) with any questions or to register. You can pay by e-transfer (to the same email address), or directly to Carol at GCF. Let me know if you have any food restrictions. We will need to know names and numbers by the week before to finalize food, so please confirm and pay by Fri. Jan. 19.

We hope you will join our community for this day of intentional quiet – to give space to reflect on what our hearts are telling us, and encounter the presence of God. 

Reflections from previous participants

“The 2023 silent retreat was the first time I had had the chance to practice a period of intentional silence with others. I found it really restful and a useful opportunity to take time to reflect and pray about a big change in my life, with no expectations or distractions and in the encouraging company of others also taking time apart.”

“The silent retreat was a change of pace. The sacred space and the time away from my usual flow of life allowed for a movement within myself to take place.”

“The retreat allowed me to let God in and quieted the worries of my heart. It gave me clarity and hope.”

Striving to be a safer space

As a ministry we desire to create spaces where young adults and others connected to the university feel welcome. We especially want to be a safer space to those who might feel less welcome in more traditional church or Christian spaces, such as those who ask uncomfortable questions or who have experienced trauma or other negative experiences related to church.

As part of that desire to be a safer space, we’re working on providing descriptions on our website for what people can expect if they attend gatherings, the opportunity to meet with a chaplain ahead of time, and through having and ensuring we follow our safe campus policy. In our conversations, we encourage and welcome a diverse range of opinions and we also are intentional about (graciously) challenging people to pay attention to how their language might comes across as racist or ableist, as being dismissive of the complexity of the Bible and Christianity, and/or as being exclusive of or causing distress to others.

We do this recognizing

  1. That creating safer spaces where people are held accountable is part of proclaiming the gospel, where all people and their experiences are valued. Melissa Kuipers, a Christian Reformed campus minister at Mohawk College in Hamilton, explains this well: Your Inconvenient Safe Church Policy Helps Spread the Gospel.
  2. That healing from trauma is a hard and often long journey. As Amanda Benckhuysen addresses why we can’t just get over trauma: “I think a large part of the answer is that we weren’t made for this. We weren’t made for a world in which we are violated and harmed. We weren’t made for a world of brokenness and sin. As such, we should never hope to get good at getting over oppression and violence and abuse and injustice. To simply “get over” the wrongs done to us is to acclimate to the brokenness and evil of the world and lull ourselves into believing this is OK. The hurt we feel when we are violated or mistreated, then, is not an indication of what’s wrong with us, but an indication of what’s wrong with the world. And this realization should inspire in all of us a deeper longing for Christ and Christ’s kingdom.” (The Journey to Healing After Abuse)

It is our hope that we might learn from the wisdom of people like Benckhuysen and Kuipers and so be safer spaces where people are able to lament injustice as well as imagine and long for God’s kingdom.

Glimpsing Hope

It’s that time of year again when we tell the stories of how God is working in and through the ministry. We share stories of hope, as a way of encouraging ourselves and others about how God uses our efforts and our presence on campus and in people’s lives. We also try to acknowledge what has been hard and where we are still waiting. At a recent gathering of regional Christian Reformed campus ministers, people’s sharing about the challenges of this season were especially encouraging. It is helpful to hear that we are not the only group that is discerning how best to reach out to a student population that is exhausted and overwhelmed, looking for community and struggling to connect and commit. It is good, in the middle of those struggles, to both hear and tell of glimpses of hope found in good conversations where there has been a sense of God’s presence: conversations that sometimes happen only once but sometimes continue over time, conversations where learn more of God’s grace and open themselves more fully to the Spirit.

The following story from Richard Mouw is one of those stories that resonated with me as a campus minister: it is a story of being God’s presence to those around us and a story of hope, even as the story feels unfinished, or at least without the clear ‘happy’ ending many of us long for.

Mouw describes a letter he once received from a recent graduate of Fuller:

[She had lost her faith] in her senior year at the evangelical college she attended. It wasn’t the fault of anyone at that school. She had received a good education there and had made many friends. And now also at Fuller—she had learned much, but with the same result—still no recovering of faith.

She had not shared her loss of faith with any family or friends, and she was now thinking about how best to do that. Writing to me was for her a first step. During her senior year of college, having realized that she no longer believed, she decided “to give Fuller a chance” at helping to restore her faith. Nor did she regret that decision. While her faith had not returned, she wrote, “Fuller gave it a good shot!” And then she said something that brought a gasp from me, followed by many tears. She wanted to thank me especially, she said, because, in a philosophy class that I taught, she came close to believing again. “It was in a lecture on Nietzsche. You laid out the issue of a living God versus a dead God, and for a moment—a moment!—I felt like I could believe again. But the feeling went away. But thank you for giving it a try!”

I still shed tears over her words to me. I often pray for her. I think much about what I, or the school that I served as president, should have done differently.”

Mouw continues by reflecting on what it might look like to make space for people asking questions and for people to be honest about how and what they believe. I pray that campus ministries and the wider church might provide that kind of space.

Companions on the Journey of Advent

Advent is upon us. In a few weeks, many of us will begin the long journey home to see family and friends, and maybe even get a bit of a break (from school, not from our families). Things may be getting busy or winding down, but it’s never too late to begin an advent practice unless it’s already January. That might be too late.

For those of you looking for some advent direction or devotionals, the GCF staff have compiled a list of our favourite advent resources.

Good Enough Advent + Christmastide

GCF staff favourite Kate Bowler, author of Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) has a new Advent companion for 2023 that meets us at our most okay. With blessings, readings and activities, this is a rounded devotional to work through on your own or to share with your family.

God please start it now:

The promised healing,

Restoration,

Redemption.

I can’t wait much longer

For When You Feel Forgotten by God, from The Lives We Actually Have, as quoted in Good Enough: Advent and Christmastide

Anchor in Advent

Anchor is written by A.C. Grace who also wrote Empty and Full: An Advent Lament | Women Scholars and Professionals. In Anchor, she acknowledges the complex feelings that arise when she realizes that so much of Advent seems to be focused on Mary’s pregnancy. 

Year after year, I genuinely hope to slow down and engage deeply in the Advent season. And year after year, the weeks fly by faster than I can catch them. Before I know it, it’s the New Year, and then next thing I know, we’re nearing Christmas again. I know I’m not alone in my longing to slow down and savour this time of year, so I decided to put together these pages to help myself and others cultivate rhythms to anchor in the Advent season.

Anchor in Advent, A.C. Grace

Another Starry Black Night

This online womanist devotional from Unbound – Intersections of Faith and Justice a free online journal that looks at the intersection of faith and social justice.

Mary births baby Jesus into an economically and politically fraught world. Besieged by Roman colonial power and imperially backed governors, Israel ached for liberation, justice, agency, and getting above the throes of financial insecurity. Her radical song about the time and her sense of Jesus to overturn them is well documented (Luke 2). National and local governments not only ignored the needs of the people but exploited them—their labour, their health, their time, and their resources. The testimony and prophetic witness of Isaish was just as relevant to them as it was for their ancestors. This is made evident by the fact that the Gospel writers quote Isaiah more than any other scripture.

Advent’s Gope Fuels Possibilities, Bridgett A. Green

Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas

A new compendium of reflections, art and poems, Richardson’s quiet approach particularly appeals to Carol, who has one of Richardson’s previous books. The ebook is available on Amazon for $9.99

Always I return. No matter where I have traveled in the past year, no matter how far the journey or the turns the path has taken, I keep finding myself here at its door: the season of Advent, this space in the Christian year that invites us to anticipate and prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Made of nothing more substantial than hours and days, Advent exists only in time. But each year, as I draw near to its beginning in the waning days of November, Advent seems as much a place as a season.

Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas, Jan Richardson

Endings and New Beginnings: Saying good-bye to Deb

Deb has taken on a new job with the Anglican Diocese and has thus left the campus ministry staff team. We are sad to see her go, but we are also hopeful about how the Spirit will use her gifts to bless the church in new ways.
The following is a letter from Deb with more about her endings and new beginnings. Following that are some words of thanks from Peter, who is a long-time participant in the Wine Before Breakfast community and a member of the campus ministry supervising committee. We invite you also to pray the blessing he shares at the end. – Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

Hello friends, near and far, new and old…

Some of you have heard the news, but to make it official, I am taking over Brenda’s usual communication to our vast community to let you know that my time with the CRC Campus ministry team is coming to a close. I’ve accepted a position with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto as a consultant on a team focused on congregational development, working with the numerous parishes in Toronto’s massive diocese. While I know I have so much to learn, I am feeling quite confident about what I can contribute to this work, which begins on November 1st.

It really does feel like the end of an era as I shift gears and prepare to leave campus ministry. I found Wine Before Breakfast at a different time of transition in my life: my faith in and curiosity about Jesus, the Bible and Christian community had me feeling a bit at odds with the church I’d grown up in. I was in pursuit of a career as a singer-songwriter and trying to save up enough money to go back to school and get that degree in Canadian literature I’d started once-upon-a-time. Gradually my attendance at church faltered, but not because my faith was diminishing -it just had me yearning for something different. That yearning was satisfied when I arrived at Wine Before Breakfast for the first time in September of 2009. Not only did I find a faith community that was going to hold my questions, my doubts and my laments, I found a community that knew exactly what to do with a singing, song-writing young lady who catalogued pivotal moments of her life in playlists (we called them mixed CDs back then) and wanted to belt out anthems written by the lyrical prophets of our time, their words resonating with those of the prophets all through the scriptures. I attended Wine Before Breakfast only once before joining the band up front, and I stayed there for the next 14 years.

I never did get around to finishing my degree, but I did become a regular fixture on campus, and I definitely got an education. I don’t know where to begin describing the impact this campus ministry community has had on me, but I can tell you it has shaped me deeply as a person, and a minister, of faith. It has offered me countless opportunities to work and worship in an interdenominational capacity; to push at the boundaries of what a church service can look like; to make more room for people who want to radically examine and practice Christian faith; and to understand that weirdos like me can and should belong. In fact, it’s my participation in ministries like Wine Before Breakfast that have prepared me so well for the new ministry that I am moving onto. And while Wine Before Breakfast has wound down, in the capacity that many of us has known it to be, I will never think of it as anything but a successful ministry. I know I will tell its story over and over again as a testament to the way God can work in unconventional ways, and through unconventional people.

This has been an extended season of change for the ministry, that has included both joy and sadness, and is a large part of my own season of change. But I want all of you to know how grateful I am for this ministry and for your part in it -whether as an attending student, service participant, a donor, a staff member or committee member. This has been an impactful and ground-breaking community over it’s 20+ years, thanks in no small part to the contributions of all its members. Even though Wine Before Breakfast is no longer a weekly service, it remains a community of people whose faith is both peculiar and profound as a result of all God has done, and will continue to do, in us.

So thank you, my friends. I covet your prayers in this next stage of my life, and hope you know you can count on mine. May you remember that we are bound by the love of God, after which we have honed our love for each other. I don’t know what song is ringing in your ears right now, but in mine, I hear the words of Alexi Murdoch’s Orange Sky: “In your love, my salvation lies.” Always.

-Deb Whalen-Blaize

Reflections from Peter regarding Deb’s contributions to Wine Before Breakfast

I believe very much that Deb’s time with this ministry had a profound effect on her. And I think Deb’s musical ministry at Wine Before Breakfast had an equally profound effect on those who attended. I know it had a profound effect on me. Deb’s musical selections and singing, especially in those opening and closing songs at Wine Before Breakfast, resonated so well with the liturgy and spoken word ministry of those leading or preaching, as well as her own sermons. 
 
For me, that musical ministry was something that immediately drew me in the very first time I attended a WBB service. One of the earliest song’s Deb did that stands out for me was Josh Ritter’s Thin Blue Flame. Another song that stands out in my memory is another Josh Ritter song that Deb sang on the Tuesday following the shooting death of Adam Wood, In the Dark, with its chorus of “Don’t you leave us in the dark”, and then Brian turning out the lights in the chapel as you started to sing. And I’ll always remember Deb’s acapella rendition of U2’s Bloody Sunday, on a Tuesday evening following a bloody mass shooting at a Florida nightclub. And Deb’s tearful rendition of Martyn Joseph’s Whoever It Was That Brought Me Here (Will Have to Take Me Home), the final closing song at the last WBB in August.
 
One of the traditions at Wine Before Breakfast was the laying on of hands during the “Prayers of Leave-Taking and Commissioning” for those leaving WBB. I wish we all could have given Deb that leave-taking prayer in person. In lieu of that I’ll end this with the closing words of that prayer (which all reading are invited to share):
 
Go forth, dear friend,
with our blessings and with our prayers.
Go forth in the power of the risen Christ.
Go forth and bear witness in all that you do,
to the love of God,
the redemption of Christ,
and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
In the powerful name of Jesus,
Amen, Alleluia!

This post was originally sent out as an email to the campus ministry community.

Prayer for Students

The following prayer was written by “Daniel Jones, InterVarsity Artist-in-Residence, who led at the student-focused evening service at Knox on October 15th” and taken from the Knox Presbyterian Church‘s weekly email.

Please join us in praying:

for the new students who have arrived on GTA campuses this fall, that they would find places of belonging, that growing friendships and relationships would solidify.
for returning students, that Jesus would protect, and walk with them to flourish and thrive, and lead them to be people of welcome for first years and new students.
for those curious and wrestling and intrigued by Jesus, that He would meet them and find them in their questions and wonderings, and for students who aren’t yet interested in Jesus to encounter Him, that they would make unexpected connections in unexpected places, like conversations over food, or in the midst of study, that will change the trajectory of their lives.
for the campus fellowships on each campus, that Jesus would build communities that would gather God’s people to be equipped and fed by your Word and then sent out to serve those in their midst.
for student leaders of campus fellowships, for boldness and courage in their love and sharing of faith, and for wisdom in conversations, for generosity of hospitality and the ability to share the Word and teach scripture through bible study.
for Christian students, that they would have a willingness to go to the edges of campus, to the uncomfortable places, to love and serve and care for people who may not be like them for the sake of the kingdom.
for faculty and campus workers of faith to be blessing and light, that they would share stories of faith and offer wisdom, and that Jesus would strengthen and empower them.
for the all Campus Ministry staff and volunteers, that Jesus would encourage them and renew their vision; provide partners to love and serve alongside them; grow profound love in them for the students that they know and for those whom they have yet to meet; give them endurance to persevere in the hard seasons, and gratitude to celebrate and share the good stories of your faithfulness.
for all the campuses in the GTA, that they would be places from which God’s people are sent out – into life and into work – and that they would reflect and bring glory to Jesus where ever He sends them!”

Amen.

How do people find us?

The following anecdote from early on in the semester, a variation of which was sent via email to some supporters, helps address the question of how people find the Graduate Christian Fellowship:

  • One person I had met the previous week when I was tabling at the Graduate Student Orientation for the campus chaplains association. They had asked about whether I knew of any Christian groups for graduate students, and so I invited them to come and check us out, to see if we’d be a good fit (and if not, I’d help them find something else). They came slightly nervous and discovered a community that enjoyed being with each other and thinking through things together.
  • Another came to us because they’d been connected to a CRC campus ministry at a different university as an undergrad. They reached out to us, met with a staff member, and then came last night. Hopefully the connection started will lead to their participating in the ministry, whether through attending GCF or knowing that we’re available to them for pastoral care and/or conversations as they continue to explore Christian ethics related to their field. 
  • Another came to us last night because they had heard of GCF from someone who attended a few years ago and had found this a meaningful community.
  • Another came to us (along with a friend who is attending a local seminary) because they’d googled us and was delighted to hear that there was a Christian grad group on campus. They didn’t say much, but appreciated that we had gluten-free options for dinner (we also make sure there’s vegetarian options!). 
  • Another came to us because they’d heard good things about us from the folks at Knox Presbyterian Church, where they’ve begun to feel at home. They had been looking for spiritual direction and encouragement, so that will hopefully lead to further conversation. 

The list helps show all the ways that God brings people to us. Our prayer is that we might help all those who are looking to find a community that cares about them and where they might come to know God more deeply.

Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink

Spring Update: God working in and through the ministry

As we wrap up our 54th year of encouraging students to engage with their faith on campus, we are thankful to once again share how God has been working in people’s lives and at the university. Through the pastoral work we do and the programs we offer, we challenge, mentor, and enable students to think, work, and live as Christian disciples in the academy and in their professions. Through wrestling with Scripture and difficult topics, we invite people into radical Christian discipleship, inviting them to rest in the hope of Christ and to participate in God’s work of bringing justice. 

The following is an example of one way that we’ve been blessed to see God work: 

During the pandemic, one of the grad students now participating in our ministry experienced a time when she was deeply overwhelmed. One evening she called out to Jesus and felt God’s presence in response. After this encounter with God, a friend encouraged her to connect with the ministry as a means of growing in faith. She started attending Wine Before Breakfast and soon became part of Graduate Christian Fellowship. Through her participation in the ministry and pastoral conversations with the campus ministers, she grew in her understanding of how God was inviting her into radical Christian discipleship in all of her life.   

This spring she was baptized at a local church during their Easter Vigil. What makes her baptism even more special is that her baptism class was led by Andrew, who has himself been significantly shaped by Wine Before Breakfast. 


To read an update about the ministry and more stories of how God is working in and through the ministry, read our spring newsletter.

The retirement celebration for Brian was another reminder of how God works in and through the ministry to touch the lives of many people. In case you missed the service, you can watch it here. The service starts at 11:50, speeches in honour of Brian start at 2:09:28.

Less victim, less pressure, more grace, more hope.

Jonathan Haidt, made infamous for his article on trigger warnings and coddling of the American Mind, was recently in the news again concerning the well-being of teens and young adults (see article, and Haidt’s own words in article1 and article2). The argument once again points to social media as playing a significant role in the well-being of youth (see also Twenge’s now famous article on whether smartphones have destroyed a generation).

Another part of Haidt’s argument about the decreased well-being of young adults is his articulation that certain ways of thinking, “say identifying with, or privileging victims and a victim status, tends to disempower people because it puts someone else in charge of your life.” (Robinson) While we should acknowledge that many of us, and some more than others for various reasons, have been and continue to be victims of unjust behaviour and/or institutions, the problem comes not from recognizing that we are victims, but by allowing being a victim to become one’s sense of identity. Victims have limited agency and there is limited focus on resiliency. Without conversations about resilience and agency, people are more likely to become depressed.

While this is an interesting conversation to be had in terms of how such thinking is affecting young adults, especially at university, it’s also an interesting conversation in wondering, like Robinson, “if there is some cross-over to all this in churches.” Have we lost our sense of agency in the church? Or, more accurately, have we forgotten God’s agency?

Robinson notes that in the “more liberal and progressive church context, there’s a lot of emphasis on the problems of the world, and on what you should be doing about it. Which begins to sound a lot like law, not gospel. It’s all about what you should do or feel or think. If God is in the picture, it’s about what God needs us to do, demands that we do. There’s little emphasis on what God has done or is doing on our behalf or on God’s capacity to bring good out of or in the face of evil. So it’s kind of all on us.”

That sounds exhausting and debilitating.

In a world where so many are exhausted and overwhelmed, when we feel like we have too little agency and too much responsibility, church can’t be a place that tries to give us more of that. Church – and all Christian organizations – need to be places of grace and hope.

Please pray with us that we in the ministry might indeed be one of those places where we extend grace and help people hope.