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.

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

Prayers for Mark 3

The following prayers were written by Matthijs for the March 14 service at Wine Before Breakfast that focused on the end of Mark 3.

Dear God, we turn to you, as we come to this shore.
You brought us here.
Your boat is ready.
A sea of people stands around us.
Yet we are alone, and afraid.
To you we pray, dear God:
Send your Spirit and save us.
[Silent and spoken prayers for the church, as we know it]

Dear God, for a while we may bask in your light
and hear your voice.
Nourish the growing seed in our hearts.
But soon, we fear, the storm will break.
Its clouds fill our horizon.
The punishment for our sins
and the failings of our generation
bear down on us like a flood.
And we are still alone.
To you we pray, dear God,
Send your Spirit and make us one.
[Prayers for the world in which we live.]

Dear God, 
Demons have entered our sanctuaries,
despoiled our houses, divided our families.
Guilt, despair, and corruption infest our nations,
our screens, and our minds.
There is no health in us.
Dear God, you who gave Jesus the power
to bind the strong man,
you forgive our sins and prepare for us a table.
To you we pray: send your Spirit and set us free.
[Prayers for schools and universities.]

Dear God, you who are truth and word and spirit,
you know the tasks we are given to accomplish;
our efforts at sowing and our hope of a harvest.
You observe our exhaustion and our tiredness.
To you we pray, dear God:
Refresh our minds
with your love and wisdom and grace.
Make us your true scroll keepers, 
bringing words and questions that engage and support.
[Prayers for our own intentions and our loved ones.]

Dear God, dear Spirit of Consolation, 
you who fill this house with your presence,
To you we pray, in the name of Jesus your Son
who brings us together:
give us strength this day for our journey.
Carry us forward by your mercy
into your promised kingdom. Amen.

Prayers for Wisdom

The following prayer was written by Alicia for the February 28 WBB service focusing on Proverbs 10 and sin.

Living God, we come to you in this season of Lent.
Thank you for this period of time,
when we hear your invitation to be honest 
about the sin in our lives, and to turn to you.
Lord, teach us to number our days,
and give us hearts of wisdom.

Through your Son’s life,
You gave us an example of how to live wisely.
Through his death,
you reconciled us to you and to one another,
making it possible for us to grow in mature wisdom.

In a world with many distractions,
we need your help to speak rightly,
act honestly, and live our lives in wholeness.
Lord, teach us to number our days,
and give us hearts of wisdom

We confess:
we are often very quick to speak,
and slow to listen,
going the opposite way
from what your Word teaches us.

We face the temptation to act
without honesty and integrity,
protecting ourselves at the expense of others 
in our relationships and our responsibilities.

We often find it too hard to persevere
in discipline and justice,
failing to live out habits of real flourishing 
for ourselves and the communities around us.
Lord, give us your heart of wisdom.

[Silence for confession and self-examination]

We pray during this season for those who speak 
in the city and the university: 
politicians, journalists, writers, and many others.
Help them to consider their speech carefully,
to stop and listen often, 
and to choose words that build others up 
and open new pathways.

[Prayers silent and spoken for God’s influence on speech 
in the public square]

We pray for those in positions of leadership,
especially where there is money involved.
We ask for leaders in all areas of public life 
who will embody integrity and transparency.
Help them and us to place a high value 
on honest dealing and justice in all we do.

[Prayers silent and spoken for leaders in UofT and Toronto]

We pray for the students on this campus and around the city,
that you would give them the desire 
and ability to pursue disciplined, life-giving habits,
in their studies and in all of life.
Shape them and us into people of freedom 
and hope in how we live day to day.

[Prayers silent and spoken for students 
and others seeking the right way of life]

Holy God,
we know that your ways are the path of life.
We need your help to grow in wisdom,
and your grace when we lack it.

We look to the example of your Son Jesus,
and the holy, wholly human life he lived.
Make us more like Jesus in our speech,
our thoughts, and our actions.

Lord, walk with us on the path of life.
Amen.

Prayers for Michigan State

Please pray for the students, faculty, staff, and all others affected by Monday evening’s shooting at Michigan State University. We ask that you specifically pray for the campus ministers, including Dara, who works with a Christian Reformed campus ministry similar to what we have here in Toronto.

To help give you words to pray, the following are prayers provided by the CRC’s Do Justice website:

“On February 13, 2023, a mass shooter at Michigan State University in East Lansing killed three students, and injured five more. The gunman later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when he was confronted by police off campus.

Jesus you are with the wounded, the anguished, the broken-hearted. That is where you’ve said you’ll be and that is where we find you. Where the wages of sin, of indifference, of violence and despair are truly brought to bear on your creation is where you are. Be present and tangible to those grieving loss of love, and the loss of their safety and help the community heal and support one another. 

Lord, in a country where going to the theatre, the grocery store, a dance club, to work, to a prayer meeting or to school as a kindergartener or a university student could be a death sentence, may the fear and terror of living not rule us.  But make us able to see clearly.  

How Long is a question we ask knowing that there are things we could do but haven’t. How long till those words do not ring hollow?

Prayers of the People – Unity and kingship

The following prayers were used at the Wine Before Breakfast service on January 24. They are adapted from the Prayers of Intercession in the resources from Ecumenical week of prayer. The opening section is adapted from The Abingdon Worship Annual 2012 (by Mary Scifres) and the closing section from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers.

O God, our King and Creator,
forgive us when we try to make you in our image;
forgive us when we turn to earthly rulers
for the wisdom and strength
you have already shown us.
Fulfill your purpose in us,
that we may be your people,
your temples upon this earth,
your partners in love and mercy.

Creator God,
today we live with the consequences of actions
that have made life unsustainable for some
and overabundant for others.
Teach us how to responsibly use
the resources you have given to us,
that they would be used for the benefit of all
and with respect for your creation.
Creation cries out to you.
Teach us and show us the way.
[Silent and spoken prayers for creation and those affected by climate change and food insecurity]

Compassionate God, help us repair the harm
that we have inflicted upon each other
and the divisions we have created among your people.
Just as Christ Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto the disciples
to birth the community of the new creation,
send your grace to heal our divisions
and gift us with the unity for which Jesus prayed.
Teach us and show us the way.
[Silent and spoken prayers for the church and the university]

Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life,
you embodied justice in your ministry on earth
by the good that you did,
breaking down the walls that divide
and the prejudices that imprison.
Open our hearts and minds to recognize
that though we are many, we are one in you.
Teach us and show us the way.
[Prayers for justice and reconciliation]

Holy Spirit, you create anew the face of the earth.
The summit of the mountains,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the lakes speak to us –
Because we are connected.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dewdrops on the flower speak to us –
Because we are connected.

The voices of the poor,
the oppressed and the marginalized speak to us –
Because we are connected.

Unlike earthly kings,
you, O Lord, are ever steadfast and faithful.
You sent us your Son, Jesus the Christ,
to rule over us, not as a tyrant,
but as a gentle shepherd.
Keep us united and strong in faith,
May we know your presence in our lives
and see you in the lives of those around us.
Amen.

Prayers for God as king

Prayers written by Deb for the January 24 Wine Before Breakfast service focused on 1 Samuel and the image of God as king.

Creator God,
We come before you in heartache and frustration
Because the system just isn’t working.

We long for the ease and confidence
of a society that is just, fair and noble
But the world in which we live
is anything but just, fair and noble.
The system just isn’t working.

In our attempts to right the ship
we have forgotten you
and put our faith in the latest and greatest idea.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent...

We confess that we don’t know
how to meet the suffering in the world
But, trusting that you do,
we quiet our hearts and await
what you are ready to teach us.
Amen.

Prayers of the People – God as darkness

The following prayers were written by Robert Revington for the WBB service on 29 November 2022. Some text derived from “Darkness Goodness” by Jacqueline Daley and “Cloth for the Cradle: Worship Resources and Readings for Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany.

Lord, who created the universe
and humankind out of darkness;
“light for the day; dark for the night,”
be with us.
We came from the darkness of the womb
and to darkness we will go.

Through darkness
you helped the Hebrews escape Egypt;
Through darkness
you summoned Moses;
Through darkness
the Holy Family escaped Herod;

Through darkness
you allowed the slaves to escape on the Underground Railway.
Our saviour was laid in a dark grave
to bring salvation from our sins.
Darkness brings liberty to the captives.

(Prayers for those who are oppressed in body, spirit, heart and mind.)

Darkness is not evil.
Your people sin in daylight,
as in the stories of Adam, Eve, Cain, David in the afternoon light.
As Jesus was crucified in the morning light.

The greatest sins are not always on the streets at night
but in an office in the daylight,
where the poor are neglected.

We remember your servants
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks,
and others whose Black lives shone light on White sin,
enlightening the world to let freedom win
and that black is not the twin of evil.

(Prayers for leaders and people of influence to move the world toward God’s justice.)

In darkness, love ignites, passion soars, and lovers unite.
Prayer and meditation happen in closed-eyed darkness;
the friendly darkness,
where sleep also rescues us from tiredness.
We bless you, Lord of light and dark;
teach us to be still in your deep darkness.

(A moment of stillness and silence.)

Two thousand years ago,
in the town of Bethlehem,
when the world was dark,
and the city was quiet, you came.

And no one knew,
except the few who believed.
As the old song says,
“It came upon a midnight clear”
—a child born, a message of peace to all.

Show us how hope rises in darkness
as it did in Bethlehem,
whisper to us gently in the dark,
and remind us that you are there
even when we do not see you.
Amen.