Some historical reflections on Classis Niagara

These reflections were shared by Rev. Sid Couperus, former pastor of Mountainview CRC, as devotions at the October 2018 meeting

                  Welcome to Classis Niagara. This 107th meeting of Classis Niagara “To encourage, equip, and empower churches and ministries to engage God’s people in mission!” This fall we are gathering around the theme of Leadership Development. We heard again today, when leaders get better, everyone gets better. I’ve been looking forward to this venue of Classis for the past six months, believing that the Global Leadership Summit is the most challenging and helpful conference that stretches leadership gifts for ministry. I’ve also been looking forward to this meeting, because it marks the end of six years of serving the Classis Ministry Committee. When I came to Mountainview, Steve De Boer was chair of CMC and he dreamed of Classis being more than just a meeting and going on a retreat as a way of strengthening relationships with one another. He talked about Classis spending more money on church plants than chaplaincies, how we needed a Classis websight and how churches might grow stronger in missions and outreach into their communities, and then stepped down from C.M.C. saying his six years were done. But I saw Steve setting wheels in motion for renewal to take place in Classis Niagara. 

                  Good Leadership demands listening and that’s where Classis Niagara took the bold step of scheduling an overnight retreat in our February Classis, three years in a row, in the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls New York. We worshiped together, ate together, played games together and stayed overnight. James 1:19 says; “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” We invited Syd Hielema to help begin our journey, and Ben VandeZande to assist us in processing a new vision statement and articulate five values that would help guide each meeting of Classis and direct us to encourage, equip, and empower churches and ministries to engage God’s people in mission!” Throughout retreat settings, Authentic Community became a value we cherished, and wanted to see implemented in our agenda’s as a key value. A transition team was struck and Christ DeWinter, Bob Loerts and Hilda Vanderklip volunteered to author the final report for restructuring, passed on the report for the CMC to implement and Chris went on to serve Classis Niagara as a member of our denomination’s Council of Delegates. Five values were hammered out, including leadership development. Those five values are not only on each of our agenda’s but each meeting of classis is dominated by one of the value. Our new clerk Wendy DeJong has divided our Agenda’s according to values and Anita VanGeest has just reframed out budget to do the same. Next February, the Authentic Community team is planning another Classis Retreat on February 8th and 9th, in Hamilton, with Syd Hielema as our guest speaker once again. Whether a deacon, elder, or pastor, Good leadership demands listening to one another, and to the working of God’s Spirit, like a keen sailor adjusting the jib and the sail to changing winds across the bow.     

                  Second, Good leadership demands courage to lean into the darkness. How often do we not come across the phrase from God, or an angel, or Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” Leadership comes with hardships, struggles and challenges, and we need not be afraid to “lean into the darkness.” One of our heaviest classis meetings was walking through the difficulties, demise and death of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church. We journeyed through this with prayerful dependence on God. Pastor Rich Loerps was released and served this Classis ably for several years as clerk. Memberships were transferred, and assets were sold and Maranatha as a congregation became like memories of a parent who has gone before us. We all remember when Pastor Wes and Stephanie Collins were in a severe car accident and all of us practiced prayerful dependence on God. While Wes was recuperating in the hospital, Wellenport congregation banded together and turned their church from front to back with a complete renovation, as well as witness an incredible restoration and healing process with their pastor. We were lead through a “Blanket Exercise” at Classis in Rose City Kids Theatre, invited to hear the painful story of First Nations people discrimination, displacements and dispair. Some of us were chastised at Woody Dixon’s examination and some of us admonished at Rick Roeda’s release, and with prayerful dependence on God, moved forward togetherJim Dekker wrote a personal journey around his daughter’s journey being gay and married in Christian Courier and Pastor Fred continues to be a part of Niagara’s Generous Space cluster, with prayerful dependence on God. This past January, Colin Vanderploeg and Fenwick church hosted the movie OVER 18 in Smithville Christian Highschool, to lean into the darkness of pornography with the light of Christ. They are teaming up with Mountainview on February 10th, to show it once again, for Classis Niagara, and anyone else, wanting to lean into the darkness with the light of the gospel, with prayerful dependence on God. Good leadership does not come without its scars and wounds, its errors and mistakes, its burns and crashes, and is constantly challenged to lean into the darkness, hearing the Holy Spirit’s whispers, “Do not be afraid, for I am still with you.” Prayerful dependence on God has become a core value. 

                  Third, Good leadership uses leverage to further God’s mission. We watched Mike Collins gather a group of hungry followers of Jesus and leverage them to view the entire community of Thorald as God’s Village, in the work of his church plant. Hilda Vanderclip and Steve DeBoer and their team continued with their vision of church plants and placed an add in the Banner and welcomed Allen and Freda Klein Deters to Niagara Falls, where he began The Bridge. We had a Classis Meeting at The Hub, 4333 Queen Street, and witness the space used for disciples making disciples. Allen recently told us how they were leveraging the restaurant space next door to further their mission of disciples making disciples. This was a theme that our newly retired chaplain, Andres Basson at Brook, loved most, disciples making disciples. This was a theme Hilda Vanderklip leveraged her work at the village with, reaching out towards foreign students with, disciples making disciples. This natural value grew into team that offered each of our churches five Saturday morning training sessions on how to be missional, with disciples making disciples. We had a classis meeting in Welland, at Rose City kids, where we were introduced to a team of leaders who were growing an ever increasing ministry towards children in Welland, disciples making disciples. We have a youth champion in Anna Baily who has given leadership to Camp Shout in Jubilee, as well as present classis with a huge “youth report,” and continue to give leadership among youth leaders in Classis Niagara, disciples making disciples. We had a group of people in St. Catharines as well as Fruitland C.R.C. give leadership for the past three years to two separate SERVE projects, helping disciples make disciples. Dunnville CRC works with a drop in center in Dunnville, with volunteers helping disciples make disciples. This Classis was even willing to hold a Classis meeting in Kitchener Waterloo on the Friday of a May Long weekend to witness the leadership given by Tim Scholman and his  AOYC team volunteer tirelessly leading 800 young people,disciples making disciples. This Classis holds high the value of disciples making disciples.       

                  Fourth, Good Leadership thrives on Loyalty, and our churches are filled with tremendously loyal people. So many of our parishoners are deeply loyal to Jesus Christ. Smithville just had a wonderful opening celebration of their new facility and will be hosting the Classical Reformation Day service next week, on October 28th at 3:00 p.m., and what they are most proud of is how many volunteer hours were donated to their project. Covenantal Relationships run deep. Bob Loerts has championed this new classis restructuring team giving his leadership skills to this team, as well as the newly formatted Campus Ministry Team, that is in the process of looking to hire a campus chaplain, through Covenant relationships.  This past Sunday Pastor Fred and I did pulpit supply in Dunnville, since Pastor John retired, because of our covenant relationship. (they have presently extended a call to Jeff Klingenberg) Last classis we met in the newly renovated denominational building in Burlington, and found ourselves connected to World Renew, Faith Formation, Resonate, and Canadian Ministries, because we have Covenant Relationships. Darren Roorda reached out to Classis Niagara with the Bridge App, and has invited us to another Canadian Conversation. Together, we welcomed Mark DeVos to the Bridge, Mike VanDyke to Welland, and the present chair of the CMC, Kevin Vanderveen in his work at Covenant. We as churches continue to support Peter Janssens in his Shalom Chaplaincy because of covenant relationships. He could not be here this evening because they are holding a six-month memorial service for some 30 residents who have passed away in that time period. On Wednesday some of us attended Redeemers Pastor and Professor event, where some of us met their new president, Dr. Robert Graham. We went there because of our covenant relationship with redeemer. Good leadership flourishes with loyalty. 

                  Finally, Good leadership is most effect when there is genuine love for all others. I was heart broken when I attended the Global Leadership Summit on August 9th in St. Catharine’s, and heard about the allegations against Bill Hybels and the resignation of Willowcreek’s lead pastors and entire elder board. In all my ministry years I looked to Bill Hybels for leadership growth and I too am dealing with a sense of disappointment, betrayal and grief. And even more challenging, I find myself reflecting on my own leadership shortcomings, not showing enough genuine love for ordinary people, not giving parishioners enough respect, and not offering partners in the gospel enough collegiality. Good leadership is most effective where there is genuine love for one another. And maybe that’s why each of us, elders, deacons and pastors as well as parishioners are so dependent on gathering each week again, to hear the gospel preached, and receive the sacraments so that we might continuously be exposed to the good leadership of Jesus, who has such deep genuine love for each one of us. Peter addresses the urgency of love in the opening of his second letter, where he writes “For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance and to perseverance godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to kindness, love. Good leadership is quick to listen, leans into the darkness without fear, uses leverage to make disciples, thrives in loyalty and is most effective when there is genuine love for all others. May our love for one another, only increase.