For the past several years, pastors and wives from Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches in western North America have gathered for the Western Ministerial Conference (WMC), which many participants describe as more of a retreat.
Part of the relaxed feeling may arise from the conference’s scenic location at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, WA. But the atmosphere also differs from ecclesiastical meetings because wives attend with their pastor husbands and the fellowship crosses federational boundaries.
Rev. Brain Cochran (Redeemer Reformation URC; Regina, SK) and his wife, Julie, have attended the WMC for the last five years. He says, “It is a wonderful opportunity for strengthening our ecumenical ties as sister denominations. I’ve grown in my appreciation for the CanRC and in trust and thankfulness for my brothers who are serving in our sister denomination.”
Conference organizer Rev. Ben Schoof (Maranatha CanRC; Surrey, BC) explains who is invited to attend: “All pastors and missionaries and their wives of Regional Synod West of the Canadian Reformed church (Manitoba, British Columbia, Denver, and Washington state) plus any URCNA pastors in the same area.”
According to Rev. Schoof, the retreat aspect is the first intended goal of organizers. “It is a time for pastors and their wives to get away, to recharge their minds and strength and souls.” The WMC “allows ministerial colleagues to get to know each other, reconnect with each other,” and experience fellowship on many levels.
A secondary goal is for learning. “Each time we have a knowledgeable keynote speaker on a topic applicable for life and work in the ministry,” he says. “Often there will be workshops specifically for the wives.”
This year the Langley, Cloverdale, and Surrey CanRCs (Classis Pacific West) organized the Ministerial with the assistance of New Westminster and Cloverdale URCs. The approximately 50 pastors and wives, some who brought along infants, about evenly represented the two federations. The time frame of October 25-27 allowed attendees to enjoy fall weather as well as good food and creation’s beauty.
“The venue and the hospitality are amazing,” Cecilia Vandevelde says. “It’s lovely to be fed with the finest of food, and take advantage of our free time to do some hiking on the trails that are on the property, or rest on the trestle bridges and watch the creek flow past.”
Cecilia and her husband, Rev. Steve Vandevelde (Carman East CanRC; Carman, MB) have attended the conference for four years. While they love the hospitality, they also enjoy the interaction with colleagues during free times and meals. “It’s a safe environment for us to discuss and talk about the hard things that can come along in ministry (either in our homes or in our congregations) and support each other in these things,” she says. “We are both so glad that retired ministers and their wives come too, as they are a wealth of information and encouragement for us.”
As a young couple, the Schoofs are also grateful for the opportunity to learn from more experienced pastors and their wives. Rev. Schoof most enjoys “relaxing and recharging, spending time away from my work, and with my wife, and getting reacquainted with or getting to know my ministerial colleagues.” He adds, “My wife from her side very much enjoys getting to know the other pastors’ wives and learning from them how to manage some of the issues and difficulties that come from being a pastor’s wife.”
Attendees always experience such retreat aspects, but speakers and topics vary greatly from year to year. Rev. Dick Moes, pastor of Surrey Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Surrey, BC, says, “Every year the speeches make each WMC special and unique.”
This year’s speaker, Kevin Hoogstad, from Christian Counselling in Burlington, ON, enlightened attendees on the science of the teenage brain. He also administered a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and applied it to aspects of life such as ministry and marriage.
“His speeches on the teenage brain were very insightful,” Rev. Moes says. “I wish I had heard this material much earlier in my life.”
Rev. Cochran says, “He helped everyone better understand teen culture and how we can engage our teens and disciple them.” He found the Myers-Briggs tests “fascinating” and adds, “It turns out my wife and I are almost opposites on the MBTI but complement each other well. He used it to help us understand how we can better interact with our church members and fellow office bearers.”
“I think everyone enjoyed the Myers-Briggs personality test,” Rev. Moes says. “It gave us a little more insight into what kind of personality we have with its strengths and weaknesses.”
Another unique feature of this year’s ministerial was a presentation from a pastor and wife, who shared their personal story of his struggle with clinical depression. “It was a very moving talk,” says Rev. Cochran, “and I felt very privileged and blessed to hear it.”
In some ways, the WMC functions as a retreat for couples. “The ministerial is definitely a highlight of the year for us,” Cecilia says. “Along with everything else, it’s also a time for us to focus on each other and our marriage. The ministerial is busy, to be sure, but there are moments in between where we can have a chance to talk together and touch base with each other and pray with and for each other.”
Rev. Moes, who served for a second year on the conference’s organizing committee, says, “Since the goals and purpose of the conference are first, warm fellowship and relaxation, and second, inspiring speeches, I think this year’s event was once again a success.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the January 18, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.