Each year the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) holds a major conference, attended by 3,000 people from across the world. For the latest conference, 16 Londoners traveled to Memphis to experience and share new ways to help in our communities. The group got together at the Navigators’ office recently to talk about the CCDA conference, and to share how it has affected and influenced them.
Julie Young-Marcellin has attended 3 CCDA conferences, which changed her life-focus to include mentorship.
Julie Young-Marcellin has been to 3 CCDA conferences so far, and likes their deliberate focus on community issues and shared values. Julie is finishing up her PhD at Western University, and uses her speaking and organizational skills to develop awareness and solutions for community support, including for Opportunity International. She has seen, first hand, the need to recognize and value diversity — including for women and persons of colour — and to give voice to those experiences and needs. She feels that the CCDA conferences and community message are so strong that non-Christians can benefit from attending, and wonders how we can bring something similar to London.
Maggie Harsanyi, Carole Verdun and Sue Huson enjoying the snacks that Beth Fellinger brought from St Thomas.
Maggie Harsanyi is a nurse. She went to her first CCDA conference 5 years ago in Chicago and “got totally hooked” by the atmosphere of helping in community. “It is the most inspiring week of my year,” says Maggie. “It is not just talk: you see people humbly doing amazing work.” For Maggie it is very important for people to preserve honour, respect and dignity.
Carole Verdun is the director of Connections and Local Outreach at West Park church. She is passionate about helping families who have young people with special needs build relationships and connections in the community. She said her first time at CCDA was fabulous, with lots of great people and ideas. Carole is collaborating with Dennis Funk on the Northwest church-community initiative and the NW Resource Centre, both of which are advancing and rethinking the role of churches in London.
Sue Huson attends Village Green Community Church, which is very active in the Southwest neighbourhoods. It was her first time at CCDA, and found it “thrilling to be in a room with 3,000 people with a passion for neighbourhoods”. Over Christmas, Sue helped with the Christmas Joy Store, which provided clothing and toys using the new approach of having people pay for the goods rather than being given them. She was told by the immigrant settlement workers that the men particularly appreciated being able to keep their pride in providing for their family. Sue is also organizing a tutoring program at Village Green, and as a former teacher feels education is vitally important.
Dan Schaefer volunteers alongside Tendayi Gwaradzimba at North Park, and helps at the Life Resource Centre. His work with rental properties has encouraged him to explore ways to provide employment for people living in poverty. He found his first visit to CCDA to be very inspiring.
Michael Goodmurphy is a long-time community volunteer, who has helped at the Life Resource Centre, chaired the human services area at Fanshawe College, and worked with the Carling-Thames Family Centre. He sees the importance of looking at the basic needs of families living in poverty here in London. On his third visit to CCDA he learned about the amazing Oasis of Hope organization in Memphis. “They make it clear that they care and want to get to know you and your family. There is a very high emphasis on relationships.” Michael likes how the city there let Oasis use a public centre free of charge, and acknowledges the value of faith-based partners in raising social and economic standards.
As the Director of Community Outreach at North Park, David Cottrill is a dedicated advocate for under-resourced communities, helping newcomers to London and those with economic and social challenges. He and his family have recently taken in 2 Syrian refugees, and are helping them adapt to life in London and to learn English. A major feature of the CCDA conferences are the “Go See” experiences, which provide real-life insights into the motivations and methods of successful community outreach organizations. “Go Sees” are very inspiring, says David. “You see how things run, and get ideas for how to implement similar ideas here in London.” David has lead various community walk-throughs in the past, to help raise awareness and understanding of the real people and issues of neighbourhoods. “They show how important it is to engage with the community and to build relationships.” He has seen positive results when churches and municipal groups partner, and the successes that happen when churches find alternatives to trying to do it all on their own. Said David: “There are new ways to give God opportunities to work in us.”
Beth Fellinger is the Pastor at Destination Church in St Thomas, whose tagline is “a ragtag collection of surrendered and transformed people who love God and others.” Spending any time with Beth will show you how caring she is, and how committed she is to adding value within community. “My brain has really not stopped since I went to the CCDA conference,” says Beth. Destination Church is a hotbed of community partnerships, including with the YMCA and the St Thomas Food Works, a welcoming space for people to grow, cook and share good food. Every Thursday evening Destination has a Stone Soup dinner, in which people bring one ingredient and make a meal together. They have also introduced the Christians Against Poverty program, which is helping people out of personal debt through over 120 churches in Canada.
CCDA has learned about Beth’s church and has invited her to put on a workshop at the coming CCDA Conference, to be held in LA starting August 31st. Way to go, Beth!
The London group was very inspired by Beth’s activities, and accepted her offer to visit her church this spring, most likely on a Thursday afternoon for Stone Soup. Churches Together London will be organizing this, and posting the plan in the near future — our own Go See! As Julie Young-Marcellin said: “There can be new ways to partner, and a great starting point is to invite each other to visit our organizations.”
Leslie Damude has been to previous CCDA conferences, and has encouraged many people to learn from good examples of community development, wherever they are found. As one of the founders of Churches Together London, Leslie is a determined advocate and connector for churches helping together in neighbourhoods. At Gateway Church, Leslie is part of the long-term GPS program, which is guided by Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Dennis Funk organized the meeting, which was held at the Navigators‘ office in Arva. Dennis heads the Resource book store there, and is very up to date on the latest books about community and neighbouring. At the meeting he referenced “The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community“. He said it is important for churches to have a faithful presence in the community over a long period of time. Our society, he says, has a tendency to lose the feeling of “place” because we rarely see our neighbours. “We need to relearn how to be best at building relationships in our neighbourhoods.” At CCDA he was struck by the Shalom Zones in Memphis, where churches decided it was better to work together, and to build relationships based on trust. “They saw the needs in their city and purposed together. We can see similar needs here in London”, says Dennis.
Dennis summarized the meeting well by saying “The main thing is to influence the people around us, and to highlight for them the joy of Christian community development.”
The CCDA travelers include Dennis Funk, David Cottrill, Beth Fellinger, Maggie Harsanyi, Sue Huson, Julie Young-Marcellin, Leslie Damude, Carole Verdun, Dan Schaefer, and Michael Goodmurphy.