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Finding family thousands of miles from home: reflections on going where God calls

I did not want to go to California. I wanted to stay home. That desire hit me hard over Christmas break as I watched people in the church I had grown up in come forward for communion.

By Nicole Veenkamp

I did not want to go to California. I wanted to stay home. That desire hit me hard over Christmas break as I watched people in the church I had grown up in come forward for communion. As the line walked by me, I realized that I knew almost every single person. Their stories were woven into mine. I watched children walking up with their parents and marveled at how fast they were growing up. I saw peers and  mentors, people who had shaped, encouraged and challenged me in my faith. These were people who loved me. These were people I loved. This was my family. This was my home. These were the people who I wanted to serve over the summer as I completed my Jubilee Fellows internship.

I had applied and been accepted into the Jubilee Fellows program , a year-long program for students discerning a call to ministry. Part of the program consisted of a 10-week summer internship which allows students to gain hands-on experience serving in a church. I wanted to complete this internship in my home church, Redeemer Christian Refofmed Church, in Sarnia, Ont. But the program coordinators advised me to go to Granite Springs Church in Lincoln, Calif.

In the end, I heeded their advice and went to California. I got on the plane and flew farther west than I had ever been, prepared to spend the summer living with people I had never met and working in a church I had never been to. On my first Sunday it was a little intimidating to look over the congregation as I was introduced and see only unfamiliar faces. It forced me outside of my comfort zone to consciously move from group of people to group of people after the service, meeting people and starting to get to know them.

Because I am a music in worship major, I hoped that my internship would allow me to gain practical experience planning and leading worship at Granite Springs. However, I quickly realized that before I could plan or lead worship effectively for this congregation, I needed to get to know them. Who were these people who gathered each week to worship at Granite Springs Church? Where were they from? What were their stories? What things were important to them as individuals and as a community?

Ultimately these more surface-level questions led to deeper questions what thoughts would be on peoples minds when they walked into church? What concerns would they have faced over the week? What kinds of things would they want to say to God? What might God be trying to say to this community?

By the end of my internship I had the opportunity to plan four services and lead two of them. Before I did that, however, I spent some time reflecting on the community which I had been called to lead in worship. Ive planned services before for both my home church, Redeemer CRC, and for Calvin Colleges Sunday night LOFT (Living Our Faith Together) services. In some ways worship at Granite Springs Church was similar both to worship at both Redeemer CRC and LOFT. In other ways the context was different. Every place has a culture of its own, and things that work well in one context dont necessarily work well
in another context.

In order to better understand the context, I had conversations with the music director and the pastors at the church about their views on worship. Understanding also came naturally as I also got to know people while serving with them in various ministries. Out of my reflections I created a short document outlining some of the things that I thought made worship at Granite Springs unique.

This document, and the thinking that went into it, was helpful as I worked on putting together services. It allowed me to think about aspects of the service and whether or not doing certain things would be distracting or help the congregation worship well. For instance, Granite Springs is a church plant, and they strive to be very welcoming to people who have never been to church before. This requires extra sensitivity when planning to ensure that everything is explained clearly and thoughtfully.

One of the last Sundays that I was in California, we celebrated communion. Once again I watched as a line of people formed to take the bread and wine. As they came forward, I was startled to realize that in 10 short weeks I had come to know and love these people.  I knew at least part of their stories. I recognized kids who had come to music and drama camp and enthusiastically learned the songs and dances I taught them. I also recognized junior high students who I had gotten to know as I participated in various junior high events, people from praise team, friends from the college-aged group, people who had let me borrow cars and had me over for meals, and others who I had just gotten to know from conversations after church. I realized that this too had become home, and that these people were also my family.