“A better fit”: finding diaconal ministry

1979 Core group

In 1977, Deb Hinksman was a young theology student and candidate for ordination when she met CCS principal Marion Niven at a conference. When Marion asked Deb what she planned to do after graduation, Deb described to her a ministry of working with people (children, family, youth work), programming and education and learning. She remembers Marion smiling at her and saying “I think you might find a better fit for what you hope to do at The Centre for Christian Studies.” These are some of Deb’s memories of her time as a student at CCS.

I had the joy of living at the residence on Charles street and had some student colleagues who are still busy in the life and work of the Diaconate. Kay Pearson was the face of the residence. And her face was the one you wanted to see when you came through those doors. Hers were the ears which heard many a joy and sorrow. Her presence was a blessing to all who lived there.

The class preceding mine: Anne Naylor, Cheryl Kirk, Nancy Wetselaar. Leadership from Gwyn Griffith, Shelley Finson, Helene Castel and Doug Shanks and with Marion still occupying the role of Principal. Classmates such as Lori Crocker, Ray McGinnis (who was just learning the guitar at the time!), Anne Burnham, Alyson Huntley, Joan Robertson, Anne Marie Allen and others whose names I would have to look up! Cheryl Kirk was a part of this class as well – she double dipped (i.e. did a second year of first year core group)!

Our peer sessions were so important as we shared goals and learning and had the support and challenge that that offers. I had my first student field placement at Victoria Village United Church and in year Two at the Juvenile Detention centre on Jarvis street. I was looking for my second placement and I was strongly “encouraged” to change from my comfortable and familiar work in a congregational setting, to work on ministry in the world. Looking back, it was a wise push that I likely didn’t know how much I needed.

Life in residence often highlighted the special program that CCS provided. I couldn’t begin to say how many conversations I had with residents who were enrolled in the MDiv program at Emmanuel who openly wished they were learning some of what we were as they felt they would be more practically prepared for congregational life. To this day I can cringe when I am at a meeting that I can tell is bereft of any good planning processes!

Images of learning the [David] KOLB model for experiential learning and preparing our core sessions with PGO’s (purpose, goals, objectives) at the top of our list for planning are still visceral sensations to me even now as I prepare for learning sessions with others. The early days of the spiral I think!

When we signed up for our learning sessions in groups, often depending on the goals we set at the beginning of the year – I remember us being intentional on balancing the head learning and the experiential learning. Helene Castel teaching us to use the experiential role play “The Game of Life” (that I remember so distinctly beginning to understand how privileged I was). We had some wonderful leadership from the community who came in an assisted us in our learning.

I remember distinctly the community of our core groups – and the learning and planning that came from that. I remember our faithful trying to figure out what ministry was going to be like for us. I remember a community of friends that kept me sane and hope-filled.

After 3 decades of ups and down, changes and challenges but mostly joy, I still am thankful for that pivotal sentence: “I think you would find a better fit for what you hope to do at the Centre for Christian Studies”.


1979 Core group
1979 Core group
back row-Alyson Huntley, Anne Marie Allen, Helene Castelle, Anne Burnham, Joan Robertson, Deb Hinksman, Ray McGinnis
front: John Patterson, Nancy Stevenson, Lori Crocker, Anne Gilbert (Morrow), Iris Ward



Making space for grace

It was a gorgeous fall afternoon in October. My partner and I wanted to celebrate the day, find a wonderful place to be outside. We remembered an area of woods in Winnipeg, inside the city but what seems like miles away, the Bois des Esprits. The Seine River runs through it and it’s watched over by wood spirits, faces carved into the trees.

The walk was everything we hoped for. The trees were almost bare, and we heard my favorite seasonal soundtrack, the rustle of leaves beneath my feet. We saw an animal swimming in the water and chased after it, walking through branches along the shoreline trying to get a closer look – beaver? Otter? We didn’t get close enough to see, but wished it well on its journey.

Another moment, a couple of weeks later: church on Remembrance Day Sunday. There was a musical postlude, a duet with piano and violin. The service was over, but the congregation sat rapt, transfixed as the music echoed, almost hauntingly, through the sanctuary. The beauty and majesty of the music took over.

In a recent circle at the Centre for Christian Studies, Alydia Smith, Program Coordinator Worship, Music & Spirituality of the United Church office led a few sessions. One of the ideas I took out of one of the sessions was the idea of making space for grace in worship. Our walk in the woods, and the music at the service were both moments of deep grace, being totally present with, and surrounded by God’s love in and for the world. Being present to the holy, whether worshipping informally in the woods (or where ever we are in the world), or formally in church.

How do we find, or create those grace-filled moments? Psalm 46 tells us to ‘be still and know that I am God.’ Maybe we don’t need to go to the woods to find grace. Maybe those moments are right here. Step back. Look around. What surrounds you? Where you can see God’s love at work in the world?

One final moment: back at home, watching the sun set off the front porch, chatting with our neighbor, our cats on the porch. That too, was a moment of God’s grace, a small celebration of wonder, beauty and being present.

 Nancy Renwick is a member of Augustine United Church in Winnipeg. She attended the Worship learning circle in October.


One of the wood spirits carved in a tree in the Bois des Esprits

Preach it!

Each day began with a sermon.

It`s customary to start the morning with worship at a CCS learning circle. Usually this involves singing a hymn or two, a prayer, maybe a scripture reading and a reflection question or activity. Seldom does morning worship include a sermon. But for last month`s theme learning circle on Worship, each student was asked to come ready to preach.

And preach they did. They preached of inclusive and transforming love in the face of divisions and hatred. They preached of courage in the face of racism and homophobia. They preached of connection and vulnerable community in a society that values independence, and defaults to isolation. They preached their call to ministry, daunting and inspiring. Continue reading “Preach it!”

A Tea Party to Celebrate 20 Years!

Drop by for tea or enjoy a cup wherever you are to celebrate our special anniversary. Mark your calendar!

The Centre for Christian Studies has been in Winnipeg for 20 years! On November 16 CCS will host an Anniversary Tea Party, physically for friends who are near enough to drop by and virtually for those who are farther away.


Come and go tea party in Winnipeg
with tea and cupcakes
~View historical material.  ~Write a note to a graduate.  ~Tell a story.
~Show and tell with pictures or artifacts you bring.

Friday, November 16, 2 – 5 p.m.  Central time
Woodsworth House, 60 Maryland Street
(limited parking and ramp available at the back)


Join the tea party from wherever you are!
~ Have a cup of tea on November 16 and share a photo on facebook or send to communications@ccsonline.ca

~ Host your own tea party or get together with some diaconal friends. Share a photo on facebook or send to communications@ccsonline.ca

Make a cup of tea and join a Virtual Tea Party!
The Virtual Tea Party will be between 4 & 5 p.m. central time. [2 p.m. BC, 3 p.m. Alberta, 4 p.m. Manitoba, 5 p.m. Ontario/Quebec, 6 p.m. Maritimes, 6:30 NFL]
You could even link your tea party to our Virtual Tea Party!

Join the Virtual Tea Party on Zoom.  Click here or enter meeting number 493085825 in your Zoom app.
Questions? contact communications@ccsonline.ca.


Use resources from CCS Sunday at your tea
Whether you’re gathering with a few friend or pouring a cup for yourself, you might want to use a prayer or watch the video from the CCS Sunday. Find resources here.


On the minds & hearts & desks of Integration Year Students

This time of year is both exhilarating and nerve-racking for our Integration Year students as these four prepare for their United Church final Candidacy interviews. One of the tools that helps them prepare is the Credo assignment, which asks them to write a one-page personal faith statement and a 10 page explanatory paper on what informs their theology and understanding of mission and ministry. Alongside this academic tool, students find support in connecting with each other, their mentors and staff, and knowing they have a wide CCS community who are walking with them. Please hold them in your prayers, with the candidates from other streams as well, this next month.

Continue reading “On the minds & hearts & desks of Integration Year Students”

Community, Grief, and Learning: walking together to remember Brody

Community, Grief, and Learning: An Interview with Brenda Curtis and Keith Hall

On April 6, 2018, the bus of the Humbolt Broncos hockey team collided with a semi truck. Sixteen people died, including team statistician Brody Hinz. CCS graduate Brenda Curtis and Integration Year student Keith Hall conducted Brody’s memorial service. Janet Ross spoke to Brenda and Keith about that time.

Brenda: When the first reports came in about the bus crash we were in the middle of an ecumenical community concert at the Catholic Church with the Watoto Children’s Choir from Uganda. The choir had just stepped on stage and was beginning with a countdown: 10, 9, 8, … when someone showed me their cell phone – “Humboldt Broncos have been in an accident”. The choir sang a few songs but soon everyone in the audience had their cell phones out. By 8:15 pm we knew there were fatalities and that they were significant. The choir was asked to wrap up quickly and Father Joseph offered a prayer, naming the uncertainty of knowing about the fatalities. Everyone was invited to go to the Uniplex to wait together for more news. It was interesting that we were all at this concert, including our ecumenical ministerial group, and could all be at the Uniplex together. When we arrived, the city of Humboldt already had counsellors and many support people in place.
Continue reading “Community, Grief, and Learning: walking together to remember Brody”

Learning twice

The essayist Joseph Joubert wrote “To teach is to learn twice.” The same could be said for the role of a mentor, one who facilitates learning through accompaniment and encouragement. CCS graduate Kathy Douglas had this experience as she mentored two diaconal ministry students this past year. “It is always wonderful to find work in ministry that excited, invites and deepens the life experience,” she said. “Mentoring students at CCS has been this kind of fulfilling practice for me.”

Kathy Douglas

A diaconal mentor accompanies students as they explore the role of, and their own identity as a diaconal minister. A mentor will engage the student in reflection on their own learnings from field placements, learning circles, external courses and life. They’ll dig into theological issues and encourage analysis through the lenses of justice and compassion.

Continue reading “Learning twice”

What happened in Victoria changes lives! Learning on Purpose – 2 weeks in pictures

This year, the Centre for Christian Studies held its 2-week signature program, Learning on Purpose, in beautiful Victoria, BC. Christ Church Cathedral provided a dramatic stained glass backdrop and awesome organ music. Students gathered from June 11 – 23 to learn what it means for them to be faith leaders that uplifts others, are analytical about and critical of structure, rooted in tradition while walking boldly in the future, reflective and responsive.

Click on a gallery to scroll through the images.
Continue reading “What happened in Victoria changes lives! Learning on Purpose – 2 weeks in pictures”

The top 5 things that all Companions share – who do you nominate?

Every year, the Centre for Christian Studies names one person, or occasionally two people, as Companion of the Centre.  Companions of the Centre epitomize diakonia and provide inspiration to all of us on how to live into this ministry.  While the people who have been distinguished over the years are fairly diverse, there are 5 traits that they all share:

  • the spirit of diakonia infuses their whole lives
  • they are passionate about the world around them
  • their ministry has touched others profoundly
  • they offer in the spirit of love and service
  • they inspire us
2018 Companion of the Centre, Sue Taylor

The CCS Awards Working Group is now inviting nominations for the 2019 Companion of the Centre Award.  Continue reading “The top 5 things that all Companions share – who do you nominate?”

Learning on Purpose 2018 registration deadline extended

There’s still time to register for 2 weeks of learning in community with the Centre for Christian Studies at the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, BC.  Sign up now for Learning on Purpose 2018!

The CCS website was down for part of this past weekend (too much traffic), so we’re extending our registration deadline to May 15th.  If you were thinking about taking advantage of this opportunity to dive deep into your calling for social justice, spiritual care, education, worship, and theology but didn’t get around to registering, this week is for you! Continue reading “Learning on Purpose 2018 registration deadline extended”

A circle of Right Relations

The Right Relations learning circle gathered from April 19 – 25.  CCS students were joined by students from the Sandy Saulteaux Spiritual Centre, six continuing studies students (both lay and clergy), Elders and special guests.

Prayers for the children

Richard Manley Tanis is the Minister of Evangelism, Mission & Church Development at the Winnipeg Presbytery, the incoming principal at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon and a graduate of CCS. This is a reflection from his blog A Deacon’s Musing.

Creator's Children

Creator’s Children

This last Sunday I offered the Prayers of the People during the Annual Service of Celebration for the Centre for Christian Studies (CCS). This service marks the graduation of Diaconal Ministers and also honours a new Companion of the Centre each year. This service is also significant for me as I, myself, graduated from the programme in 2009. Needless to say, I felt honoured and a little anxious.

The Prayers of the People are part of the worship experience that brings forth the concerns and worries, hopes and celebrations that are present in a faith community and beyond. Sometimes they are understood as an intercession with the Holy in which prayers are presented with the hope of intervention. For some, the prayers are less about an expectation of action and more about being able to name–in community–that which might otherwise be silenced. Regardless of the approach, whether a mingling of the intention, I have always understood this worship act as one of the ways that Creator is channelled.
Continue reading “Prayers for the children”

The week of EVERYTHING!

A week in pictures.

This has been the week of everything at the Centre for Christian Studies.

Integration Year students gathered at Woodsworth House on Monday, April 9, for their final learning circle. On the 11th, students participating in the Relationship learning circle began the first of back-to-back circles, meeting just down the street at St. Peter’s Lutheran church. The Central Council met for their annual face-to-face meeting from the 12th to the 14th. On the weekend we celebrated new grads and this year’s Companion of the Centre, first at the Celebration Banquet and then at the Service of Celebration.

Also, this year the Diakonia of the United Church of Canada (DUCC) met in Winnipeg from April 17th to 20th and the Right Relations learning circle will gather from the 19th to the 26th.

It’s been a full week!

Click on a gallery to scroll through the photos.

Integration Year 

Marcie Gibson (staff), Tif McNaughton, Melanie Ihmaels, Anita Rowland, Catherine Underhill

Continue reading “The week of EVERYTHING!”