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

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.

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The log in my eye

The Log in my Eye

Patricia and fellow student at Learning on Purpose

Patricia Vollmann-Stock attended the Centre for Christian Studies’ 2-week intensive, Learning on Purpose, which took place in Victoria, B.C. from June 11-23, 2018.

Our group of 12 men and women of various ages had the privilege to meet and hear stories from two people who work at Our Place Society, an outreach ministry in downtown Victoria. Shirley and Carlos have both had lives filled with pain and addiction, but each overcame their challenges and are now beacons of hope to others who take time to hear their stories of redemption and love. I reflect on a biblical passage that came to mind, Titus 3:5 – “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
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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

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