Deb Hinksman: one voice at the table

If we were to glance around the table of the new Denominational Executive appointed at the 43rd General Council of the United Church of Canada, we would note, perhaps, the diversity that was there. With intention, this executive draws from people who bring different backgrounds and complexity in ethnicity, ministry in the church (paid accountability, ordered and lay, years of service and participation), professional and life experience, physical ability, language of origin or common use, region of the country and age.

The 18 member Executive is made up of 15 people who bring “competencies in theology, governance, finance, and vision” and “reflect the diversity of an intercultural church, lay/ministry personnel and geography”, plus the moderator, past moderator and general secretary. A particular distinction of this Executive is that members “serve on behalf of the whole of the church, rather than as representatives from any one part of it.” So, although they may carry these various distinctions and the perspectives that come with that, they don’t represent constituencies.

Deb Hinksman is one of the people at the table. She is a diaconal minister with over 30 years in ministry. “When I looked around the room I can see each person mentally sitting where they were.” she said, “We as a group are very United Nations in terms of diversity of ethnicity and experience. We are quite an eclectic group. It’s really fascinating.

Back row, left to right: Kathy Brett, Jane McDonald, Jordan Cantwell (past Moderator), Paul Douglas Walfall, Arlyce Schiebout, Samuel Dansokho, Janet Sigurdson, Katie Curtis, Ha Na Park, Larry Doyle, Mitchell Anderson. Front row, left to right: Sharon Aylsworth, Deborah Richards, Teresa Burnett-Cole, Deb Hinksman, Richard Bott (Moderator), Tim Reaburn, Nora Sanders (General Secretary). Photo: The United Church of Canada

“I am the old white woman there. I am that 63 year old white woman that is not UCW. I am a very definite demographic in that room. I don’t see that as a bad thing. I just notice that here I am at the end of my ministry doing the same thing that I was doing at the beginning of my 37 plus years of ministry. It’s interesting.

“When my younger self was looking at that older 63 year old person, I assumed they were so old and so out of it. What could they bring to the table at that age? To be honest, when I look at my congregation and other congregations, I see people my age or older. Do we just dismiss that? Do they have anything to say to the contemporary condition and situation of the United Church? And I think ‘actually I do.’ I’m not as obtuse as my younger self might have thought. I’m aware that my age and experience brings something more to the table than a younger version of myself might have thought. We at 63 get very reflective. (laughs)”

Deb has had a breadth of experience in the United Church, from a child growing up in the church, to an active youth, to minister and participant on many, many committees. She recalls being a part of the United Church’s 50th Anniversary Youth Exchange in 1975. Upon returning, the youth delegates were to be prepared to go around to various churches and groups in local presbyteries to share their experiences and provide a slide show. “After one such event in which I preached at a local church one Sunday morning,” she said, “I had several people come up to me and say I would make a good minister. On the outside I thanked them for the kind words. On the inside I was totally beside myself with laughter.”

However, as other options “seemed to yield a closed window,” she wondered if she ought to consider ministry after all. Shortly after, she found herself a candidate for ministry. For ordination.

“That’s all I knew about at the time,” she recalled. “Until I met Marion Niven (then the principal at CCS) at a conference and she asked what I was going to do after school. I was sharing with her the type of ministry I saw myself in: working with people (children, family, youth work) programming and education, learning… and I remember her smiling at me and saying “I think you might find a better fit for what you hope to do at The Centre for Christian Studies.” 

“I think you might find a better fit for what you hope to do at The Centre for Christian Studies.” Marion Niven

Click here to read about Deb’s experience as a student at the Centre for Christian Studies in the 1970s.

That sentence changed Deb’s life. Terminology was evolving at that time from deaconess, certified church man and commissioned minister to diaconal minister. Deb was commissioned in 1980 at a time of great change concerning issues of pay parity and whether Commissioned Ministers should be subject to settlement.


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

Moving from being a student for Ordination to being a student for Commissioning was not an easy transition back in the mid 70’s. The sense of Ordination being the ministry and Commissioning being helpful but not really “ministry” was well entrenched. Deb was strongly encouraged not to change streams. It was when she said “but this is where I feel my calling. Are you saying that I should not pay attention to my calling?” – that Hamilton Conference approved the change. However in their letter they said, ‘We would encourage Debra that she not sell herself short and feel that she will need ordination at some time in order to fullfill her ministry.”

“I never have,” she said. “I’ve never felt I can’t fulfill my call. It still makes me chuckle, 38 years later.

“I was commissioned the year that we gained parity. I was the last class that had a choice in whether we wanted to accept settlement or find our own place. Back in ’79 I chose to find my own position only because the chair of the presbytery knew of a place in Ottawa that was looking for someone.”

When reflecting on what she brings to the executive table, Deb noted her diaconal background, love of process and moving through things with flow. “Being a diaconal person means that I intentionally try to look at the bigger picture and at the process of how we’re doing things. I ask who is included and is not included.

“One of the things I brought to the table was a question. What do people need from us as the Executive? What does the United Church need from the executive in this time of its transition? Is it up front leaders? People that encourage? A group that gives resources? If it’s true that we want to do things differently, if we want to be different, what do we as the Executive need to be for the people of the United Church?

“My perspective of bringing joy and lightness is probably important. I think it’s going to be fun to be part of executive.

“When we sat with the Moderator, he shared some of his hopes coming out of the question ‘What does it mean to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus in the 21st Century? A subtext to that is the caretakers’ call to the church for what we need to do if we’re really going to have Truth and Reconciliation and If we’re really going to deal with the “isms” of society and in our church, in particularly racism and ableism.

“When we talk about colonialism and racism, I am acutely aware that the average person in my church won’t have a clue what it means. ‘What do you mean I’m colonial?’ My diaconal self is saying, ‘What is the process that we use to bring that kind of conversation to the average person in the pew?’ There’s that combination of how do we help them in understanding the why and how do we acknowledge just where they are? Can we accept them as where they are? I hope I can help us bridge that.  I think that one of the things about being that older white woman is that I get it. I think that I can be helpful in speaking to that, as to why we need to pay attention to it. I’ve been much more aware of my own racism, like noticing that I will ask the Indian-looking cabbie ‘where are you from?’ but not caucsian ones.


“This is like 1925 all over again. We get the opportunity to decide how the United Church is going to be. It’s exciting and fearful.” Deb Hinksman


“It’s a fascinating time to be church right now! Man! So, what I think about the executive and their passion for moving forward, if we really believe that the gospel is about transformation, how do we help the transformation of the average person in the pew? One of the things that I can be helpful with is asking questions that help us unpack what’s at the heart of something.

“I have a number of colleagues who are at or close to retirement who say, ‘at your age and stage of your ministry, why would you even want to tackle something like this?’ And I think, ‘Why not? This is so exciting.’

“This is like 1925 all over again. We get the opportunity to decide how the United Church is going to be. Falling on us as Executive elect is how we’re going to be as a church. It’s exciting and fearful.”

Deb is currently in ministry at Delhi United Church in Ontario. She graduated from the Centre for Christian Studies in 1979.



*The gender neutral term Diaconal Minister was chosen in the 1980s to replace Deaconess and Certified Churchman (what the men were called starting in the 1960s.)

Sharing common stories as the world turns #GC43

During General Council 43, various people will be reporting on what’s happening, sharing moments and offering their reflections.   Tammy Allan and Marlene Britton-Walfall share sites, insights, music and a new Moderator is elected.

Another couple of days have passed. Yesterday we dealt with business in the morning and then had the afternoon for excursion tours to see some of the area beyond Durham College campus. Several tours were organized, and I chose a winery tour to Prince Edward County. Beautiful countryside, lots of trees, the beach, all made for a great drive. Oh, yes, and there was wine. Lovely.

Today, after FIVE ballots, we elected a new moderator, Rev. Richard Bott, from B.C.
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DUCCs gather and we bid adieu to Conferences #GC43


During General Council 43, various people will be reporting on what’s happening, sharing moments and offering their reflections.  Marlene Britton-Walfall gathers with DUCCs and annoints while the Jenga towers fall.


Greetings from Marlene.

Lunchtime on Tuesday was filled with laughter and animated discussion as the DUCCs at GC43 gathered. It was a wonderful time of fellowship, made possible by Marcie, who not only found the space for us, but erected tell tale signs:


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Challenges #GC43

Updated, July 25.

During General Council 43, various people will be reporting on what’s happening, sharing moments and offering their reflections.  Marlene Britton-Walfall* reminds us that amongst the fun there is challenge and hard work. 


It’s the morning of the 4th day of this meeting in OshaWow!

Devotions this morning challenged us to reflect on times when your boat has been buffeted by waves of various kinds, and challenged to help those who are having their boats battered.  Strengthened by the prayers from the 4 directions we then launched into the business section of the meeting.

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Nous ne sommes pas seuls #GC43

Rev Miriam Spies preaches the Word.

During General Council 43, various people will be reporting on what’s happening, sharing moments and offering their reflections.  Deborah Laforet and Marlene Britton-Walfall found connection at GC43.

General Council is a place to reconnect.  As someone who was a candidate in one conference, a student in another, settled into a third, and am now in a fourth conference, General Council becomes a place where I can connect with people across those conference and across provinces.
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“There is a sense of excitement” #GC43

 During General Council 43, various people will be reporting on what’s happening, sharing moments and offering their reflections. Tammy Allan sets the stage.


We have arrived! We are here in Oshawa Ontario at the site of General Council 43. The theme is “Risking Faith, Daring Hope.” The day was mostly devoted to a “Festival of Faith”, with workshops, music, a few food trucks…a celebration of the church’s work and witness, through the arts. There were also opportunities to connect with friends old and new. We gathered for a bit of orientation to the new business model in the late afternoon, and to hear a presentation on the Calls to the Church related to reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters. After dinner, a bit of social time. Those of us from Alberta and Northwest Conference gathered for “cookies and milk” with our conference president, Kathy Yamashita. There was also a welcome party outside on the grounds, with live music…which I can still hear as I type this!

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You helped this leader become a more faithful ally

Barbara Hansen already had a heart for justice when she arrived as a student at CCS. In fact, she met her spouse, Stephen, at a hearing in Calgary about the Mackenzie pipeline 42 years ago. On April 28 of this year, the 2014 CCS graduate boarded a bus with about 48 other people from Vancouver Island, to stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors in opposition of the Trans Mountain pipeline at the Kinder Morgan site in Burnaby, BC.

What made her catch a 7 a.m. ferry to spend a Saturday outside in the rain? Both her sense of being called to a ministry of standing with the marginalized and oppressed, and her belief that ministry includes all of creation. Barbara said, “Sadly, the process for the Trans Mountain pipeline misrepresents the issues and the fairness of the results of the process. The rights of Indigenous people are not being respected, and because the cost of being heard is still prohibitive their voices are not being heard. Their traditional way of life, inclusive of all creation towards the future, is being ignored for the sake of “progress”, resulting in increased emissions and environmental impacts from fossil fuels.

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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.
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Risking relationship – Graduating class of 2018

In the Presence of the Creator of the world, eternal God,
We come from many places for a little while.
With the Redeemer of humanity, God with us,
We come with all our differences seeking common ground.
Enlivened with the Spirit of unity, go-between God,
We have come on journeys of our own
to a place where journeys meet.
So here in this place today
Let us take time together.
For when paths cross, there is so much to share and celebrate~
~Call to worship from the 2018 Service of Celebration

Marcie Gibson offered the citation for the 2018 CCS graduates at the Service of Celebration on April 15.

It my pleasure to share with you our graduates of the Centre for Christian Studies Diploma in Diaconal Ministries 2018 class.

Melanie Ihmels, from Victoria British Colombia and BC Conference, Tiffany McNaughton inabstentia from Fernie British Colombia and Alberta Northwest Conference, Anita Rowland from Orangevill Ontario and Toronto Conference, and Catherine Underhill from Peterborough Ontario and Bay of Quinte Conference.

Some of you who attended the graduation banquet last night will have heard a bit about their individual journeys, but today I wish to speak to you about these four students as a graduating class together.
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This is one of a series of reflections about Courageous Risking, the 2018 gathering of DUCC (Diakonia of the United Church of Canada). 

It was an amazing few days of learning about forgiveness, colonization and economics with a social justice bent, and being inspired by filmmakers, survivors and change makers. Hearing amazing stories from amazing people about how we can, as the saying goes, be the change we want to see in the world. Wonderful, inspiring.

Then there were a couple of moments that I looked out and on the other side of the window was a guy. You probably know the guy: disheveled, boots too big, wearing a winter coat in spring weather. The kind of guy we might find at one of our outreach ministries or asking for change on the corner. A reminder that yes, it’s great to be inspired, and yes, that world is right out there, just on the other side of the window.
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Heartbeat of healing

This is one of a series of reflections about Courageous Risking, the 2018 gathering of DUCC (Diakonia of the United Church of Canada). 

My diaconal ministry classmates and I were invited to join the DUCC conference outings on April 18th. Diaconal ministers and students from across the country spiraled out into Winnipeg, visiting sites about Truth and Reconciliation, social enterprise, Indigenous art, community ministries, corrections and justice, ally-ship, and courageous risking through art making.

At the Winnipeg Art Gallery exhibit Insurgence/Resurgence I was drawn to Ejinda-pushit, the stretched caribou hide that formed a huge drum amplified by a speaker. This piece was created by Tsēma Igharas, interdisciplinary artist and member of the Tāłtān First Nation.
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