After growing to capacity, a longtime Friendship group has helped start a new group in a neighboring town to engage more people in inclusive ministry.
Last year, the Friendship Group at Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church in Leduc, Alberta, had a problem. It was a good problem – their group had grown to include so many Friends and Mentors that things were becoming a bit cramped.
They were excited about the growth of the program but needed to think creatively about how to make the ministry sustainable for the long-term. When a new group of Friends wanted to drive in from Wetaskiwin (about 30 minutes away) just to attend their group, the Leduc team decided to ask for help.
Jane Carson is a friend of members of the Leduc group team. They asked her to consider starting a Friendship group at her church, Wetaskiwin Mission, which these Friends could attend instead of making the long drive to Leduc. Jane was on board – but she needed to make sure her church was, too.
She approached the church board and explained the program. There was energetic support as they saw the way this ministry could fill a need in the church to encourage, equip, and welcome adults with intellectual disability. With their blessing and with the support of the Leduc team, who promised to guide her along the way, Jane started to form a Friendship group.
The first step was recruiting and training volunteers. Jane describes how encouraged she was by the positive response. She didn’t have to hunt down volunteers – instead, God moved the right people to contact her after the opportunity was shared. She encourages other new groups to act in faith, even if it’s been tough to find volunteers in the past.
“God knows who should be volunteering and who should be part of this,” says Jane. “Just throw the opportunity out there. It’s His ministry. It’s not mine, it’s not our mentors, it’s God’s ministry.” The Leduc team also assisted by sharing best practices, allowing Wetaskiwin volunteers to come observe their group, and continually praying for and encouraging the new Wetaskiwin team.
In the same way that God provided the needed resources and volunteers, He also provided a co-leader for Jane who came on board in December. With new additions to the team, the Friendship group was ready to get up and running.
Their group began with about 10 Friends, 8 Mentors, and a few extra volunteers for welcome, snacks, and music. They started meeting weekly on Monday evenings, and from the first meeting, everyone involved was blessed.
“We help our friends become involved – not only to receive, but to be part of the church body and serve,” says Jane. “We’re all part of the body of Christ. We all need to be involved. Every part is important.”
Besides their regular Friendship group meetings, they’ve already been able to incorporate some extra fun activities.
“We did caroling at a senior center at Christmas time, and everyone really enjoyed that,” shared Jane. “We’re going to do a Friendship Sunday this March. Our friends will be helping with leading worship and taking offering and reading scripture during that time.”
Jane recalls how the Friend and Mentor pairings grew organically out of the very first Friendship group. Mentors sat down beside a new Friend and have formed true friendships with that person since then – standing up for one another and caring for each other. It’s a community rooted in love, and focused on one thing: growing in faith together.
One of the challenges of the new group has been finding ways to accommodate the diverse abilities of all the Friends. They are utilizing the Friendship study The 10 Commandments to incorporate mixed-media teaching tools that help include everyone. The Wetaskiwin group also utilize one-on-one time with Friends and Mentors to make sure each person is learning and feels heard.
Jane is excited about the future of this ministry. It’s already had an impact on the church as a whole and the Friends & Mentors who dedicate time to the program every single week. And in a large way, the life of this new program has been a testament to God’s faithfulness.
Are you interested in starting a Friendship group at your own church? Jane says, “Your fears don’t matter. God will look after it. The most important thing is the willing heart and a desire to love others. Let’s go forward!”