A ‘hometown mission’: community connections create transitional ministry
By Nicole Reid
What is Cornerstone to me? Cornerstone is a very welcoming place to learn about God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, faith, everything. Music, prayer, dinner. We talk about the “thorns” and “roses” in our lives, and Nicole prays for the thorns and thanks God for our roses. . . . Anyone and everyone is welcome to come and learn.
What have I learned about God that I didn’t know before? God is love, and God is. I started coming to Cornerstone barely a believer. I wasn’t sure about it, but since coming, I have so much to be thankful for. I’ve learned so much about the “why” questions I have, and there are tons. I really give Nicole a lot to think about because I’m a huge skeptic. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, so it was all new to me. Nicole has a wonderful way of helping people obtain faith. I never would be where I am on my journey if it weren’t for Cornerstone. . . .
Nicole has helped me to overcome my fear and to have faith. Through Bible studies and open discussions, I’m clearly turning into a person of faith.
—testimony from a Cornerstone attender
When I was completing my Master of Divinity degree at Knox College, I sensed that congregational ministry wasn’t my specific calling. I felt some call toward inner-city mission, but then I discovered the needs in my own small town of Dunnville, Ontario. Waiting lists for social services are long, and people need supportive housing and social assistance. Many struggle with drug problems, which I see as symptomatic of trauma. There’s no public transportation within the town or connecting it to a larger city, so people can’t get the help needed if they don’t have a car.
I describe Cornerstone as a “hometown mission.” We’ve been having biweekly two-hour meetings on Tuesday evenings. During the first half we pray, sing, have a children’s story, light a candle to remind us that Jesus is there, and have dinner together. In the second hour, the adults and children have separate spaces. Volunteers look after the kids, and the adults have the equivalent of a sermon time. My approach is very dialogical, although the preparation is similar to a typical sermon. I hand out notes, and we discuss deeper questions.
Another big component of what I do is individual counseling, particularly trauma counselling. I see God moving almost constantly in the individual counselling sessions. One person, for example, grew up in an abusive fundamentalist home; undoing the lies she believes has been very challenging but incredibly rewarding. She arrived feeling overwhelmed with self-loathing because of her understanding of God, but she has left joyful and hope-filled. Only God can cause such a change; I’m honoured to be part of it.
Cornerstone is a transitional ministry, not meant to grow into a 100-person church. I think of it like this: A pastor leads a congregation, like a shepherd leads a flock of sheep. But there’s a limit to how many sheep the pastor/shepherd can manage well. When a sheep is severely hurt or lost, it needs a veterinarian. I see Cornerstone as the vet, for when a sheep needs more attention. The veterinarian has a different skill set to work with a sheep until it’s healthy and can rejoin the flock. My role through Cornerstone is to bring people to a place of understanding of who God is and why they should care, and to journey with them and be their guide to that transformative place of accepting Christ. At that point, we hopefully find them a church, and they become part of a pastor’s flock. I’ve lived on a 60-acre hobby farm for 19 years, so I like farm-related metaphors.
My training at Knox College was very helpful, even though it was more focused on congregational ministry. Knowing the history of the church, learning how to prepare a sermon, working through a phenomenal but difficult Clinical Pastoral Education experience – all of those were beneficial, and I learned a lot. Thanks to those studies, I know more deeply what worship is about, and I can be creative and adapt what I learned at Knox College to what I’m doing. One example: while we eat dinner as a group at Cornerstone, I pass the mic around the circle, and everybody names a “thorn” and a “rose” in their life, and at the end I lift all of those up in prayer. These are our intercessory and praise points, even though no one else in the room knows those terms.
Cornerstone began through a midweek worship service at a pregnancy and family centre; some clients there had expressed interest in spiritual things but wouldn’t consider entering a church. Cornerstone’s time starting out at the Centre was akin to an egg’s in an incubator; it had a perfect environment to begin life. Once the egg hatches, the chick needs to leave the incubator. In hindsight I can see that it was time for Cornerstone to leave the incubator, and to live and grow in the environment beyond.
Because it’s a mission, funding Cornerstone is a challenge. Churches get funding from within, but missions need to find outside benefactors who believe in the work of the mission. I’ll be taking a church funding course in the summer.
Cornerstone is now moving ahead full steam, as we make more community connections and have social events like a pig roast on our farm (with a zip line, wagon rides, etc.). We’re building more relationships between volunteers from my home congregation, Knox, Dunnville, and those who come to Cornerstone. One Cornerstone family was baptized last June and now comes to church regularly on Sundays. Another woman also has started coming to church due to Cornerstone. We don’t know what God has for the future, but I’m excited about what’s happening.
Nicole Reid graduated from Knox College in May 2016 with a Master of Divinity degree. The Presbytery of Niagara ordained Nicole in January 2020 at a ceremony in her home congregation, Knox Presbyterian Church, Dunnville (Ont.).