From MDiv to Missional Partnership
Published by Calvin Seminary
Seminary Grads Lead Ontario Church into New Possibilities
Fresh out of Calvin University in 2012, Nicole McLeod (Veenkamp) planned to return home to Canada to become a worship director. However, finding an open role proved difficult—very few churches in Canada were hiring. A connection at a church in California offered her a position as a worship director, but it would require a visa.
She had hoped someday to earn her Master of Divinity (MDiv), but the day came sooner than expected. By obtaining a student visa for Calvin Theological Seminary’s brand new hybrid MDiv program, she could have the immigration standing she needed to work at the church in the U.S. and get a jump start on her seminary studies.
But the paperwork was delayed. McLeod sat in her vehicle in Canada, packed and ready for the MDiv orientation in Grand Rapids, just waiting for the visa to arrive from her mail carrier. Once she had the document in hand, she started the car and headed to Grand Rapids for the opening social of her program. There she would meet her classmate Josh Friend.
Another member of the inaugural hybrid MDiv cohort, Friend was active in full-time ministry in Ontario when he began pursuing his MDiv. He and his wife, Tiffany, had two children and would add one more to their family and move to serve in Alberta over the course of the MDiv program.
The degree, in its initial layout, would take McLeod, Friend, and their classmates five years to complete. Along the way, there were formative discussions.
“We had a pretty close cohort,” McLeod said of her MDiv Class. McLeod and Friend both noted the meaningful relationships they made in the group they were both placed in. With a background in worship, they were both part of the team that started chapel services for hybrid learning students. Perhaps most valuable in building community during their program were the intensive weeks for hybrid students.
“You’re together intensely for those times twice a year, and you are outside your normal context,” McLeod said. “So you take a step back from your ministry context, from everything else, and you’re in this place very intentionally with these other people. You can talk about what’s going on and have those kinds of discerning conversations with each other.”
McLeod said that being classmates—and friends—from a distance made students like her and Friend accustomed to connecting digitally. McLeod, or “Pastor Nicole” as her congregation knows her, has been Director of Worship since 2018 at Hope Fellowship Church in Courtice, Ontario. Throughout her time at the church, she has stayed in touch with MDiv classmates across Canada, like Friend in Alberta. These alumni agree there was a seamless transition to keeping in touch after the program, and their cohort remains supportive.
So supportive that many members of their graduating class were there for Friend’s installation service in 2022 when he became teaching pastor, alongside worship pastor McLeod, at Hope Fellowship Church. Fellow alumni made it a point to stand with Friend and McLeod as they started a new era of leadership for their church.
“When I am weak, she is very strong, and I hope to do the same for her,” Friend said of his partnership with McLeod, which helps them to lead the church in its missional work.
But Friend, currently in the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program at the seminary, is quick to note that even with a new pastor, the church’s mission remains the same—using its resources to further the work of God’s kingdom in context.
With the help of his professors, Dr. Cory Willson and Dr. Mariano Avila-Artaega, Friend held a vision-casting retreat for his church at the beginning of April. But it wasn’t a traditional process that resulted in a mission statement. Willson and Avila-Artaega encouraged Friend and his classmates to ask their congregations, “What if God’s church doesn’t have a mission? What if God’s mission has a church?” And that’s the question Friend brought to his retreat.
Friend says the church is looking at how God empowers their congregation to serve their immediate community and what resources they offer. One such resource is Hope Fellowship’s large piece of land, a portion of which was gifted from another church. While the church already hosts many ministries, a community garden, and a counseling center on its property, Friend and McLeod have been in conversation with their congregants, the city mayor, and the greater Courtice community—all while discerning God’s leading through prayer—to consider how the land might best build shalom and serve existing needs in the area.
“It’s similar to our time at the start of the MDiv distance learning program,” McLeod said of this planning process for the land. “There’s a lot of room for creativity.”
And, just as she waited packed and ready to begin her MDiv program, McLeod is eager to get started in whatever God calls Hope Fellowship to next.
“God has given the land to us for this reason,” she said. “We really want to use it not just for our church but for our community and God’s kingdom.”
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