1982 AACS Niagara Conference
Perspective Report by Rosanne Lopers Sweetman
Each summer over 1500 people gather at four different locations across the continent to take part in AACS-sponsored conferences. These are no longer strictly for students, as in past years, but have be come family conferences. Grandparents, toddlers, teens and young parents intermingle with young adults and students in lecture, workshop and recreational settings, together trying to come to a clearer understanding of their task and role as Christians facing difficult and complex issues. For many people, such conferences are a bit of a “blind date” — they are invited to come by friends or relatives; they do so out of curiosity and casual interest . Afterwards, often because of the conference, their relationship with the AACS turns into a more steady one.
For the first time in history, groups of people had to be turned away from the Niagara conference in Ontario because registration was so high. A popular theme, “All in the Family,” and a lineup of workshops on issues all families face attracted many first-time attenders to this conference. Jan De Waal, an adult education specialist from Edmonton, Alberta, gave two keynote addresses. She outlined the characteristics of a healthy family and family of God within the biblical perspectives on commitment, community and the image of God we bear. Such characteristics are that its members each have a strong sense of belonging; its members are valued, respected, responsible; its purpose extends beyond itself; it is marked by trust; it can deal with adversities, failures and successes; it has traditions, rituals, special observances; its members communicate; it has a sense of play and humour; and it lets go. She concluded that the nuclear family, when its efforts are concentrated on self-preservation and survival, is not Scriptural She emphasized the needs and contributions of single people and or viable. single parent families in relation to the nuclear family and the family of God, the church. In the discussion groups following her lectures, conferees were asked to look at their own families and their church family , to see just how clear those characteristics were and how they could be developed.
The workshop led by Jan and her husband Sid was a popular one. In it they illustrated the communication process in the family through brief skits and gave examples of how to improve communication between family members. This was also the theme of James Olthuis’ workshop on parent-teen communication , where he emphasized the need for trust between family members for effective communication to take place. A very moving workshop was led by Jim and Deborah Marshall and some friends on the special circumstances that blended families face through remarriage, adoption and foster—parenting. Aukje Masselink, in her workshop on exceptional children , stressed the need for the Christian community to accept these children and help them reach their full potential in bringing glory to their Creator.
All of the workshops developed themes Jan brought out in her keynote addresses. The themes of singleness, the place of the elderly, role of the church, sexuality in the family and the stages of growth in a marriage were treated. Many people commented on the immediate relevance of what was said, able to return home knowing concretely how to work at making their home and church family life more healthy and more Christ-centered.
A well-organized Family Fellowship Fair as well as coffee breaks, campfires and mealtimes gave everyone the opportunity to meet old friends and extend the borders of their Christian family with new members. A conference choir made the Sunday worship services even more stirring than they typically are at these conferences. Led by Calvin Langejans and Gene Westra from Holland, Michigan, and accompanied by some talented musicians, it raised spirited singing to new heights. The morning service, led by Rev. Andrew Kuyvenhoven, editor of The Banner, and the vesper service, created by ICS Senior Member Hendrik Hart, were occasions for reflection and joy in the face of our Creator .