Some great news and some great connections – Summer Issue 2009

I have to be honest with you. I love living in Canada because I enjoy lots of things about each of our four seasons.  But when the leaves start to turn colour and the air is a little more crisp, we know that football season is upon us. While I don’t claim to know the strategies of the game inside and out, and I only watch sporadically until the schedule begins to close in on Grey Cup weekend, I do love football.  [BTW, although we have lived in the greater Toronto area now for 12 years, Donna and I are still devoted fans of the team that won the 2008 Grey Cup!]

One doesn’t have to be a football fanatic to understand that there is something powerful in the dynamic of the game. On the one side of the line, there is a group of mighty, muscled men who are pulling together to advance the football down the field. On the other side of the line, you have the defensive squad that is doing everything to stand firm and resist the progress of the opposition.  It is in its working together that a team wins touchdowns and in its standing together that a team resists giving ground. If the CFL had been around in New Testament days, I wonder whether the Apostle Paul might have looked to the gridiron for a metaphor that represents the Church in its mission of advancing the kingdom of God and resisting the kingdom of darkness.

This edition of the Mosaic is focused on telling some good news stories of what is happening in the life of the FMCiC across this great nation.  When we stretch out our offensive and defensive lines from Vancouver in the west to Quebec City in the east, we are spread across a great distance, but even so, there are some interesting connections at work – some of them inter-provincial, and some of them international – that demonstrate that God is able to accomplish His work when people are united in purpose. 

Here goes for a few stories that come to mind, though there are many others that also need to be told, some of which are stellar because of their innovation and others that are stellar because of their steadiness.

Salmon Arm, B.C. – Over a decade ago, the Crossroads Free Methodist Church had it in their hearts to plant a new congregation. Just recently, that new congregation (Lakeside Community Church) moved out of sharing meeting space with Crossroads and into a neighborhood school so that it could more effectively reach another part of the community. They have also set up an office and meeting space in downtown Salmon Arm and their youth ministry, led by Dustin Laird, is based in the community centre, where non-churched teens are regularly being impacted with the gospel.

Meanwhile, back at Crossroads, under George Fleming’s leadership, the congregation, made up mainly of retired people, continues to reach out with its weekly soup kitchen, a ministry that has been in place for many years.  The new development is that in recent months, community people who have been dropping into the soup kitchen on weekdays are now also finding spiritual nourishment at the Sunday morning service.

Pine Grove – Mississippi, ON: If you stand in the church yard of the Pine Grove FMC, other than the parsonage, not another house is in sight.  Yet this rural congregation led by Jack Bradley has a vision for ministry.  There is a Saturday evening service for shift workers and others who are not available on Sunday; there is a vibrant Sunday morning service; and on Sunday nights, Pine Grove people travel to the little hamlet of Mississippi to participate in a lively evening service. 

Winnipeg – Barrie – Ghana: The Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg had some wonderful days and some tough days.  More recently, under the leadership of Joseph Seidu (originally from Ghana) the Crestview congregation has come alive with new vigor and growth. One might suspect that with a large contingent of Ghanaians the growth in this congregation would be from among African immigrants.  Not so.  Crestview Park is seeing people come to Christ from a wide multi-cultural spectrum.

But what is the connection to Barrie?  The Barrie Free Methodist Church has developed a heart for the country of Ghana and has sent teams, funded projects and supported John-Mark and Loreli Cockram during their short-term ministry in Accra. It’s primarily because of the strong connection between Barrie and Accra, Ghana, that the Free Methodist Church in Ghana requested to become a Mission District of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.  This past summer Joseph was in Ghana to minister in several places and to build relationships with the Free Methodist leaders.

Sarnia – Tillsonburg – St. Catharines – Ghana:  Anyone who has met Barbara and Lloyd Peterson know of their deep love for Hispanic people.  They have been regular visitors to the Dominican Republic and to Mexico, but they are also keenly interested in building a connection among the Hispanic ministries that have been emerging over the last four years in southern Ontario. 

Iglesia del Buen Samaritano, pastored by Rick Venne in Sarnia is one such congregation.  Over in Tillsonburg, the Open Arms FMC has opened its doors to the Iglesia de la Palabra Viva, a Spanish church pastored by Jose Ticas.  Earlier this year, Grant Wolfe at the Grapeview FMC in St. Catharines was wondering how his congregation might reach out to migrant workers in the fields only two miles from his church.  Not long after this began to stir in his heart, Noel Montoya arrived on his doorstep, asking if his congregation of approximately 20 Hispanic people could worship in Grapeview’s facilities.  Something is happening among Hispanic people in southern Ontario. Because some of these new converts are seasonal workers, Barb and Lloyd Peterson have made several trips to Mexico to connect new converts with evangelical churches in their communities back home.

Flinton, ON:  In this little village of 250, Bruce Kellar had a vision in 2005 to see a church planted among unchurched people and it has been happening.  So far in 2009, 17 people have come to Christ.  Many of the people who have been reached by this church plant are in the over-45 age group.  The emerging dream is to start a second service to reach a younger group of people who may not have the same love for country and western music shared by the older set.

Burundi – Sherbrooke – Quebec City – Repentigny – Weyburn:  This past July, Pierre Sanambe, who planted Église Methodiste Libre Source d’eau Vive in Sherbrooke moved with his family to begin the work of planting a new church in Quebec City.  Equally wonderful is the fact that Mathieu Lamah has been raised up by the Lord to take over the pastoral leadership of the Source d’Eau Vive church. 

Over in Repentigny, a breakthrough has been achieved in that after many months of struggle in this strategic area where there is a great need for evangelical churches, this congregation has been able to purchase some property where they can meet.

We must not miss the international and inter-provincial team effort in these two Quebec stories.  Pierre Sanambe received his formation in the Burundi FMC and the purchase of the Repentigny property was made possible through a substantial down payment provided by the Weyburn (SK) FMC.

New Westminster – New Heights B.C. Connection:  At the B.C. Regional Gathering in June 2009, the New Westminster leaders were talking about their dream to develop a community garden that would provide food for hungry people.  They were also feeling promptings to connect with ministry beyond Canada.  In the same talking circle, leaders from the New Heights church in Mission, B.C. were talking about their street church that weekly provides food for hungry families and their connection to an orphanage that they support in Thailand.  It will be interesting to see how this oldest congregation in BC and this youngest congregation in B.C. join hands to make something happen.

Simcoe, ON: The town of Simcoe now has two Free Methodist congregations— Cedar Street that reaches out to people who prefer a traditional form of worship and The Comm, a new church plant that meets in a Jamaican restaurant and welcomes street people.  Here’s how they describe what they are doing: “We feel the need to connect to the community.  We are doing this with an informal celebration service.  We compare ourselves to Zacchaeus; we are the tree holding the people up to get a better look at Jesus.”  They have bought this three-story building.  On the main floor is the Jamaican restaurant.  But they also have a vision for low-income housing on the second and third floor, and a shelter and café for homeless people in the basement.

There are lots more good stories around the country. Edmonton FMC is seeing a bunch of new members and experiencing a whole new atmosphere of hope.  I could go on talking about many congregations that are rediscovering the grace of giving, others are recovering their ministry confidence as they see God at work in the healing of deep conflict, and still others who are rejoicing in the provision of new pastors who are helping them experience a new future.

The thing that I love about football, as I said in the beginning, is that it’s the story of a team.  As one person has wisely said, there is no “I” in the word Team. It’s a group of people pulling together in the same direction.  I suspect there are some professional football players that play a whole season without getting mentioned in the sports columns of the newspapers. It’s not possible for the sports writers to mention every player and what they did to contribute to the winning of each game, but without them the score would have been different.

I find myself in the same spot as I conclude this article.  There are too many congregations to talk about each in an article of this length, but I do want to say that I love what God is doing in all different kinds of ways, through all different kinds of styles, in all different sizes of congregations that make up the FMCIC team.  [BTW, the 2008 Grey Cup champions are a team from southern Alberta.  No more clues.]

Rev. Keith Elford is Bishop of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.