A Time for Renewal
I am not intimidated by new things. Give me all the new foods to try—the spicier and weirder the better. Give me a new board game, or a new city to explore—I’ll master them. Why not? Bring on these unknown joys and excitement. What can God show me through them?
It’s a different thing entirely when the new is sprung on you. As a new pastor in a new country, I expected some of these challenges, but I didn’t anticipate the scope. After living in the country for 3 weeks, the border between Canada and US was closed. Any ideas that Christy and I had about daily life as a family abruptly halted as the veil of caution and concern over COVID-19 descended upon the world.
In one sense, I’m grateful for the timing. I’m grateful we arrived in the country before the pandemic escalated, and grateful that we completed our list of immigration tasks before social distancing went into full effect. But I’m also confused, wondering what God is doing in this time and place. I was already dealing with so much “new.” Did we really need more change?
And yet, believing in God as the source of all things good means seeing that behind change is an opportunity and a gift. The last thing I want to do is to simplify or belittle the hardship that is wrecking our world. But I can speak personally to how this event has opened my eyes to my need for change. If every day is an act of worship, our daily habits are the songs and message of our witness. They form us and shape us. And if I’m honest, what I do each day does not always reflect the person I would like to become.
I see COVID-19 as a time for renewal—to pause and reflect on what has been normal, and then live into what the new “normal” might be as a husband, father and pastor. My prayer is that with these unusual days we look a little closer into our daily rhythms, seeking to order our lives around what matters most, Christ and his call, rather than be consumed by what often distracts us.
- Pastor Cris
IT’S TIME TO LOVE
COVID-19 has thrown our country and province into turmoil. Store shelves are empty of certain products. Regularly scheduled meetings are being cancelled in droves. Vulnerable people are fearful of going out of doors lest they catch the virus. Every runny nose is suspect.
It is reasonable to take proper precautions, but at a time like this it is very easy to become completely absorbed with our challenges and fears. I want to encourage us all to avoid the gravitational pull of the self-focused life and choose love instead.
The people closest to you need you. Your brothers and sisters in Christ need you. The larger community needs you. Self-preoccupation will smother our spirits. Love will come as a fresh wind into our lives.
Right now my thoughts are especially focused on the church. When challenges face us, we as a church need to pull together and care for one another.
Jesus died to make us a family, so let’s look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will need people to step up for those who are suddenly hit with material and physical needs. Who are the loneliest in our church community— how can you reach out to them, if only by phone or online? If you can’t meet with your small group in person, how can you stay connected? Consider who might be lonely at Easter? How can you care for them?
I believe we are going to emerge from this crisis stronger not weaker. That will happen as we pray for one another and actively love the other members of the community. --Pastor Tom
WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE A SECOND PASTOR
It has been a long time since we have had a full time Second Pastor—a year and a half to be exact. Now Pastor Cris has arrived, and I am already sensing the big difference he is going to make.
Cris will be addressing many areas of ministry that have been neglected since Pastor Ryan’s departure. The staff have labored so successfully to fill in the ministry gaps that many people have not really noticed the void. But the gaps have been there, and the addition of Pastor Cris will be hugely positive.
Here are a few of the things he will be working on:
Young Adults: Cris and Christy are passionate about young adult ministry. The vital young adult segment of our church has had little pastoral attention directed their way in a long time. Pastor Cris will be investing in them. I believe we will see our young adults having a much richer experience at Bethel as they get better connected to one another and increasingly use their talents to help build the church.
Small Groups: Before we are anything else, our church is a community of people called to love one another in Jesus’ name; yet, only a few staff hours per week have been focused on our small group ministry. Pastor Cris has a great plan for getting to know and support small group leaders as he figures out how to deepen and expand this ministry.
Social Media: Cris has been assessing our social media presence, and hopes to pull together a team of talented people to make our communications topnotch. Our website is often the first point of contact guests have with our church. There are many social media platforms that can be used to improve our communication within and beyond the church. Cris’s goal is to make our social media presence the best it can possibly be.
Cris and Christy have been mired in the many mundane details related to moving (like getting SIN numbers and telephone plans) and there is a learning curve that comes with every new job. It will take time for Cris to settle in, but I know that good things just around the corner.—Pastor Tom
THINKING ABOUT SPRINGTIME IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Last year Bethel Church stepped up, big time, to support “Bannerman in Action: A Day for Doin’ Good in the Hood.” Seventy Bethel volunteers joined many Bannerman residents to help create a good community vibe by getting neighbors involved in helping out their neighbors. Because last year’s event was such a great success, our planning team has been emboldened to adopt an audacious dream for the future.
The vision is to rally the neighborhood around the tagline: “Bannerman a Community that Cares.” This motto envisions a strong collaboration between local businesses, residents, and organizations to nurture community pride and a strong ethic of volunteerism. It envisions neighbors routinely helping out their neighbors and supporting one another, especially, in the event of an emergency or when crime is an issue. It is a vision of a community that deeply values its local assets, like the school and Community League, and invests the energy needed to keep them vibrant.
To help achieve this goal, we plan to have a door to door campaign in Bannerman in April. We will promote the “Community that Cares” concept to each home and encourage people to turn out for Bannerman in Action. (A flyer will list Bethel as one of the sponsoring organizations). Our goal for this year’s Bannerman in Action event is to see the volunteer numbers rise from 100 to 150 with the additional volunteers coming from the local community itself.
There are two ways you can help: 1) Volunteer to join Bannerman residents to knock on doors in April, and 2) come out for the Bannerman in Action event scheduled for the morning of Saturday, May 23 (8:30 till noon).
We are still very early in the planning process for the event, but I couldn’t help telling you about it. I am excited for the arrival of spring and for the arrival of this event! --Pastor Tom
EXTENDING JUSTICE AND COMPASSION IN BANNERMAN
As Christians we know we are “to act justly and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8). Jesus told us to do so without fanfare. However, sometimes we need to talk about what we are doing as a community so that we will be encourage in our efforts. It is in this spirit that I share with you what Bethel has been doing in the Bannerman community in the last few months.
We are currently supporting Carley Clarke who leads a “Ladies Tea” group in the Capital Region Housing units. This is a small group of new-Canadian women who show up each week to enjoy tea, learn English, and discover resources that can help them adapt to Canadian society and succeed financially. Carley is helping two of these woman prepare for their Canadian citizenship tests. She directed a third woman who wants to do her citizenship test to the local C5 Hub to learn English from Loretta Dell, another Bethel member.
Bethel has been able to provide a hand up to several other people in the Capital Region Housing units who are going through a time of transition as they adapt to Canadian society and seek employment that will give their family’s financial stability. You may remember that, at Christmas time, Bethel provided 25 food hampers to local families and 84 gifts to children. Subsequently, the deacons provided two families with a variety of items: a donated queen-sized mattress, a bed frame, blankets, a dresser, a dining room table with chairs, a kitchen cabinet, a playpen and baby toys. Two other families received dishes and kitchenware. One Bethel member went shopping at Value Village to supply three families with winter coats, scarves, and boots. Another Bethelite came out to give haircuts.
Especially through Carley Clarke’s efforts, several children from the neighborhood are attending either our Cadet’s Boys’ Club or our Gems Girls’ Club. Many of the children from the units go to the Kids’ Club which Bethel runs on Thursday evenings. Two families from the neighborhood attended the last Alpha course. Not infrequently members of the local community will come to a Sunday service.
Be encouraged. God’s love and Good News is touching lives, and He is using Bethel to do that.—Pastor Tom
MESSY GRACE IS IN OUR FUTURE
Someone asked me, “What outcomes are you hoping for from your “Messy Grace” sermons? (That was the title of my two recent sermons about the church and those who identify as LGBTQ+.) I was glad for the question because I am hoping and praying for several very specific outcomes. Allow me to share these with you:
That our church community will move forward with truth and love in our relationships with LGBTQ+ members and guests (cf. Ephesians 4:15). It won’t always be easy to express these things with the seamless harmony that Jesus did, but I hope we will each make that our goal. I called my last two sermons “Messy Grace,” for a reason. We will have to be generous-spirited toward one another and toward ourselves as we figure out what this will look like.
That LGBTQ+ individuals will experience love and welcome at Bethel. I think the silence on this issue was creating insecurity and inaction that was hindering our ability to express genuine love and welcome. Now that the silence has been broken, my hope is that we can get on with loving, supporting, and reaching out to those who identify as LGBTQ+.
That we can talk openly with one another about this issue. Already I have seen evidence that this is happening. In the past weeks I have had more conversations about this issue at Bethel than I have ever had before—both with those who agree with me and those who don’t. I praise God for this. It is not healthy for a church to tiptoe around the elephant in the room. Doing so will lead to hurt and misunderstanding rather than loving and respectful conversations.
That we will all look to God for guidance. I hope we are all realizing that the journey ahead is bigger than any of us is able to handle. We will only be able to navigate it as we are all looking to God to find wisdom from his Spirit. As we do so, though we can’t know all that the future holds, we will be able to know that God is holding us.
REFLECTIONS ON OUR INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
A week ago Thursday, I spoke at an interfaith event that also included religious leaders from Edmonton’s Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. Many of you came. The stated goal of the event was to pursue peace through dialogue. Each speaker was given 15 minutes to talk about their Faith’s founder.
This was the first time I have ever engaged in something like this. Having had a week to think about it, these are my reflections about the event.
Bethel Church is awesome: Many people contacted me to say that they were praying (some even fasting) for me as I prepared my talk. Over 40 Bethelites showed up at the event. I was deeply touched. (Thank you, Bethel!)
Some good things happened: I and other Bethel attendees had a chance to chat with people from the other faith communities. When you get past faith-labels to first names something good happens. Barriers come down. Fear is replaced by understanding and empathy.
I was disappointed: Unfortunately, I felt that the sponsoring group had an agenda for the event that was not advertised. They had banners, and book tables, and backdrops aimed at promoting their faith. They were very hospitable, but it was evident that they had not been completely transparent about their motives for hosting the event. (I wrote a letter to them expressing this.)
We have an amazing Saviour. I was thrilled to be able to talk about Jesus. This was my biggest highlight for me. The Good News is such good news! Jesus stands alone as the worlds one Lord and Saviour, and I was thrilled to be able to describe the wonder of His grace.
I am not sure I would ever do this again: I believe that dialogue, not conflict, is the way forward in our pluralistic society. However, now that I’ve experienced this interfaith dialogue, I am just not sure that it is the most effective avenue for pursuing that goal. There isn’t strife among the faith groups in Edmonton. In the future I think I will just to sit down for a coffee with my neighbours from other faiths.
LONELINESS IN THE CHURCH
I’m reading a book by Wesley Hill called Spiritual Friendship. It is part of my quest to learn how we can be a deeply loving church where all are included, and no one feels lonely.
Do you ever feel lonely? In a church community no one should feel this way, but we sometimes do. It is even possible for people to be very busy in the church—perhaps even leaders in the church—and yet lack deep friendships.
This isn’t how it is supposed to be. It’s not how it was in the early church, and it’s not how it should be today. But how do we break through the relationship barrier to become a community in which men and women, young and old, “red, yellow, black and white” all feel at home? How can the church live Christ’s vision of loving community in a society that pushes us toward isolation? We need to find the way.
We all need the kind of fellowship I am talking about. People without a strong support system will feel the need even more acutely. Wesley Hill, who wrote the book I mentioned, Spiritual Friendship, is a celibate gay Christian. He represents a demographic that desperately needs meaningful Christian fellowship but often can’t find it. Single men and women also face challenges when it comes to experiencing deep community.
Pastor Cris, our new second pastor, shares my passion for deep community. When he arrives we will be talking together about this topic and we will be speaking with our leaders about it, as well. As we prayerfully work together, I am confident that we can become the kind of community Christ wants us to be. –Pastor Tom
ON THE FOREFRONT OF CREATION CARE
I attended the first Climate Hope session hosted at Bethel Church this past Sunday. I didn’t know what to expect, but I came away challenged and encouraged and grateful that Bethel is on the forefront of urging concern for the creation.
The presenters for the evening, Dr. Kristopher Ooms and Dr. Gerda Kits, are both professors at The Kings University here in Edmonton. They laid out the scientific case for climate change and described our Christian responsibility in regard to it. Then they gave opportunity for attendees to ask questions. Many people were in attendance and the discussion was lively.
Occasions like this one make me grateful for the various gifts in the body of Christ. That is because, as Christians, we are called to impact our world on many different levels. We have been called to fulfill the Great Commission (so Bethel has set a goal, along with Bridge Church, of seeing three hundred people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in the next five years). However, we are also called to be leaders when it comes to compassionate ministry and doing justice.
While we all have responsibilities in all of these areas, we can’t all invest ourselves equally in each area. That is why I am thankful that God gives particular gifts and passions to people for the different areas of our calling. We can get all the work done only as we each step out to give leadership in our own area of gifting.
Ideally, our concern for sharing the Good News and our concern for love and justice should work together seamlessly. This seminar shows how that can happen. At least two people I know of, who are detached from church, came to the seminar because they appreciated the leadership this event’s organizers are giving in an area that is so much on the minds Canadians.
To learn about upcoming events in this speaker series, visit facebook.com/780climatehope/ or talk to one of the Climate Hope Team’s organizers who attend Bethel Church: Linda Hofstede, Paul Horsman & Susan Horsman, Jennifer Porritt, Brendan & Alex Middel, and Richard Vriend. –Pastor Tom
CONNECTING WITH OUR CARE-GIVERS
I hung out with Bethel’s Shepherding Elders for the second half of their meeting this past Wednesday. I thought you might like to know what a great job I think they are doing.
As their name suggests, our Shepherding Elders are elected elders who are in charge of “shepherding” us. They focus especially on people who are not in small groups but are available to all of us when the need is there. They create policies that relate to the spiritual and physical health of all Bethel members. They also oversee baptism requests, membership transfers, and the Lord’s Supper.
At the meeting, I was deeply impressed by the group’s intentionality. I saw this on display as the various elders (and Pastor Martin who has been hired to do pastoral care in the absence of a second pastor) reported on visits they had made to members of the congregation. They described the support that was being given, while being careful to keep confidences. Suggestions were made about how to provide better care to those who need it.
The second thing that impressed me was the group’s wisdom. I had shared the good news about upcoming weddings at Bethel and sought input about questions related to them. I had also proposed a pastoral way for responding to people who drift away from the church. During both discussions the elders gave feedback that was both loving and sensitive.
As we met, there was a joyful spirit in the room. I left feeling that we are in good hands with these godly men and women who serve us! –Pastor Tom
Come here for news on what is happening in Bethel Church from our Pastors.