2019 IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
2019 was a significant year for our church. It was filled with joys, challenges, and lots of reasons for thanksgiving. Let me mention a few:
We celebrated 40 years of being a church: In February, former members and pastors joined us to celebrate 40 years of God’s faithfulness.
We gave birth to a church: Much of this year’s challenge and joy was related to the launch of Bridge Church. We said “goodbye” to Pastor Ryan, Jessica, and their children after 10 years at Bethel, and we commissioned nine other Bethel families to join the church plant. All of our sacrifice resulted in the birth of a new, vibrant church in Fort Saskatchewan.
We welcomed many new members: We receive 22 new members this year and celebrated 12 baptisms. Eight of those baptized were starting a new life with Jesus. We heard the Koyu family’s unforgettable testimony about their journey of faith from Islam to Christianity. After John (formerly Musa) and the children had made a decision to follow Christ, Sandy Koyu saw a vision that resulted in giving her life to Christ.
We forged new links to our church’s neighbourhood: We partnered with the Community League in the first ever Bannerman in Action event—“a day for doin’ good in the hood.” We also committed $25,000 to support the local After School Program.
We found a second pastor: After 18 months of searching we called Cris Harper to be Bethel’s second Pastor. We look forward to welcoming Cris and Christy and their children Ruth and Gabe in about two months.
We became a more vibrant church of prayer: For the second year in a row we had a week of 24-7 prayer. During every hour of that week, day and night, at least one person was in the church building praying. People prayed weekly during and after worship services, and we saw an increasing number of people ask for prayer through our healing prayer ministry.
We grieved the loss of beloved church members: Kieran Otteson and Joanne Huitsing passed away this year. We felt a deep loss for each and surrounded the grieving families with love. Genevieve MillerElsner lost her husband Glen recently. This week, Netty Fennema passed away. Though not a member of our church, Netty was among its first members and was the wife of Bethel’s first pastor, Chuck Fennema.
We started new things: We created a new “Dream for Bethel”—a five-year ministry plan for our church. We launched a Growing Young Team to study the attitudes and needs of our church’s young adults. This resulted in the start of an Intergenerational Team that will take action in response to our findings.
Time and space does not allow me to talk about all the ways our ministries changed lives or all the new friendships that were started or all the people who journeyed through illness, and received visits and meals, and sometimes startling healing, this year. These few things show us, though, that we have lots of reason to praise God and look forward to the future.—Pastor Tom
A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR BETHEL!
Christmas came early for our church, this year. We received a gift from God in the form of a second pastor.
Last Sunday, we voted overwhelming to issue Cris Harper a call. Cris could have taken three weeks to respond; instead, he and Christy decided not to make us wait. They feel certain God is calling them to Bethel. So soon, Cris, Christy, Ruth, and Gabe will be headed our way to become part of the Bethel Church family.
I asked Cris when he knew God was confirming his call to Bethel. He told me that he and Christy had been sensing God’s leading to come here for some time. However, it was on the Monday evening of their visit during their meeting with our church’s Council, that they felt certain of it. Cris explained that, up to that point in their visit, they had met many Bethelites and they were feeling a strong connection with our congregation. When they experienced that same connection with our church’s leaders, their hearts were at peace. They would come to Bethel if they were called.
Janet and I hosted Cris and Christy during their stay here. We experienced firsthand what sincere, authentic, Christ-loving people they are. Cris is passionate for Young Adults, he has a vision for building community within the church through small groups and hospitality, and he is not afraid to take on big challenges. Christy is very talented, as well. Together they make a dynamic team. Personally, I could not more thrilled with our choice of a second pastor.
During these last 18 months of searching for a new pastor, we have experienced some disappointments. At times the waiting seemed interminable. We interviewed several candidates without success, and we even called one candidate who declined. However, I now believe I see why God asked us to wait patiently. Our church has grown through the search process, and I believe we are getting the pastor (and pastor-couple) who best fits Bethel. It was worth the wait.
We don’t know when, exactly, the Harpers will make the move to Edmonton; however, Cris said they definitely want to be here before midMarch. Our area Christian Reformed Churches will meet for their Spring Classis meeting on March 13-14, and Cris wants to be here in time to be examined for ordination.
Keep the Harpers in your prayers as they prepare to pull up stakes and move to Edmonton. If you want to introduce yourself to Cris or write a note of encouragement, Cris’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. —Pastor Tom
DIALOGING WITH OTHER FAITHS
I received an unexpected and interesting invitation this past Sunday. It was put to me by two Muslim gentlemen who spoke to me in my office between worship services. They were inviting me to represent Christianity at a gathering of six different religious leaders who will introduce their religion’s founder and explain His basic teachings.
I was not sure what to do with this invitation on first hearing it. On the one hand, it seemed to present a wonderful opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus in an open forum. (I firmly believe that dialogue, not confrontation, offers the best hope of getting a hearing for the Gospel.) On the other hand, I worried that these two men might be coopting me into an event that would not treat each faith as evenhandedly as promised—they seemed to be very aggressive in their desire to spread their own faith.
In the end I agreed to do it. I believe Jesus Christ is the Lord of all, and that He is God’s way of salvation for all people. It is hard for me to say “no” to an invitation to tell people about Him. My simple aim will be to speak personally and sincerely about Him and His claims. I will trust the Holy Spirit to use my words to whatever affect He wants.
The date of the event has been set for Thursday, January 30. The time and place are yet to be determined. I will keep you abreast of details.
Assuming the event goes forward as planned, I invite you to come, to meet people from other faiths, to learn about their sincere beliefs, and to pray that I can faithfully present Jesus to all present.—Pastor Tom
CHRISTMAS AT BETHEL
The festive decorations around the church bear witness that Christmas as arrived at Bethel. Besides our regular Sunday worship services, we have a lot going on to celebrate the season.
We will worship together: On Saturday, the 21st, we will experience a first at Bethel. We will hold a special service for people who need space to lament. (Christmas isn’t an easy time for everyone.) It is called “The Longest Night.” Our Christmas Eve services will be held at 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday the 24th . As in other years, we look forward to welcoming many visitors. There will be childcare for children up to four years of age. For children who stay in the sanctuary, we have activities to engage them in worship. The service will include candle-lighting. Apple cider will be served afterward. On Christmas day, we will have a single, 10:00 worship service. Childcare will be provided for children up to kindergarten age.
We will have large and small group celebrations: Our Christmas dinner is planned for Saturday, December 14, from 4:00-6:00 p.m. The evening will feature a warm holiday meal, activities for the kids, and Christmas carols. Besides spending time with fellow Bethel members, we look forward to welcoming an anticipated 400-500 guests—community leaders and other friends from the Bannerman Community. We pray this meal will especially encourage people who experience loneliness at Christmas time or who suffer from food insecurity.
Many smaller group celebrations will take place around Bethel as well. The Oasis women’s ministry, the Cadet Boy’s Club, the Gem’s Girl’s club, the youth group, and the seniors group—just to mention a few—will wrap up their year with a Christmas party. The staff will go out to lunch on December 17, and then distribute Christmas cards and gifts to our Church’s neighbours. (This annual luncheon is a high point for the staff, and it is a gift from you, Bethel. Thank you!)
We will help others to have a happy Christmas: We have numerous efforts focused on helping others. Many of you have taken a gift-tag from the Christmas tree in the foyer. We hope give gifts to 75 children this year. We also expect to provide Christmas hampers for 24 families. The youth are collecting items for Vault and Cellar Youth Centers to support youth at risk. We have also been collecting clothes for other organizations.
Forgive me if I have failed to mention something you are a part of this year. I’m sure there are many more thing planned. Jesus gives us a lot to celebrate!—Pastor Tom
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