Bridge Church continues to reach out creatively despite the constraints of COVID-19. On Easter Sunday they had 500 people show up for their outdoor, drive-in service. Pastor Ryan and the church were featured on Global News TV. You can watch the segment at: https://globalnews.ca/news/7738392/easter-alberta-covid-19-restrictions/
This is their fourth COVID drive-in service to date.
The Bridge has also launched a new app called “Bridge Daily.” Everyone who has the app gets a five minute devotional and a guided prayer led by Pastor Ryan. Devotionals are available five days a week.
There are significant benefits that come to a parent church, when they plant a new church. Among them are inspiration and challenge, and Bridge is providing us with both.
Consider that Bridge Church launched under the most unusual and difficult of circumstances yet all indications are that they are growing nonetheless. Bridge has shown us that the pandemic cannot stop the Gospel, and that it need not stop us from proclaiming it. I am reminded of words the Apostle Paul wrote during a time of imprisonment. He said that he was in chains, “but God's word is not chained.” (2 Timothy 2:9)
How is Bridge Church’s example speaking to us? Let’s not let the pandemic stop us from sharing the Gospel. Let’s continue to pray for our personal parish (those people near us with whom with whom we hope to share the Gospel). Let’s be faithful to take the opportunities to share the Good News that the Lord opens up for us.
Something really beautiful happened at our Governing Elders meeting this past Monday—we experienced Easter joy together. Let me tell you about it.
To open our meeting Arnie Steenbergen, our chair, read the Easter story from Matthew 28:1-10. He didn’t follow his reading with a meditation, as is common practice when leading a devotional like this. Instead, he just said “Wow!” And then he added: “It just seemed right to read that!” His awe at the reality of the resurrection was evident.
Arnie’s statement of awe was followed by others of us sharing our impressions about the amazing news of Christ’s rising from the dead, as explained by Matthew. Then we spoke to God together in prayer, aware that the risen Saviour was in our midst.
It was a sweet and joyful time, however brief. It was a taste of the reality of the resurrection that believers are invited to regularly enjoy.
I am so grateful for our leaders. Month after month at these meetings, I witness their sincere love for Christ, and the deep humility out of which they lead the church. It would be easy for you to think of our office bearers as merely decision makers. It is important for you to know that they are also people of deep character who love Jesus.
As grateful as I am for our leaders, I am even more grateful for the Easter reality we celebrated together at our meeting. It is this reality that gives us reason to meet each month to discuss ministry. It is this reality that gives us reason to thrill at what God is doing in our church. It is this reality that gives us all reason to work hard, even when COVID-19 threatens to rob us of the usual rewards of our service in the church.
It is the reality of the resurrection makes it all worth it. That’s why our chairman said, “Wow!” Just, “Wow!”
I am so excited about our annual week of 24-7 prayer scheduled for May 16-23, the seven days leading up to Pentecost Sunday. As far as I am concerned, there is no more influential week in our church calendar. I am convinced that the amazing things that have happened through Bethel Church in the last years relate directly to that week of prayer and to the other prayers we offer up regularly in our small groups and on our own.
The theme for this year gives me a thrill: “Seek My Face.” When the phrase “seek His face” or “seek My face” appears in Scripture, it is an invitation to come into the presence of God. It is God asking us to spend intimate time with us. He wants us to know Him better—to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)--to experience that His “love is better than Life” (Psalm 63:3). He does not ask us to seek His hand (what He gives) but His face--God Himself.
Perhaps my heart yearns for this event especially because I will be leaving Bethel a week after it takes place. So it is a chance to be united in heart with you before I depart. COVID-19 will rob us of many of the normal opportunities to connect and say “farewell”; however, nothing can stop us from being united in Spirit through prayer.
The 24-7 Prayer planning team of Cathy Ferchau, Ashley Patton, and Hilary Warnock, are sorting out details of that special week now. The pandemic will affect how we can observe the event. Last year we prayed only in our homes. Perhaps this year it will be a hybrid event—partly in the church building and partly in our homes. The team is still figuring that out.
I hope you will plan to participate this year. Whether you are just starting out in prayer or are an experienced veteran, the upcoming week of prayer will be an opportunity to be enriched, to grow, to unite with your church, and to partner with God in doing great things on earth.
I announced on Sunday that I have accepted a call to Maranatha Church of Belleville, Ontario. What does that mean both for Bethel and for the Bairds in the next months? The Governing Elders met to talk about its implications for Bethel, and I would like to tell you personally what it means for Janet and me.
The aim of the Governing Elders’ meeting was to lay the basic groundwork for a smooth transition into the future. We started by discussing A Dream for Bethel, which describes our collective vision for our church. Reviewing the document was invigorating for all of us, because we believe it paints an exciting and accurate picture of what God wants us to become. We agreed to spend two weeks praying about how God would have us structure our staff to take us through this transition and beyond.
These steps are vital. They are the building blocks that need to be in place before Bethel can call a new pastor. That these things are ready, or nearly ready to go means that there should be little delay in starting a calling process. God is good!
What does the calling process mean for Janet and me personally? For me, it means I have to pass a lot of batons. I will seek to create seamless continuity in my church, community, and classical roles. I will especially do all I can to equip Cris and the staff to carry on without interruption when I leave.
For Janet and me, leaving Bethel is filled with both emotions and activity. We are caught between the excitement of going to a new community and call on the one hand, and saying “goodbye” to a church we love on the other—it’s a roller coaster ride of emotions. At the same time, we have to pack, sell our current house, and buy a new house over the internet in a new city—so, it’s a whirlwind of activity as well.
There are two things I hope we will all keep in mind. First, we are not gone yet. Janet and I have two and a half months to go. I will be fully invested in Bethel until I finish my pastoral work on May 31. Janet and I intend to enjoy our time and relationships each day we are here! Second, Jesus is in charge. Our leaving is his plan for Bethel as much as it is his plan for Janet and me. I know he has good things in store for Bethel Church. Let’s all trust him, and wait patiently for his plan to unfold.
In an attempt to get away from the screen, I resolved to do little more walking over the past few months. After the cold-snap in January, I began inviting several people from Bethel to walks. Often, I ask others what their favorite walking trails are. It gives me the chance to see more of the city, but also join with someone else in their interests – to see what they see. I was overjoyed one day when I saw two eagles perched in trees, not even 40 meters apart from each other!
While it’s harder to arrange and plan (sometimes), I’ve loved it. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many people from our church find themselves getting out and walking. In one way, it’s an acknowledgement that this is good for our mental health. We need to get out. But also, we realize the importance of personal connection and friendship – an experience we all have missed dearly over this past year. Being outside gives many of us this chance right now. The Bible talks a great deal about walking.
We are people of the way. While there have been times this past year when it has been difficult to see this, we are on this journey together. Perhaps we should find more intentional ways to walk at the same times and along the same paths – following the guidance of the Spirit towards the life of rescue and rest we have been promised in Jesus.
Take advantage of the early teases of Spring (while they last). Ask a friend or neighbor, and walk. Reach out to me, if you want to go on a walk some time. We’ve had some discussion at church about arranging some “smaller” group walks with those from church. Look out for details over the next few weeks.
On the way with you.
By now you have heard that I received a call from Maranatha Church of Belleville, Ontario. What that means, practically speaking, is that the people of Maranatha Church want me to be their pastor, and they have given me two or three weeks to think about it. How did this come about? And where do we go from here?
It all started several weeks ago when Maranatha’s Search Committee emailed me to ask if I would be willing to discuss a possible call. Their communication took me by surprise. I had not been seeking a call, and when a pastor is within three years of retirement, as I am, he is not expecting to get one. But Maranatha assured me that they had done their homework. They thought I was the right fit for their church.
I have a history with this church. My church in St. Thomas, Fellowship Church, followed the lead of Maranatha Church in hosting the Dunamis conferences. Maranatha and Fellowship experienced significant renewal as a result. Maranatha continued to be a model for me for many years, and their pastor became a mentor to me.
Since that time, however, Maranatha Church has faced many challenges. The people of Maranatha have a beautiful spirit and vision, but the path has not been an easy one for them. They have been seeking a pastor for four years. What they would want me to do is help them rebuild their ministry, and then pass the baton.
So, I have to consider whether I will say “yes.” On the one hand, I think my gifts fit their needs. Our kids and grandkids would live about three hours away, and accepting this call would mean seeing more of them (a good thing). I would have to postpone retirement for a few years, but I think I could actually enjoy that.
On the other hand, I love Bethel Church. I have found my years at Bethel to be among the most rewarding of my ministry. Janet and I would leave with broken hearts.
So, where do we go from here? We pray. On Tuesday evening I spent time with our Governing Elders discerning this call with them. I have spoken with Pastor Cris, as well as a few advisors and a few trusted friends. Now we need to put this call in the Lord’s hands and trust him. As we all pray, I am sure God will make his will known for Bethel and for Janet and me.
I am sure you have experienced the wonder of new growth, whether it was a baby being born, a child in a growth spurt, sprouts emerging from the earth, or a plant in bloom. I feel that sense of wonder as I see what the Holy Spirit is doing in Bethel Church right now. We are experiencing a springtime in the middle of a COVID winter.
Here are some of ways that life is springing up around Bethel:
And there are many more life-giving things happening at Bethel: youth ministry, small groups, women’s midweek Bible studies, an Alpha group, and the ongoing efforts of our elders and deacons to mention a few of them. There is also a lot of unrecorded ministry happening—for example what you and others are doing to encourage and stay connected to fellow Bethelites. Praise the Lord for the moving of His Spirit at Bethel. Let’s continue to use our gifts to serve one another!
Lent is for Everyone
Full disclosure – I didn’t grow up within a liturgical background. I wasn’t raised with any notable rhythms throughout the church – outside of Christmas and Easter. And yet, one of God’s greatest gifts to me in recent years has been the discovery and practice of Lent, along with other seasons of worship.
This might be the same for you, or it could be the exact opposite. Services with ashes and responsive prayers of confession may evoke different kinds of feelings and perhaps some level of confusion and discomfort. I get it.
While I want to be sensitive to this, I’d also like to make the claim that Lent is for everyone. The reason I say this is because Lent is less about following a specific tradition in church history and all about embracing rhythms of faith and renewal as followers of Jesus.
On Ash Wednesday, we set aside a day of prayer and fasting. As I look at my email inbox, I see response after response of people who sensed God working through this day to draw us closer to him and to extend his love and comfort to our neighbors. God is moving in incredible ways.
For those who joined us in prayer and worship at night, the ashes we received are our way of saying that we are not enough, but God is—which is why the ashes take the shape of a cross. However, for us to truly receive and confess this, we must first come to the end of ourselves, and that involves humility.
To this end, I invite you to join us in Lent (starting this week) through the following lens:
Lent is a time of repentance.How can you use this time to repent? We cannot truly appreciate God’s love without observing the cost, just as we cannot brush past our need for repentance. This is both individual and communal. Allow God space to work on your heart. Let’s make sure our hearts are right with him.
Lent is a time of preparation. After almost a year of pandemic and isolation, it’s fair to say we truly do not know what is ahead of us. Ask the Lord how you can use this time to prepare. How can you join with family and friends in a new season of growing in Christ?
Lastly, Lent is about mortality. It deals with the sober realities of life by reflecting on death, but specifically the hope we have in Jesus’ death. Since he died for our sins, the new possibility emerges for us to die to ourselves and allow Christ to live in us.
Death to self, and new life by grace is the background to the lingering refrain from Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the gospel.” Stirring words for a new season.
– Pastor Cris
THE UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS OF COVID-19
As I have reached out to Bethelites over last months, one of the questions I have repeatedly asked is: “What challenges have you faced as a result of COVID-19, and what unexpected blessings has it brought?” You are probably well aware of the challenges of COVID 19. The blessings might surprise you.
Many have grown deeper in their relationship with God: One person told me that he has grown in gratitude, because the pandemic has made him aware of all the blessing’s he had been taking for granted. Several people told me they talk to God more now, or talk to Him at a deeper level.
Many have grown deeper in their relationships with others: A number of families said they feel closer to one another because they have had more time together and fewer distractions. “Our children fought a lot at the start of the pandemic but, as time went on, they got to know one another and became fast friends,” said one parent.
I loved one couple’s story about spending Christmas week with their young adult children who were home from school. Since the kids couldn’t visit friends, they invested in their immediate family. It was a bonding experience for everyone.
One woman experienced healing in her relationship to a sibling. One extended family has been connecting regularly on Zoom—something they did not do before the pandemic.
Another family plans to maintain a regular “family day” after the pandemic because they have found the extra time together so beneficial.
More blessings of COVID: Some of the blessings I learned of were not related to relationships. Some are celebrating that they have been free of colds and flu. Many feel the pleasure in a slower, less frenetic life. One person told me that this time has helped him to prepare for retirement.
It is good to reflect on what GOOD things we have as a result of the coronavirus. It reminds us that God is still at work for our good, and this should fill us with gratitude and joy. What unexpected blessings has COVID-19 brought you?
GOOD NEWS FROM BRIDGE CHURCH
Our daughter church, Bridge Church in Fort Saskatchewan, is making a big impact on their city. The following is a report from Pastor Ryan.
Paul instructs the Colossians Christians to pray for "open doors" for the Gospel to be proclaimed and to "make the most of every opportunity" in their relationships with those outside their community. I am pleased to report that Bridge Church has been faithful to both of these instructions.
Here are some examples: We hosted outdoor concerts with multiple community bands this fall. The Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Club and an addictions recovery group eagerly jumped on board to help. This was an incredible chance to mingle with and get to know our neighbors in the Fort.
On Easter Sunday and again on Christmas Eve, we hosted drive-in church service for the community. Once again hundreds came in their cars looking for hope.
These opportunities to build a connection with people have led to real life change. One man came on Easter, watched church online for the summer and was baptized in the fall. Another man came on Christmas Eve and was later connected to MosaicHouse in Edmonton (it was much closer to his home!). God is using Bridge to draw people to Himself.
What is ahead for Bridge Church? We sense God leading us to venture deeper into the world of online church community. The internet is a fantastic place to reach new people with the Gospel of Jesus. In addition to expanded online ministry, we have church leaders being trained in a church planting program called "Dinner Church." This training is graciously subsidized by Resonate Global Missions. We will look to offer two Dinner Church "Campuses" in Fort Saskatchewan and Josephburg.
Thank you, Bethel Church, for your partnership in the Gospel through your prayers, financial support and encouragement.
Come here for news on what is happening in Bethel Church from our Pastors.