By Paul Walfall
I am convinced that within our United Church of Canada in this Alberta and Northwest Conference we share the good news of our faith but sometimes we may not know that is what we are doing . So I decided to put my convictions to the test. I invited some colleagues to share ways they share the good things in and through their Pastoral Charges.
Below are the responses from three ministers in ANW Conference. The words you will read are their own. While each is different, notice that in each of them there is no attempt at doing anything but putting their faith into action. Evangelism occurs in different ways, sometimes it occurs and we are not even aware of what we are doing. So here are three examples of how the good news of God at work in our community is being shared in this conference.
From Britt Aerhart, Salisbury United Church, Sherwood Park, Yellowhead Presbytery.
Two refugee families from Syria are currently being sponsored by a coalition of six churches in Sherwood Park: St. Thomas Anglican, Salisbury United, Sherwood Park United, Mount Olivet Lutheran, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic and Good News Moravian. A number of people without any church connection have also stepped up to get involved in the sponsorship effort.
The first family, a family of five, arrived in late January. They are enrolled in English language programs. Both parents are doctors and have settled their family into an apartment on Edmonton’s south side.
The second family arrived in three stages. Ranked as high needs owing to various medical issues, the family is made up of grandparents, three sons and their families. The group includes 8 children. One of the adult sons has cerebral palsy and is dependant on others for all his day-to-day functioning. He has been without medical care since the family fled Syria four years ago. A large house was rented and many hours were spent cleaning, painting and getting it ready for the family’s arrival. A local high school basketball team delivered and set up all the collected furniture. Now that they are here, the first priority is obtaining medical assessments and urgent dental care. The children started in their local schools and English language assessments will be next. To date nearly $30,000 has been raised by donations through sheer generosity and without significant fundraising. In March an information evening on the situation on Syria will be held at Salisbury United Church. On Wednesday evenings throughout April, Sherwood Park United Church is hosting an education series on Islam, lead by Rev. Dr. Bruce Miller. All of this has been possible through a will to cooperate for the sake of the common welfare of others, and because of a sense of generosity that has brought people together. It has been truly moving and inspiring.
From David Pollard, Aidrie United Church, Foothills Presbytery
When The United Church of Canada celebrated 90 years last by ringing bells, Airdrie United wondered what it could do since it doesn’t have bells. In 2010 the Ahmadiyyah Islamic community started using our building for Tarawih prayer during Ramadan. They liked the space so much they stayed and every Friday since they gather to worship and to pray. Airdrie United is honoured to host them. So we thought why not invite them to our party. They graciously accepted the invitation and they offered to bring food.
Anniversary Sunday was close to the start of Ramadan and so we asked if they would be willing to tell us more about it and the fast they keep during the day of this season. Rather than a sermon, Imam Mahmoud Butt told us about Ramadan. We sang the Churches One Foundation and heard the gospel. There was a recitation from the Holy Quran in Arabic and In English. As neighbours we “tasted” each others worship and traditions and then we tasted the wonderful meal our Muslim neighbours provided. What a joy to behold our Sunday School running and playing with the kids from the Islamic community. Many of them knew each other from school. What a joy to feel the palpable energy as neighbours came together. What a joy to overhear the questions folks asked each other about each other’s traditions and worship.
90 years ago our forbearers charted a new course for the United Church. On that anniversary, Airdrie United struck on a new path of intentional relationship with our Islamic friends. Ithas seen us draw closer and visit each other more regularly. Good News is lived out here in Airdrie where we see folks from around the world and people who come with different religions but we seek to know them that we might call them friends. The radical welcome we extend has cost us a bit along the way but it is how we have committed to live the gospel in our small part of Alberta and Northwest Conference.
From Adam Hall, Beaver Pastoral Charge, St. Paul Presbytery
Beaver Pastoral Charge and I are sharing the good news by responding to the need for authentic relationships. We are sharing the good news by sharing what is the reality of faith, that God is present in all our moments, whether that’s at church or at the swimming pool. The good news is about meeting people where they are and building relationships.
For example, last summer I spent a lot of time at the ball diamonds, talking with people about sports, farming, fishing and what it’s like to raise a young family. Some of these people discovered I was a minister during those conversations, or knew ahead of time, but were shocked because I never asked about their faith or religion. I never pushed a “Jesus agenda.” I only talked about religion when they asked, but tried to model faith by talking to them about what was important in their lives and doing so where they were, not waiting for them to come to the church. The pastoral charge that I serve developed a family night with this same idea. The sole purpose was to be the means and location for young families to gather and to build relationships with each other. It’s not about numbers in the pews; it’s about meeting people. This group has grown tremendously, and is now visible in other parts of Church life because no one is pushing a brand. We simply are building relationships, building support, offering each other care and kindness. That, at least for me, is the Good News; building relationships built on grace and love, not agendas and brands.
In what ways have you and your community of faith been sharing the good news? Share them with me so that I can share them with the Conference. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the stories of how you are sharing your faith.
Your servant for Jesus’ sake and CEO (Chief Evangelism Officer),
Paul Douglas Walfall,
President, ANW Conference