Churches grapple with challenges and changes
Saskatchewan Conference of MB Churches convention, Mar. 12–13
“God is good!” Moderator Ron Dyck opened the convention with this firm affirmation, and the congregation responded with conviction: “All the time.” Despite a hard past year and more challenges ahead, the mood was upbeat as the family of Saskatchewan churches gathered for Overcoming Harvest Hardships, their 64th annual convention, Mar. 12–13.
Throughout the event, speakers emphasized the challenges of a changing world, and of God’s call to mission. Harvest Saskatchewan team leader Dwayne Barkman explored the tension in both wider Canadian culture and in the church as the modern age gives way to postmodernism. To illustrate, Waldheim pastor Greg Wiens and provincial board of faith and life (BFL) member Kim Pratt, from Hepburn, stretched surgical tubing across the stage, stepping back with each example of the difference between modern methods/approaches/perspectives (e.g. autonomous, individual, exclusive relationships) and postmodern (e.g. pluralistic, tolerant, diverse relationships).
Barkman and director of church ministries Ralph Gliege acknowledged the difficulties of the past year, including a shortage of pastors, board members, and volunteers at every level. Quoting Galatians 6:9, Gliege said, “We need to anticipate hardship; be proactive to avoid certain troubles, and be prepared to deal with others.”
The Friday night session, which opened with songs about the cross, closed with a long celebration of communion. To symbolize “a willingness to walk into hardship,” Gliege invited participants to walk up to receive the elements, then to break their bread in two pieces to symbolize brokenness. Several leaders shared about challenges they faced in the past year.
- The congregation at Main Centre walked with pastor Ken Epp through cancer diagnosis and treatment. The congregation learned “greater understanding and caring” as they supported their pastor, said moderator Carol Siebert. “It was our turn to give to him.”
- Phil Gunther of Parliament Community Church, Regina, and Kelly Wiebe of West Portal Church, Saskatoon, filled staffing vacancies by looking within their own membership.
- Borden MB Church transitioned from a traditional church in a rural building to a church plant meeting in rented quarters in town. The newly christened River Bend Fellowship uses a greenhouse image with its motto: “Living. Differently.” Pastor Tony Martens’ story was presented in a letter – his duties as volunteer coach of the local boys’ basketball team prevented him from attending.
Gliege set the tone for Saturday morning’s sessions with an exhortation from 1 Timothy 6:20 to guard what has been entrusted, but not to be fearful.
There remain several vacancies on the restructured provincial BFL. Current members are Greg Bright, pastor at Gateway Community Church, Canora; Terry Froese, pastor at Hope Fellowship, Saskatoon; Ben Kramer, youth pastor at Bridgeway Community Church, Swift Current; and Kim Pratt of Hepburn MB Church.
Board members and volunteers will form teams for credentialing, event planning, conflict support, reading and researching, and creating procedures and policy. Church membership qualifications for team members are still under discussion and accountability to the BFL would be assured by the board member on the team.
In advance of his ordination, planned to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Kelstern Community Church in Hodgeville, Dion Grimm shared his faith journey, from the persistent gentle efforts of a teenage friend who invited him to church, to “letting God have control” of his next ministry position and ending up in Hodgeville.
With the relocation of Harvest Saskatchewan chairperson Wayne Harms to B.C., Shane Peters of West Portal Church took on the mantle mid-stride. The team of Shane Peters, Tim Vellacott, Marion Oatway, Jeff Siemens, Brian Wiens, Howie Wall, Darren Holland, and Stephen White classify their activities of the past year as
- making disciples: 12 pastors and moderators attended the Church Planting Congress in Calgary in November, Project Reach Your World helped fund a vacation Bible school for the small church in Pierceland, Brian Wiens coached a discipleship pod through Hugh Halter’s The Tangible Kingdom, and Tim Vellacott led a prayer team to intercede for churches undergoing ReFocusing;
- leadership development: Howie Wall, moderator at Forest Grove, organized a pod for church moderators to encourage, educate, and strengthen each other; two pastoral internships are underway at Forest Grove and West Portal;
- missional church initiatives: Forest Grove Community Church is looking to expand through multisite initiatives; far from closing, the struggling church in Pierceland has an energetic lay leader and God is working in miraculous ways
- ReFocusing: convention host church, Meadow Lake, is in the midst of the process, praying through pain from the past and seeing God’s hand at work.
Bethany College’s report and financial statements doubled as their AGM. In the absence of a president for the 2000–2010 school year, Lisa Braun, dean of student development; Dan Guggenheimer, director of finance; Rick McCorkindale, academic dean; Rob Neufeld, director of donor relations; and Joy Lise Nokinsky, director of advancement, collaborated as the college leadership team. Student enrolment was down and spending in the 2008–2009 school year resulted in a deficit, but Bethany staff were upbeat about God’s work in their midst. They solicited prayer for Rick Schellenberg, who resigned as president for health reasons.
West Bank and Redberry Bible camps brought reports of the challenges and successes of their ministries of reaching children and youth for the Lord. Claire Ewert Fisher, director of Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan, reported that the board initiated conversation with aboriginal leaders regarding MCC’s past support of the Timber Bay residential school, with a letter saying “In spite of good intentions, children also came to harm.”
The board of management reported an “uneventful” year. Changing the norm paradigm for church contributions to the conference has been discussed, but board of management chair Ross Hardy said they “would rather expend energy on generating excitement for what we’re doing,” resulting in increased giving, than on changing norms. Expenses for BFL and Harvest Saskatchewan were up in 2009 due to new pastor supports, including a larger number of pastors taking sabbatical leave, increasing activity and new initiatives for Harvest Saskatchewan.
A Saskatchewan convention is not complete without gifts and recognition. This time, Erna Jantzen was recognized for having knitted 303 toques since 1997– one for each new pastor. Ferne and Ed Goll were recognized for their attention to the cemetery in Speedwell, which remains there after the MB church closed in 1948. Ferne approached the Saskatchewan conference for permission to maintain the cemetery, make markers for the graves, and solicit funds from descendants, after a school project for local children brought its state to her attention.