A late-winter blizzard interrupted travel plans for some of Friday night’s speakers for the 65th provincial convention of the Saskatchewan Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches at Parliament Community Church, Regina, Mar. 11–12, but the longest-serving conference minister Ralph Gliege ably coped with the unexpected. Featured speakers – one put on the spot to fill a vacancy – were members of an MB Mission team preparing to partner with an ICOMB conference.
Healthy Heartbeat was the official theme of the conference, part of a three-year theme arc begun this year with “an outward focus.” But throughout the weekend, both the missionaries’ and local pastors’ stories demonstrated that, as they acted in obedience to God’s call, they discovered “God was there before us.”
Luke Heidebrecht, associate missions director at Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask. – probably the youngest speaker to deliver a keynote address in the history of Saskatchewan conventions – spoke on the communal call to mission. God’s call to transformed lives, holistic gospel, and unity is not only for individuals, but for the church together, he said.
Delegates heard stories of God “going before us” locally on Saturday through the reporting of the director of church ministries, Ralph Gliege, and the Harvest Saskatchewan team, led by Dwayne Barkman.
Notorious for his illustrations, Gliege talked about the conference as a quilt, churches “stitched together in love,” and he invited pastors to share how their congregations are Quiet, Unique, Intentional, Led, and Together in God’s service.
- Weather damage to Carrot River’s Gospel Mission Church building forced its closure in 2003. Since then, the congregation has learned to wait on God – to practice quiet. A building fund is steadily growing and they hope to erect a meeting place soon. (Here, Gliege interjected his dream to hold a “church raising.”)
- Pastor Mike Housek, a 23-year veteran of Hillside Christian Fellowship’s pulpit in Beechy, Sask., encourages his flock to be intentional with God’s calling – both inside and outside the church walls. Living in and around a town of only 250 people, Hillside members are encouraged to contribute to the community by being “on fire” – or on emergency medical services, or town council.
- Two congregations have transitioned interim pastors into long-term commissioned ministers in the past year. Not long after Bob Capelle answered Swift Current’s Bridgeway Community Church’s call to fill their pulpit, he sensed God leading him to commit to the congregation. Interim pastor at Living Hope Fellowship in Saskatoon, Dan Harder was also led to take on the pastorate.
The Harvest Saskatchewan team shared stories of living their purpose to inspire, empower, and support churches in making disciples, developing leaders, and shaping and creating missional initiatives.
- Energetic Waldheim pastor Greg Wiens exuded enthusiasm as he related two car stories. One begins with a single mother, involves driver’s education, and ends with a new student at Bethany College training for ministry. The other begins with a new family driving a decrepit vehicle, involves a lot of muffler tape, hours of tinkering, and ends with a wedding and multiple baptisms.
- Bethany College student Heidi Neufeld is finishing her program with an internship at Faith River Christian Fellowship, Saskatoon. She relishes the challenge to “be relevant outside of Bible college,” as she works with youth, music and drama, and service planning under the guidance, correction, and support of worship pastor Sharon Koop. “I know I’m called to ministry,” Neufeld says; “the question is whether I’ll get paid for it.”
- Team member Steve White’s church is going through ReFocusing, and the congregation – with 65 percent new members – is impressed with the process and finds it helpful. It’s stories “without an end” from outside the church walls that get Trish White excited, however. Her colleagues at work speak frankly, forgetting she’s a pastor’s wife, but when life gets hard, or they have questions about spirituality, they seek out Trish.
Agency reports threaded with prayer
- West Bank and Redberry Bible Camps are “alive and doing well” as they “come alongside what God is doing,” but their directors ask for prayer as they rise to the challenge of discipling campers – up to half of whom may not come from Christian homes.
- MB Biblical Seminary Canada’s commission and president (newly appointed Bruce Guenther) ask for prayer as they listen to constituents, and strategize in this significant transition period of creating a seminary to offer MB graduate theological education through multiple locations, partnerships, and distance education.
- MB Mission (formerly MBMSI) is a strong sender of both short and long term missionaries to Latin America and Asia.
- New president Howie Wall of Bethany College values denominational partnerships as the school trains and disciples emerging adults.
- Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan remains open to dialogue with leaders of First Nations communities regarding Timber Bay Children’s Home.
- Harvest Saskatchewan will receive another year’s support from the Canadian Conference of MB Churches in funds for church expansion and church planting efforts.
- The board of management continues to maintain several cemeteries, sold two lots of churches no longer using the property, and finalized a recommended salary framework that offers more flexibility in compensating pastoral staff for education and experience.
- A conference norm of $60 per member was approved for another year, but chair Ross Hardy suggested a conference support funding model based on a percentage of receiptable income may be explored in the future.
Moderator Ron Dyck turned in his toque after 18 years of involvement in conference leadership. He highlighted growing national-provincial collaboration in his report. In a farewell speech, he challenged delegates to uphold the executive in prayer, but also to listen to God’s Spirit and be open to promptings to serve on the board. (Assistant moderator Todd Hardy steps into Dyck’s shoes, with that position and executive secretary unfilled.) Dyck spoke of pastors and leaders as God’s gifts to the body, then directed his message to each person. “Will we follow Christ’s call and example – to accept the risk and possibly the cost? Will we be in the game or on the bleachers?”
“We’re all on duty,” Gliege admonished. In closing, he summoned “statesman missionary” Richard Funk to give a commissioning prayer over assembled delegates and guests.
“Lord, you send us out to be salt,” Funk prayed.