B.C. Conference of MB Churches convention
Apr. 26–27, 2019
Willow Park Church, Kelowna, B.C.
“People are looking for reality in the middle of hardship: that’s the open door,” said BCMB conference minister Rob Thiessen at the worship night that began the 2019 B.C. Conference of MB Churches convention.
Speaking on 1 Corinthians 16:9: “a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries,” Thiessen asked worshippers to consider how the Spirit of God and the message of the cross can change our perspective on the opposition we face.
Reminding them of Paul’s adversaries – societal, religious, and personal – Thiessen encouraged the convention with the confidence that God is opening doors for Canadians to receive him.
“Embrace a life of service and witness,” Thiessen said. “God will draw people to himself.”
Praying in the blanks
“I had great plans for the church and none of them worked out,” said pastor Joe Haynes in a Friday night testimony. Beacon Church in Victoria had only grown by about three or four people per year to about 38 attenders.
A leader he respected told him, “Why don’t you pray an hour a day, one day a month, and one week a year?”
In August 2017, Haynes began praying an hour each day “for lost people in our city.” He drew 10 blanks to list new people as they came to church.
“I was expecting God would fill the spaces by the end of the year; he did it within a month.”
Under the same umbrella
As she urged Saturday’s delegates to “lean in,” BCMB moderator Sharon Simpson thanked Haynes for encouraging her in prayer. “Working across from the exit of Abbotsford Regional Hospital, I see people coming out who’ve just gotten their diagnosis. I’ve felt like putting up a sign saying, ‘Could you use a prayer today?’ with an email address,” Simpson said. “I decided today: I’m going to do it. Prayer is powerful.”
“God is leading us with our woundedness, with our breadth of expression of our faith,” said Simpson. There’s a large umbrella of theology and practice in B.C., she said, “but we come together to worship and engage voluntarily; that’s powerful.”
Simpson stressed that working together doesn’t mean things are perfect. People have been hurt. However, “God hasn’t stopped working in the MB family – not nationally, not provincially.”
Referencing three qualities of a functional family – to talk, to feel and express emotions, and to listen with goal of understanding – she said, “As a BCMB family, we need those three things.”
In developing the strategic framework as a BCMB executive board, “the lens we are working from is evangelical Anabaptist.” Simpson listed priorities the BCMB board is working on: a provincial ministry team model; a renewed vision for church planting; a Millennial provincial team to invite the next generation into leadership; and discussion on how to better engage with those who identify as LGBTQ, walk with people through anxiety and depression, and strengthen BCMB’s camp ministry.
She encouraged delegates to watch for an emailed request for feedback on the strategic framework, because “working through something together is of as much benefit as having it at the end.”
Churches at the forefront
“How can we move churches to the forefront?” National director Elton DaSilva opened the BCMB Leaders Day, May 3, 2019, by stressing the need for ownership at all levels from boards to churches: “We want to invite input into the vision.”
DaSilva gave the example of how the draft for the collaborative model developed: the National Ministry Team (NMT) gave their ideas to the Board of Faith and Life, who send their revision to the Executive Board, who recommended additions. “Every step of the way, there’s a refining,” he said, and “at each of those tables, every province and agency is represented.”
Collaboration looks like provinces with many resources sharing with provinces that need them. In addition to the way all provinces subsidize the Quebec director’s salary, DaSilva encouraged B.C. churches to send a mission group to assist a Quebec church.
The collaborative model will also help churches in Ontario, the province with most new immigrants, become stronger. DaSilva told B.C. leaders that their representative, Thiessen, had been an advocate for investing in Ontario.
“The Canadian conference will become a support to the provinces,” he stressed. “Ministries will only be funded if provinces say, ‘This matters to us.’”
The new decision-making model creates greater accountability, DaSilva said, in response to questions regarding the way conference reserves have been depleted to frontload leadership development and church growth.
“We were disengaged as churches,” said Thiessen, regarding past budgets.
“We can’t do this unless we work together.”
“We want to create a sustainable model in which we’re dependent on churches,” said national moderator Bruce Enns.
In response to further questions Saturday regarding past reserve spending, Enns promised to bring a written report to Equip Study Conference in October.
Until the October vote on the one-stream funding model (in which churches would fund both national and provincial services through the provinces), the NMT is proposing an interim National Ministry Initiative budget to which the churches may also send funds directly.
Seminary seeking lifelines
This draft national budget includes an increase from $24,000 to $45,000 to the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) and a return to $200,000 support for MB Seminary as “we ask them to be strong partners in leadership development,” said DaSilva, “not just at the academic level, but informally to the churches.”
In his report on Saturday, president Mark Wessner celebrated the seminary’s growing presence: nationally, through new partnerships with Horizon College and Seminary in Saskatoon and Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, and internationally, through ACTS World Campus online education.
When asked whether an increase in giving and conference support could reverse the recent decision to reduce faculty positions, Wessner responded that it was too early to say.
The new financial reality was not unforeseen, said Wessner: “People say you need a tsunami warning system, but few listen to them until after the tsunami hits.”
“Everything we do is by faith,” said Simpson, and sometimes “that’s hard for all of us.”
Passion for Camps
Referencing the Renegotiating Faith study finding that “camp helps increase likelihood that youth are not going to walk away from faith,” Jonathan Kornelsen, chair of BCMB Bible Camp Society, celebrated the fact that more than 300 teens and young adults served at BCMB camps in 2018.
Last summer BCMB camps saw their highest numbers to date: 4,611 campers. Kornelsen testified to camp’s role in his own faith journey. “For a week a year, a child can be still and know that God is who he says he is.”
More than 25 MB churches in B.C. actively support the five BCMB camps (Stillwood, Camp Bob, Camp Likely, Pines Bible Camp, and Gardom Lake Bible Camp and Retreat Centre), raising $22,000 at the recent banquet.
After many prayers for a new director for Pines Bible Camp, the conference welcomed Tim Metz. Having come to faith himself through Bible camp in Saskatchewan, Metz, says, “I had a passion for camp,” but as a father of five he had some “fears about leaning in.”
When he was laid off from a position in employment services, he told God, “‘If camp is what you want for us, you’ll lay the groundwork.’”
“He made everything possible.” Fittingly, Metz has chosen this year’s camp theme to be The Great Adventure (Philippians 21:1).
In the question period, the co-chair of the ad-hoc Camp Supporters committee (previously known as Camp Concerns) approached the mic, requesting that BCMB meet again with their group in order to further discuss their concerns, primarily regarding the dismissal of the Stillwood board chair.
Simpson answered with a historical overview of this committee’s activities, beginning with their initial letter of concerns, which contained defamatory comments about BCMB staff, sent to more than 1,000 people prior to convention 2018. She outlined her numerous meetings with the Camp Concerns committee’s leader and written responses to their concerns, and reiterated BCMB’s obligation to respect personnel confidentiality.
Paul Wicki of Culloden Church, Vancouver, called on delegates to affirm the BCMB executive’s thoughtful response to this painful situation. The gathering responded with a standing ovation.
Hope for 16
Friday night, Thiessen invited Camp Likely director Kate Reid to share the difficult decision she’s facing. In past years, by the end of April, Reid was praying fervently for God to provide one missing key staff person; this year, she still needs 16.
Camper registrations are coming in, including many new families – thanks to a successful Facebook ad, but only three staff members have committed for the summer.
“Even though I have all these years of knowing God has provided,” she said, “I’m feeling distraught. I’ve knocked on every door.”
“The practical side of me says we can’t run camp, but there’s an opposition in me that says, ‘God, you’ve called me to this.’”
The gathering raised their hands toward Reid as Thiessen prayed over her.
In his Saturday camps report, Kornelsen encouraged delegates to talk to their youth pastors about how their church can partner with camp.
“Today, Kate has a smile on her face,” he said, “with the hope that God will provide.”