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Invitation to transformation stirs delegates

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Alberta Conference of MB Churches convention 2010, Mar. 19–20

“We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). Speaker Gary Thomas repeated this line in each of his four sessions over the course of the Alberta Conference of MB Churches (ABMB) leader’s day and convention, Mar. 19–20, not as condemnation, but a freeing admission of failures in the pursuit of holy living.

Author of seven books, including the title of his opening session, Holy Available, Thomas called delegates to transformed living by “raising the level of expectation” of what God will do in and through his people. Holiness, said Thomas, is availability to be used by God at all times and in all contexts. He cautioned the church against seeking relevance instead of transformation.

In other sessions, Thomas addressed the role of physical bodies as components of worship and service, citing Romans 12:1 as a healing word to a society obsessed with unattainable ideals of corporeal perfection. On having “ears that hear,” Thomas said, “we don’t force God to speak; we make ourselves available so when he does choose to speak, we’re listening.” This listening is discerned in the context of study of the Scriptures, the corpus of Christian teaching, and engagement with the church or a Christian community. Thomas’ final address was entitled “Pure Pleasure: Why do Christians feel so bad about feeling good.”

New execuive director

Turning to convention business, which vice moderator Brent Miller reframed as a “ministry session,” the ABMB implemented the final piece of the new governance model, affirmed at last year’s convention, with the hiring of Daniel Beutler as executive director. A half-time administrative assistant, Ruthie Kopp, was hired April 20, 2010.

Beutler, volunteer chair of the transitional executive board since convention in May 2009, stepped into the role of executive director Feb 15, 2010, after working for the Canadian conference church ministries department and donating some of his time to oversight of the Alberta conference.

Beutler’s mission as executive director is to “care for and empower leaders for reproduction.” In the new structure, said Beutler, the executive director acts as the trunk, supporting the teams (branches) above, connecting with and drawing strength from the churches (roots). It’s a paradigm shift for both the former pastor and for the conference, from “doer to designer,” working “in ministry” to working “on ministry.”

“I’m impressed that prayer is a high priority,” said Elfrieda Dyck from Highland MB Church in Calgary, but she was concerned about communication within the conference. She asked why conference churches hadn’t been informed congregations were struggling before recent closures (e.g. Well Side Community Church, Calgary) “so we could pray unitedly.” She called for sharing “not just the highlights, but the hurts. Let’s be honest; willing to admit failure,” referencing 2 Timothy 4:10. Several delegates asked for a clearer picture of conference mission and vision, and some for more information about member churches spread across the province.

Miller and Beutler responded that without full-time leadership, some areas suffered in the last years and promised improvement, citing a coming website redesign to better organize and disseminate information. However, they reminded delegates that communication must flow in both directions – the conference cannot report what it hasn’t been told.

After some years of struggle to fill boards, closures of several churches and a reworking of the governance structure, delegates and board members exuded an eagerness to move forward. Elroy Senneker, leader of the church reproduction team called members to “pray that church reproduction gets back on the map in Alberta.” But he didn’t stop with prayer, challenging churches and individuals to also plan, act, and join together. “This is God’s work,” he said, “so we need to ask God to move,” however, “it’s also our responsibility to seek opportunities.”

Modelling cooperation, the church reproduction team added Gord Fleming, director of Church Planting BC and Canadian conference team leader for church extension directors, to Alberta members Senneker, pastor at Vauxhall MB Church; Kelly Steffen of Linden MB Church; and Justin Epp, youth pastor at Foothills Community Church, Pincher Creek.

Camp Evegreen

Camp Evergreen enjoyed several partnerships with the Alberta conference in the past year, including two mission trips from church youth groups, and participation of camp pastors from Sunrise and River West congregations in Edmonton. Though general donations were down, there was a surplus of revenue over expenses. Transfers to offset the capital fund ended the year with a $16,000 opening deficit. The ABMB spending plan for 2010/2011 includes a $322,000 payment to the Canadian conference so Camp Evergreen can be transferred to an independent society without any debt.

Motions concerning the mandate (proposed and adopted in 2009) for Camp Evergreen to become an independent society and strategic partner sparked comments from the floor. Responding to delegate fears that the change would erode relationship with the camp, Kerry Precht, camp director, and Bob Thiessen, board chair of the camp commission, maintained that incorporation protects both the camp and the conference from legal and financial liabilities, and will not affect church-camp partnership. Additionally, incorporation allows non-MBs who are strong supporters of the camp to sit on the board and be funding partners. Delegates were assured that all board members must agree with the MB confession of faith, and that the majority will be MB.

An MB Foundation will be created to hold the property of which Camp Evergreen will be a tenant, and ABMB will secure interest in the mortgage. When the motions passed, Thiessen thanked delegates, saying “we’re not a closed book yet; questions are still welcome.”

Bob Berg, leader of the finance and administration team presented a year-end positive balance and the ABMB budget for 2010/2011. He thanked churches for faithful giving in an uncertain time and said the team is “thrilled to have Daniel come on with focused plans for the future.” Berg urged churches to plan to donate five percent of their annual budget to the conference, a number which he acknowledged seems out of reach for some congregations.

The executive board slate was affirmed, consisting of moderator Kerry Dyck, pastor at River West Christian Church; vice moderator Elsie Quiring of Dalhousie Community Church, Calgary; secretary Sig Janzen of River West; treasurer Bob Thiessen of Lendrum MB Church, Edmonton; Miller, pastor at College Drive Community Church, Lethbridge; Gary Burke, pastor at Linden MB Church; Randy Dueck pastor at Coaldale MB Church; and Val Martens of River West.

With a revived spirit and a willingness to make mistakes in pursuit of God’s plan, delegates left the conference ready to transform their own lives and ministries.

—Karla Braun

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