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Montreal English community strives for “incarnational” approach

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Whether it’s making sure a senior’s square dance event is planned properly, or mowing lawns for strangers, members of Montreal’s Westside Gathering MB church are out there working for the Man.

In Montreal, it’s a little harder to define who that is.

“When we do nice things for them, neighbours obviously don’t knock the fact that we’re followers of Christ,” says pastor David Manafo. “I think they choose not to talk about the fact that Christ is important to us.”

For five years, Manafo has led what is now the only English MB church on the island, which has a specifically “incarnational” approach to ministry. Montreal is 40 percent English. To get to know their neighours and cultivate authenticity, they advertise free labour in the local paper, host discussions at local cafés, and meet in small groups spread across the city.

“It’s definitely sowing seed and shapes what kind of community we want to be,” says Manafo. Recently a Muslim woman decided to join their community outreach projects because she was interested in the core of what they do.

“It took us a couple years to find out it wasn’t going to be easy to do conventional church – Sunday morning wasn’t going to be our focus.” The average age of their 40 or so members is 32, and they rent a school building for church services.

“God’s building us into this spiritual house and it could take longer than we might think. It’s not a house but a presence,” says Manafo, who comes from a Pentecostal background, and is known for his relaxed style and practical sermons.

That presence is certainly real for one of their new members, Cindy David, a TD Bank employee.
“Last year, I was the girl who threw the Bible across the hallway,” she says. An angry, promiscuous person who drank $300 a week, Cindy says she was “the queen of the dark side.” One day Christine, who is Cindy’s co-worker and also a Westside member, was at a party where one of her friends asked Cindy, “Do you believe in God?” Like most Montreal population, she said “yes.” It was an impersonal god.

The next Monday, every single one of Cindy’s clients said “God bless.” “I haven’t heard that in six years of banking,” she says. She broke down crying after she heard others talking about what Jesus meant in their lives, and later received a Bible. Starting out reading Genesis, the name Matthew kept running through her head. Next Sunday, she knew she had to go to church with Christine. Sure enough, Manafo’s message was entitled “Matthew, restoration, brand new.” A year later, Cindy’s life is totally transformed.

“Westside is a very big part of my walk – it’s my family,” she says. Now Cindy invites her friends to café talks about Jesus, the God-Man.

Even with new members like Cindy, kids at Westside outnumber adults two to one.

So far, they have 13 volunteers who rotate leading a community kid’s camp. “We went through a burnout two years ago and now we’re trying to do something more sustainable,” says Manafo. “We actually need 20 volunteers, which seems impossible.”

Westside’s “incarnational” approach is a leading example. Small group leader and McGill University computer science instructor Joseph Vibyhal says many evangelical churches are attracted to the method, but slow to change. “It’s like riding an elephant, you have to turn them, and they’re in the process of turning.”

Currently Westside Gathering, a church of 40 members, is reaching out to a community of 500 people. Not bad in a day’s work for the Man.

—Andrew Siebert

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