By Mark Doerksen
There certainly are challenges in church life these days, as things have not necessarily returned to how they were before the pandemic. Many churches have seen a decline in attendance, and this is true cross-denominationally. This is only one challenge, and there certainly are others.
In the Heartland Region, we have been working with various challenges that are being met by denominational connections. When a church makes known a challenge they are facing, often I can think of a church in a similar situation, and then network the churches for further conversations. It’s these networking conversations that are vitally important in my work, and I’d like to offer a couple of examples of what I mean.
Cornerstone Baptist Church here in Winnipeg had its last service at the end of October. They have some stellar volunteers that are working to see that the building is cleaned up, organized, and ready for potential sale. We had hoped that a CBWC church could be the next owners of that building, but that has not proven to be the case. However, one of our local pastors knew of a 20-year “church plant” that is looking for a building, and so that church plant was put in contact with the CBWC. Conversations around the sale of the building continue, and the CBWC Foundation has been vital in things moving forward. I’m grateful for such developments.
At our church in Ormiston, SK, Bill and Carol Luther are stepping aside as the primary church leaders. They have served well and faithfully for many years and will continue to be involved in the church. The congregation, at the moment, will not be looking for another pastor, as they will experiment with online resources available for them on Sunday mornings. They did, however, have questions about improved technology to facilitate Sunday morning gatherings, and so I was able to network them with another CBWC pastor who is tech saavy and willing to help, and was able to talk to the church about different Sunday morning options that are already being used by some rural CBWC churches within the denomination. Again, networking conversations are vitally important, and though the details of this network are not finalized, I’m pleased that the resources we have within the denomination are helping churches presently.
We have another church in the Heartland that is facing the future without a pastor, at least for a while. The congregation would like to continue, and as such, I am chatting with the leadership and discussing future options with them. One such option may well be within the denomination; Brownfield Baptist Church is working towards equipping rural churches through a ministry called Rural Light Ministries. It’s encouraging to me that I can point churches to options such as this, and that our CBWC churches are looking out for each other. Though these networking conversations in this case are only at the beginning stages, I am again reminded that the pandemic has—in some ways—taught us that audio/visual resourcing is a viable option for some circumstances.
Does your congregation have the desire to help other churches? Is your congregation facing a challenge that needs further perspective? I would hope that you’re encouraged to have similar networking conversations as you continue in your localized ministry.
Answering God’s Persistant Call
Kristen Kroeker – Pastor of Willowlake Church
I felt a call to ministry as a young girl and spent my years first in Northern Ireland with YFC, then in Winnipeg as an inner-city missionary, and finally as a children’s pastor in a large local church before stepping down. After being away from ministry for two years, I felt a call again. I knew that going back to my previous roles was not in my future, but I had no clue what was. In 2020, pandemic funding became available for students, so I started a M.Div. at the local theological seminary. I had no idea where it would lead, but the timing was right, the funding was there, and I was grateful to God for the opportunity.
As a student, I was invited at times to provide local pulpit supply. My childhood had been spent in a Baptist church where only men were permitted to lead, so I was surprised to be invited to preach at Willowlake Baptist. I appreciated God’s sense of humour in bringing my story full circle and was impressed by the CBWC’s long-standing support of women in ministry. This was during lockdowns, so my impression of Willowlake was limited to the 4 or 5 people who showed up to make an online church experience happen for the folks at home. I was drawn in by the sense of camaraderie, the joy (in a time of anxiety), and the deep care and compassion this group had for those in their community. That one invitation turned into repeated ones, and my appreciation for the church grew.
When a congregant tapped me on the shoulder to apply for their open pastoral role, I didn’t even consider it. The idea of female lead pastors was still so foreign to me that I couldn’t see myself in that role. We were attending a church of over 1000 people at the time, and bringing my pre-teen daughters into a small church seemed impossible.
But my hang-ups were challenged when I was assigned a new practicum as part of my seminary studies under the leadership of a female pastor in a smaller congregation. There’s a saying that “you cannot be what you cannot see,” and serving in that church opened our eyes to what had previously seemed impossible. Our children thrived in that small church. My husband and I were impressed by the humility and leadership the pastor showed, and the strong marriage she and her husband modelled. Our previous hesitations were being challenged in front of our eyes, and instead of, “That would never work,” we began to think, “What if…?” When the invitation came again to apply at Willowlake, I took it seriously. We prayed together about it. We visited the church as a family. My kids were determined not to return to a big church where they were lost in the crowd, and loved how welcomed they felt. My husband could envision his own role in the church, which surprised us. That “What if…” grew to “This is it.” God was persistent in His call, and we entered a season of discernment and answering the call with Willowlake Church.
It’s been only a few months officially as pastor of Willowlake, and God has been so good. It has been rewarding to get to know the people who make up Willowlake Church, and a privilege to be part of the
reopening process. It’s exciting to see people returning after long absences and programs starting up after a few years of shutdowns, and we look forward to what God has in store for us.
If you had told me five years ago, that this is where I would be today, I would never have believed you. But God has convinced me this is exactly where we are called to be. I think of those who had vision when I did not, who stepped into their callings and helped me to see what that faithfulness looked like, and I can’t help but think of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12 who help us put our faith in action and make a way for us to say yes to God. I hope to be such a person for future generations.
Celebrating Two Birthdays
By Jim Galbraith, Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church Prince Albert
Just over ten years ago, I was given a second birthday. Big deal, all of us Christians are born again, yes? Well, this one is not what you think.
On December 19, 2012, I received a donor stem cell transplant to treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Since the stem cells come from an unrelated donor, when they transform into the bone marrow that I needed, they produce blood with the donor’s DNA. This makes me a “chimera”—a single being with two different sets of DNA.
Because of this unique situation, the staff at the cancer clinic encourage us to mark our transplant day as our second birthday. My wife, Lori, has taken this up with gusto; I get balloons, a nice meal, and instead of a present for me, we’ve chosen to make my second birthday a day where I give a present to someone in need. In 2022, I turned “10”, and was able to help a young man in our city.
Without this treatment, I would have been dead and buried long before my 46th birthday. I am 55 today, with cancer long behind me. God has given me ten years post-transplant, during which two of my three sons have married, with the first about to have their first baby in February. Yes, I will be a grandpa a few days after you read this.
So, as a Christian, I guess I now have three birthdays; the OG (original), my conversion to Christ, and my donation day! I continually thank God for what He’s done in my life.
Retirement Thoughts from William H. Luther
If you have reason to drive south of Moose Jaw, you will soon notice that some towns are experiencing tough times. Communities such as Crane Valley and Ormiston have challenges ahead, as their economies have shifted by the closing of a nearby salt mine. There are mainly ranchers that remain, and the rolling hills of the area lend itself to this way of life. It’s a beautiful part of Saskatchewan, but you need to be tough to live there, and you need to get used to driving some distance to reach other communities. At Ormiston, however, you will find Ormiston Baptist Church, a church that continues in no small part to the leadership of Bill and Carol Luther. These fine folks have recently stepped aside from the formal leadership of the church, after many years of faithful service. We’ve asked them to write a brief note about their experiences, and we’re grateful for their leadership and wish them God’s continued blessings for the future.
Retirement takes my mind back some 70-plus years, to a little boy following his father outside to feed the cows. Stepping in my father’s footprints in the snow, I said, “I’m following in your footsteps, Dad!” An early love for cattle has been sustained throughout my life.
In the 1950s, while other denominations were reluctant to assist in a church-plant in Ormiston, SK, the CBWC (formerly known as The Baptist Union of Western Canada) got involved. The sister church in Cardross, SK was my first contact with the Gospel, and I surrendered to Christ’s call at age 10.
Following graduation from high school, God called me to study at Millar College of the Bible, where I realized an ability and love of preaching. After graduation and a further two years of study at Winnipeg Bible College and Seminary, I returned to the farm. The most important thing that happened during these years was marrying the love of my life, Carol.
Centralization was affecting the size of Ormiston Baptist Church and in the absence of a pastor, Area Minister Mel Ralston encouraged me to volunteer. Six years of ‘tent-making’ ministry followed. Sunday school, prayer meetings, Bible study, kids’ club, and youth group called for long days. The church experienced some growth, and we called a full-time pastor! Some 27 years passed, with various couples to pastor our church while I filled in as pulpit supply. In 2008, our church was at a crossroads. Attendance and resources were low, and God called Carol and I to accept the position of part-time pastor of Ormiston Baptist Church again. Fourteen years followed with preaching, teaching, leading youth group, and other pastoral duties.
I thank God for the wife He gave me. She is so gifted in music and people-skills, and she complimented my areas of weakness so well.
‘Stepping aside’ from pastoral ministry, I thank the Lord for His blessings, for the ministry of CBWC over the years, for a supportive, praying church family, for four daughters and their husbands, 18 grandchildren, and 1 ½ great granddaughters. I look forward to spending more time together with all of them!
In the years to follow, God-willing, I hope to continue assisting the next generation with the ranch work and our church with its ongoing ministry!