Vol 1 No. 14 Affinity Groups

At 8:00am on Monday morning, October 3rd, I waited at Vancouver Airport for the plane to take off and head toward Calgary. The flight attendant cheerfully bid us all a good afternoon. My day was already happening too fast. As we landed in Alberta on a crisp, clear, beautiful Monday morning, once again our zealous cabin attendant wished us well. “Have a good weekend”, he gushed. Now my week was going to fast. It was now 9:20am on Monday morning and I had been bid a good afternoon and a good weekend. I needed perspective. I needed the wisdom, company, and conversation of those who are challenged, chastened, and comforted by life in the church in its many forms.

I left that Monday for a true time of fellowship with some Baptist Union pastors at the Entheos Retreat Centre outside Calgary. (Incidentally, it was delightful to see Bob Ball’s name as a founding board member and Norman Archer as an early supporter). The purpose of the time was to  bring together two groups of senior staff to talk to one another. The first group were pastors (only a few of them) with congregations of 125 and over. The second group (only some of them too) were seniors ministers of churches over 275. The time was organized by CHAPS coordinator (Church Health and Planting), Dayle Medgett, and Church Planting director, Dan Watt. We had some further (scheduled and unscheduled) input from Cam Roxburgh, Tom Conan, and Mark Buchanan. Sam Breakey, Alberta Area Minister, and George Munchinski led the 125 plus groups along with Dayle. Gary Nelson, Canadian Baptist Ministry General Secretary, also led the larger church group.

The meetings were called an Affinity Group Gathering. “Affinity” is defined by the Gage Dictionary (a truly Canadian invention) as “a natural attraction to a person or liking for a thing.” Our affinity at Enthreos was not for a thing but for a person (our common ground with Christ) and the church in worship, community and service.

I was challenged and moved by the stories. I heard and was deeply touched by the giftedness of those present. There were those who understand the “corresponding” like David Superior, Bruce Marten, Callum Jones and Mark McKim. There are those who are authors like Mark Buchanan (incredibly gifted) and Tom Cowan. Some have a passion for liturgy like Tim Colbourne or justice like John Prociuk (and Tim too). Some are gifted with the creative cultural edge of things like Sam Chaise (BUWC Board Chair and my boss), Greg Charnya, and Bob Bahr. Cam Roxburgh and Dan Watt spoke of their longing for church planting and I re-call Jake Kroeker and Gary Nelson reminding us of our cross-cultural commitments. I loved Tom Lavigne’s story of the community dinner for volunteer firefighters.

I only give you a glimpse of the diversity and interests and do not begin to touch the heart nor depth of these gifted folk amongst us.

I’ll stop now, I’ve only mentioned half those there and am indebted to them all, especially when they offered to lay hands on me, pray for me and encourage me. God has given us incredible passions to seek his will, cause for our lives, and desire to seek to live, worship and serve in Him. There are more and more “affinity” groups on the drawing boards in the Union. As the months progress we’ll hear of those already going and explore new areas in Evangelism, Justice, and various aspects of the Arts.

One more thing about last week, before going to Entheos I spent a couple of hours with Pat Nixon the director of the Calgary Mustard Seed Ministry and church. I experienced so many things that I can only give you a glimpse to encourage you. I saw one of the living areas for those wanting and willing to see change in their lives as well as the beds with hand made quilts given to each individual to keep and take with them into a new life. I was sobered by the beautiful mural painted by a young man who later took his own life…a reminder of the pain that sometimes never gets resolved in some people’s lives despite the best of supports and advocacy. I was encouraged that the Seed is about changing lives, transforming them not just covering up wounds or handing out placebos. Most of all I was challenged by former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s question to Pat one day as they drank tea together in the dining hall of the Seed. Her Excellency asked Pat what motivated him to do the work he did at the Mustard Seed. Pat simply said “I do this as my act of worship to God.”

May that be true of each of us. May that be true of me today.

Thanks be to God.



In Christ,

Jeremy Bell