Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland Celebration Dinners unfolded this week here in BC. Here’s by the numbers what happened:
Vancouver Island (held at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Victoria): 166 people in attendance, representing 16 churches.
Lower Mainland (held at the BCY Regional Office / Living Hope Fellowship / Greenhills Christian Fellowship in Burnaby, BC): 98 people in attendance, representing 25 churches.
Aaron Dyck of (Gateway Baptist Church, Victoria, BC) and I were having a conversation last week about numbers. Some people think that numbers are inappropriate; some people are too fixated on numbers. Aaron commented to me very helpfully “numbers actually represent people”, which, I might add, is a good thing. (As an aside, Shelby has reminded me that Shannon Youell told us that when a Member of Parliament receives a letter, she/he presumes it represents 100 people; ergo 100 letters = 10000 people). None of this is news, but still worth mentioning.
We celebrate God’s gift of people and the number of churches represented.
I am also grateful to Bill and Lisa Cottrill, who came all the way from Port Alberni to the dinner held in Victoria, and to Clark Gietz, who came from Comox. Equally encouraging and worthy of mention are Al Grochowski and Richard Wilson, who came a full ferry away from Sechelt, and Ted Searle and Nathan Hepting who came from Abbotsford.
Shannon Youell was the theme speaker for both of these events. She spoke on our significance when we come together, through God.
We are 170+ churches strong in Western Canada, yet we often feel we are isolated and disconnected from one another and I believe that can be a limitation to what God invites us to participate in.
Like Elijah in the desert, we can feel that we are alone, burdened with what is often overwhelming work to be salt and light in our communities and neighbourhoods and our self-perception of being too small a group, too insignificant a voice to have any notable impact on the issues that affect the health and wellbeing, the common good of our fellow humans right here at home and beyond into all the earth, can throw us into apathy and indifference so that we don’t engage in anything.
But we are believers, Christ followers, united in our common mission of embodying the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven, empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are not small. We are not insignificant.
Shannon also challenged us in our autonomy, and how we can work together.
One of our great values is the autonomy of the local church. Quoting Heartland Regional Minister Mark Doerksen “but if autonomy leads to non-involvement, apathy, and lack of care for the other, then perhaps our autonomous natures need to be revisited.”
In Africa there is a saying: Umunty ngumuntu ngabantu (A person is a person through (other) persons). We could extend that to say “A church is a church through (other) churches.” A church is a church when we engage together.
Scot McKnight talks about this in his book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (Zondervan, 2010). He notes that the saying comes from the work “ubuntu”, quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “One of the sayings in our country is ubuntu; the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human in isolation. It speaks to our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves as individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” (pg. 33)
If we read this as “church is a church through church”, or when we engage together, Tutu is defining that. We cannot exist in “church” isolation. We cannot be church all by ourselves. What we do in our church communities when we are engaged together and interconnected does spread out. We are, after all, commissioned to be for the whole of humanity. It is the gospel!
In a first for a Celebration Dinner, her talk in Victoria was interrupted by applause and regular affirmation (read; non-Pentecostal for amen). Bob Webber encouraged us to reflect further on how we might collaborate together by the use of story, and we were left with a theme from both evenings that we would ask the Lord “make yourself known to me.” A response to that was captured by Al Grochowski
I just wanted to send a note of thanks for the Celebration Dinner held at Royal Oak last night, not because we were able to “have a fine evening celebrating” but because I was personally blessed, challenged, and encouraged. I was blessed to be reminded of who we are as Canadian Baptists and even though I am only one person from one small, slightly isolated church family, I was encouraged to be reminded that we are not insignificant. I was challenged to make sure we (I) do not squander the opportunities God gives and am praying for how I can offer what is right here in my “hands” to serve the kingdom in my community. And I was encouraged – and yes part of my morning prayer was the simple phrase Lord, make yourself known to me today – for so many things that took place.
We are trusting the Holy Spirit to bring people together in all places where Celebration Dinners are engaged to prayerfully consider what me might do together as a large family. I share with you some of the sample stories from the Vancouver gathering next week.
I don’t know how to convey it fully. I don’t know how to describe the experience, but I feel really strongly from the Lord that there was a spirit of worship in both evenings. Something I was deeply grateful for and touched by.