Grahme Spear showing off the “Mission Discovery Map” he developed to encourage his congregation with the missions they are a part of.
Some say “Old Pastors don’t retire, they just go out to pasture!” Actually, it was during one of my walks in the pastures around Carman MB, that the Parish of St. Thomas Anglican Church in Morden, 30 miles south, came to mind. I served in this parish back in the 70s helping it to grow into a full-time pastorate. This memory was the first dot in what would become a series of dots leading to another adventure.
In response to this prompting “in the pasture,” I contacted the Bishop, Don Phillips, to discover that St. Thomas was looking for a half-time pastor who would be willing to help the parish rebuild once again after a vacancy of four years. Unfortunately, many families had drifted away from worship and only a remnant of faithful, committed parishioners was left. On examining their profile, it was evident that our northern parish life and street experience had prepared us for the impromptu building of relationships which would be required to meet people on their doorsteps and in the local coffee shops in such a rebuilding process. The dots kept leading us forward.
In every call, God has always been gracious in giving us an unique assurance. At an evangelism conference hosted by Threshold Ministries at Lake Simcoe, ON, I was greeted by a long-time friend from New Brunswick who knew we had moved from the north but had not been told where we had relocated. She came up to me and said, “How are you enjoying ministry in MORDEN?” “Why did you say ‘Morden’?” I asked quizzically. “I knew you moved south and the name Morden popped into my mind!” she replied. There was the next dot which led in time to others and an official beginning in the parish in Morden on the national “Back to Church Sunday.” What interesting timing! After sharing the above story on this particular Sunday, I shared the following thoughts: “I return to this community after being away for 34 years! I am certainly a different person with many new faith and life experiences to share, and I look forward to learning about your faith experiences since we were last together. I have been following the dots God set before me over the years, most recently leaving behind a 17-year parish and street ministry in northern Manitoba. Today, our dotted lines intersect again as we follow our Lord into the future. I wonder where God is leading us this time and what He wants us to become as ‘a group of ordinary people following Him today.’ We are all in this together!”
At the very beginning, there was a sense of excitement about reconnecting as pastor and parish to look and listen for signs of His leading. As I visited from house to house, stories of faith were rekindled, questions asked, and one by one, various people reached out to embrace a living relationship with Jesus. This new life spilled over into the spirit of our worship. A new lady to the parish was prompted to become an “Alongsider,” daily praying for the pastoral team and the various ministries of the parish. Twelve people came forward to form a parish prayer team coordinated by a returning retired couple. This senior congregation felt a freedom to step into multi-media projection in presenting the Sunday liturgy. How wonderful when a 100-year old man tells others, “I’m glad I came to worship; it was so refreshing.”
I have often been caught by the scripture “Do not despise the little things.” (Zechariah 4:10) One of the most important little nudges in our dotted journey was the development of a simple “Mission Discovery Map.” The congregation was asked, “What are you already doing to serve the Lord as a congregation and as individuals?” The resulting map surprised and encouraged the small congregation by the extent of mission – locally, nationally, and internationally – in which it was already involved. The question in the mind of some was “if St. Thomas’ did not exist, would its presence be missed?” The Holy Spirit answered with a resounding, “yes!” This simple exercise was the catalyst to spur other members to step forward to offer time, talent, treasure, and testimony.
It has been exciting to have the pastoral privilege to watch the dots of God’s presence calling people back to worship and forward in service, one small step at a time over the past eleven months as we grow both in spirit and in numbers. I look with anticipation and expectation to what will be (in Paul Harvey’s words) “the rest of the story” of St. Thomas that personally began for me in a pasture!
Written by: The Revd Grahme Spear serving in Morden, AB