Aug20FriAugust 20, 2021
I pick up again some reflections on past ministry and the different slices of it that we have shared together over the years. Today, we remember some of the ways in which we attempted to make connections in the community, whether the Christian community of London or simply the community at large. Originally, Bethel had an Outreach Committee but in time tried to promote the vision that every ministry of the church ought to have some element of outreach to it, making a committee redundant.
For several years, we enjoyed hosting a summer Vacation Bible School, eventually experimenting with a creative schedule of an early evening time slot alongside of the traditional morning time. Vacation Bible School was a lot of fun, filled with crafts and snacks, utilizing a broad base of volunteers in terms of age and gifts. It was fun for me too, especially for those programs where I had to go into costume as a trench-coated detective or a friendly beast with oversized feet and headgear. Music and singing were well-led, sometimes with a piano rolled into the foyer. One summer our session included adding a soccer and basketball “camp.” Our youth were often instrumental in community connections like VBS but also in things like the annual yard sale run by the Cadets. One winter the youth group, went into some neighbourhoods offering to shovel out driveways, some of which resulted in some God-directed conversations! Over the years we have hosted social events and meals through groups like Men’s Breakfast, Adult Fellowship, shuffleboard and Ladies Coffee Break, each in their unique format, sometimes helping deepen some existing community connections.
The deacons (like many deacons in other churches!) were often on the forefront for this slice of ministry. I personally always appreciated the help and expertise of deacons who frequently advised me in interacting with people in need who arrived at the church door. Over the years I’ve also encountered other weekday “walk-ins”, people who at times required simply a listening pastoral ear or a prayer or some specific spiritual question answered or struggle eased. The deacons also helped raise the profile and connected us with need-meeting services like Ark Aid, Men’s Mission, Mission Services, Salvation Army initiatives and the like (so many more could be mentioned). Even during Covid-19, deacons made us aware of opportunities like serving the homeless downtown through the food-truck and direct distribution of needed items. Creation care was also a piece of our service, hosting annually a neighbourhood Clean and Green clean-up through the city.
Food and fun were a big part of community connecting events like the Shrove Tuesday suppers or the Friday night movie nights that we hosted for a time alternatively with Royal view Church. There were sporadic games and euchre nights on Fridays/Saturdays with some great 3-M prizes!
We have also encouraged and hosted important community organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, the Al-anon group and the VON exercise program, with its two weekday sessions. Members have gone on the occasional prayer walk through the neighbourhood around the church. For a time we did some combined ecumenical evening services with the “Church of the Ascension” (Anglican), Richards Memorial (United Church) and St. George’s (Presbyterian). There was participation in the ecumenical women’s annual prayer day, even hosting it one year. Many have attended with me CCNL events, the annual prayer breakfast for the city. Outreach courses and seminars were attended, denominational and otherwise. A small group at Bethel was organized as a book study, “Evangelism for Normal People.”
Cadets and Gems and Friendship Group were always open to pulling in community members. During Friendship, for the social workers accompanying the friends we made refreshments available. Members joined in singing and presentations at Kensington Village, Dearness Home and at Parkwood Institute.
There were also the many years of being connected to the Meeting Argyle Needs group, hosting several of those meetings at Bethel. Our involvement there especially made us aware of neighbourhood needs like those related to food security and aware of so many opportunities for members to serve their communities. Several members over the years have attended an Argyle Needs session along with me and were moved to become involved individually in community programs; think collective kitchen programs as well as neighbourhood improvement and literacy initiatives. One such initiative was homegrown at Bethel Church: our Monday night “Learn and Lunch” event, in which students received ESL or homework help followed by an opportunity to pack a lunch for the next day with donated items.
For years our deacons encouraged many of our members to be better equipped for ministry to the community through sponsoring their attendance at Deaconal Ministry Canada’s Annual Day of Encouragement. Deacons too have worked hard at offering help to people in the community, often in the spirit of a book they promoted, ‘When Helping Hurts.’ The book gives a picture of what relief, rehabilitation and community development really looks like by noting there are certain ways of ‘helping’ that can keep a person stuck in their need.
At one time, Home Missions (now Resonate) had a group of us pastors read, discuss and try to implement aspects of a book on how to cultivate ‘turnaround’ churches, keenly interested in reaching the community.
But of course, some of the greatest moments of outreach and community connection over the years that I’ve witnessed or heard of have come through members themselves interacting with their neighbours and co-workers, outside of anything ‘programmatic.’ People’s experiences included anything from driving for Meals on Wheels or the Cancer Clinic to being a positive influence for the Kingdom through coaching sports teams or participating in community events, through service opportunities that they sought out for themselves or found in the political realm. Overall, it’s that same spirit (Spirit) encouraged in the little book we were all given to read a few years ago, “Surprise the World.”
Again, just a smattering of all that could be remembered as we attempted in our own way to make community connections and as we remember, celebrate and treasure our ministry together.. .. ~ EGN