Active and alive

A minister greets a parishioner at the church at Faith, Province of British Columbia. Photo: Canada Lutheran
A minister greets a parishioner at the church at Faith, Province of British Columbia. Photo: Canada Lutheran

Canadian Lutherans find creative ways to keep ministry going

(LWI) - At 63, Carole McCormick is one of the younger parishioners in her home congregation, Faith, Powell River, Province of British Columbia. As council chair, McCormick finds much of the work at the church falls to her, as the majority of members are 75 or older, which leaves only a few others able to do it.

“It’s very difficult to expect 78-year-old people to go and do things like scrape snow off the sidewalk and to make sure somebody is there turning on the heat every Sunday. There’s a lot of that kind of stuff,” McCormick says.

Across Canada, many congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) are struggling with declining attendance, aging demographics and shrinking resources. The problem is particularly acute in rural and remote communities, where many churches cannot afford pastors and some face the prospect of closing their doors.

Despite these challenges, there is a strong determination among rural and remote ELCIC congregations to keep their ministries alive and active. Some are finding innovative and creative ways to do just that.

The Faith congregation in Powell River, decided ministry was more important than bricks and mortar. By selling the church building and renting space from another one, they are able to focus on ministry and continue joint programs with other churches, including a food cupboard and sponsoring Syrian refugees.

“Making the decision was difficult but necessary,” says McCormick. To others in the same situation, she has this advice, “Don’t wait until the last minute to decide.”

“We don’t need to keep the church open. We need to be an open church.”

In the Province of Saskatchewan, Swift Current church acts as a hub, serving other ELCIC congregations within a 100km radius. They use an empowerment model, which removes the pastor as the centre of the congregation and commissions lay people to keep ministry going, with pastoral participation where possible.

Rev. Dr Greg Kiel and Rev. Linda Hall hold services in each of four small communities, plus Sunday services in Swift Current itself. It’s not a perfect system and it stretches Kiel and Hall pretty thin. But the congregations can count on regular ministry instead of trying to fill the gap with supply pastors, lay preachers or sometimes no one at all.

If we are concerned about keeping the church doors unlocked, the lights on and the furnace going, we’re missing the point.
Rev. David Saude, coordinator of a ELCIC program training lay congregants to preach

“People want to have worship in their communities,” says Kiel. “People want to have a community-based church. That’s the key component.”

“If we are concerned about keeping the church doors unlocked, the lights on and the furnace going, we’re missing the point,” says Rev. David Saude, coordinator of a program which trains lay people in preaching techniques. “We don’t need to keep the church open. We need to be an open church.”

“If we are attempting a stop gap, if we are waiting for a renewed supply of clergy, we are drawing from a dry well,” he says. “People won’t respond to ‘the call’ unless there is a strong spiritual formation: the disciplines of study, prayer, worship, sharing and care. If we continue to look for an easy answer, we will starve ourselves to death.”

By Ron Friesen, Winnipeg, Canada, for Canada Lutheran June 2018