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Life on the rock: the Presbytery of Newfoundland. (Presbytery Profile).

'The place where land, water and sky embrace like old friends. And the edge of North America holds an adventure as big as the sky. A land as old as time and people who make you feel as if you've known them all your life."

Sounds like a lot to live up to, doesn't it? Yet, by all accounts, Newfoundland and Labrador (as described so majestically on the provincial Web site) is all that ... and more. It is the home of the smallest presbytery in the church, the Presbytery of Newfoundland, with only three congregations.

Only three congregations, yes, but, nevertheless, Presbyterianism runs deep within its bounds. Curiously, although St. Andrew's in St. John's, first built in 1843, is the oldest of the three churches, the congregation of St. David's, also in St. John's, has celebrated its 225th anniversary. The answer? St. David's belonged to the Congregational Church before joining the Presbyterian Church in 1938. The third church, St. Matthew's, built in 1910, is the oldest congregation in the town of Grand Falls-Windsor. (Incidentally, if you're wondering about a Labrador connection, that sadly came to an end in 1993 with the closing of Christ Church in Wabush.)

All three congregations have a wide mix of generations. At St. Matthew's, for example, those at worship may range in age from three to 93. At St. Andrew's, leading members of the board of managers are in their 30s and 4Us. Both St. Andrew's and St. David's have thriving Sunday schools. St. Andrew's has also been home to an active scouting group that includes Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Venturers for more than 70 years.

Apart from being a place where land, water and sky embrace (with wonderful results), Newfoundland and Labrador is, unfortunately, perhaps best known for being the country's poorest province. Certainly the moratorium on cod fishing struck a blow to the economy. Population, particularly in the outports, has declined. But in 2002, fuelled by growth in the oil industry and the coming development of the Voisey's Bay mine in Labrador, real economic growth in the province exceeded five per cent, leading the country for the third year in row.

As the province has changed, so have the churches. A stream of folk "from away" has been steadily trickling into the base of old families with English, Irish and Scottish roots. Life in the presbytery today can include a seventh-generation church member cutting an anniversary cake, a Dutch layperson as moderator and the baptism of a child whose parents are refugees from the Sudan. The presbytery also seems to possess the power to draw people back. Rev. David Sutherland, who began his ministry at St. Matthew's 25 years ago, returned later to be minister at St. Andrew's, "attracted," he says, "by the rich Christian aspects of the Newfoundland lifestyle."

Those rich Christian aspects continue to play a key role in the outreach of the presbytery. In latter years, bequests to the church have provided significant mission opportunities. For example, it seems incredible that a polling station in the black township of Botshabelo in South Africa could have anything to do with Presbyterians in Newfoundland. But when South Africa held its first elections after the fall of apartheid, voters in Botshabelo cast their ballots in a church hall built with help from the Loma Robertson Fund at St. Andrew's. Recently, a gift was sent to the Christian hospital in Taxila, Pakistan, where three nurses were killed last August when Islamic militants attacked the grounds with grenades. A bequest from Susan McCorquodale of St. David's has enhanced mission within the presbytery as well. St. David's owns the Ada Barnes House, a temporary residence for refugees and other new immigrants. The latest special project at St. David's is sponsoring Community Mediation Services, a charitable org anization that promotes peace and restorative justice and offers intervention by trained mediators. The presbytery continues to be attentive to new opportunities and to assist the congregation of St. Matthew's in its witness in central Newfoundland.

This past Christmas, St. Andrew's celebrated the ringing of its church bell, silent for more than a decade because of an unsafe tower. The tower has been reinforced as part of an extensive restoration program, and its bell may join the chorus of instruments taking part in this year's Harbour Symphony -- an annual event in which the horns and whistles of ships are sounded to a musical score. If the rest of us listen intently, we just might be able to hear it ringing.
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Author:Dickey, Tom
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CNEW
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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