Reflections on a moderatorial year: entering the third millennium with confidence, hope and thanksgiving.
I travelled from coast to coast. I preached or spoke to at least 70 congregations in 25 presbyteries. I addressed 26 presbytery meetings and one synod meeting. And all three theological colleges invited me to speak. Lois and I also spoke to Women's Missionary Society groups and presbyterials (regrettably, I was unable to accept invitations to speak to two synodicals).
Lois and I travelled to Hungary and to Ukraine where we experienced the warm hospitality of the Hungarian Reformed Church and witnessed its significant work. We also visited our mission partners: the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. We travelled to see several projects funded by Presbyterian World Service and Development in Kenya and in Malawi and to meet with Canadian Presbyterian missionaries and our mission partners. While in Africa, we were visitors to the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe. I also attended the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Assembly, and Lois and I hope to attend the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It has been a full and eventful year.
I mention the above not to show I have been busy or to leave the impression that, like Stephen Leacock's horseman, I "rode madly off in all directions," which, indeed, I have. Rather, I wish to base my tentative conclusions on this wide exposure to the work of our church.
The State of The Presbyterian Church in Canada
On the whole, I am tremendously encouraged rather than discouraged by the state of our church. To be sure, we have congregations that are struggling, some dying and others suffering from some kind of conflict. Yet, I visited many congregations that are stronger and more vital than they have ever been in their history. This is also true of some presbyteries. I believe our beloved church has turned a major corner and, by God's grace, we are well-positioned to enter the next century and the third millennium with some degree of confidence and hope.
June 6 (morning)
First Hungarian, Toronto
June 6 (evening)
St. Andrew's, Kitchener, Ontario
We have a fine, hard-working and creative national staff. We have deeply dedicated missionaries. We have committed and competent ministers and elders, and a faithful and generous people. Therefore, we can take heart and be thankful to God: "This is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes."
Increasingly, I have come to recognize the vitality and strength of our church is in the congregations. Therefore, it is important our church structures serve congregations. Congregations are not, as is sometimes thought, branch offices of the national church or of presbyteries; congregations are where the real work of the church takes place. To change the analogy, congregations are on the frontline; presbyteries, synods, General Assembly, national offices and theological colleges are there to provide the behind-the-line support and resources. As we seek to fulfil Christ's mandate in the third millennium -- to preach, teach and make disciples -- our congregations must be believing, mission-minded, Christ-centred, praying communities reaching out with the good news of the gospel to those who know it not. Our church structures must assist them to do so.
FLAMES and Celebrate!
At the "Heads of Churches" meeting in February (the term grates on Presbyterian ears because we believe Jesus Christ is the only Head of the Church), I reported what was happening in our denomination. I was able to generate their interest when I spoke of the FLAMES initiative, the celebration of the 125th anniversary of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and our involvement in the call to Jubilee.
Both FLAMES, with its focus on mission beginning this June, and Celebrate!, with its emphasis on finding, funding and carrying out a project in the immediate community in celebration of our 125th anniversary, are excellent programs. But, as with any program, it is the delivery at the local level that is all-important. It is my fervent hope every congregation and every member will participate with enthusiasm.
As we celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth and the 125th anniversary of our national church, and enter the third millennium, we should do so with joyful thanksgiving to God for preserving our church. God has great things in store for those who love him. With repentance for our failures and the plea for forgiveness, let us resolve to "Turn to God and Rejoice in Hope."
Yet, we must always remember the church lives not by programs but by the Word of God. In the past, Presbyterians have been distinguished by an emphasis on the preaching and teaching of God's Word. I hope we will continue to be so known. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of Christ." How much preaching in our church is the preaching of Christ? Christ must be at the centre. Every renewal of the church has occurred through the faithful proclamation of God's Word -- by a preaching that is biblical, Christ-centred, inspired by the Holy Spirit and that addresses every area of life, personal and social.
The Office of Moderator
Presbyterians hold the office of Moderator in high regard. Moderators of General Assembly are, thus, in a favourable position not only to represent the church but to speak to it. I hope they will be enabled to do so by a realistic travel budget and other levels of support to make the Moderator more accessible to congregations and presbyteries.
We have rightly curbed the power of Moderators by having a one-year term. Have we taken equal care to curb the power of clerks who have no limited term? Moderators of Assembly usually gain valuable insights during their moderatorial year of travel. How can our national church make effective use of these insights?
Finally, I am exceedingly grateful for the rare privilege of being elected Moderator of the 124th General Assembly. I thank John Congram and Margaret Miller of the Record for the opportunity to communicate with the church through this column. I am also grateful to Rev. Stanley Walters, convener, Terrie-Lee Hamilton, secretary, and the other members of the Committee to Advise and to Stephen Kendall, principal clerk, and Barbara McLean, deputy clerk, and so many others for their help and support. Above all, I thank my wife, Lois, and my family for their support, as well as all who have kept me in their prayers.
To the Moderator-Elect, Rev. Art Van Seters, and his wife, Rowena, I extend my congratulations. May God bless them richly and may their moderatorial year be a blessing to our church.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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