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Warmth and readiness to share: the Presbytery of London combines the best of rural and city experiences.

"We're excited about the future Wand to make room for people to come and worship and to come to Christ," said Rev. Sabrina Caldwell, associate minister at Oakridge, London, where nearly 600 people come to worship. The Presbytery of London's largest congregation, which already has two Sunday services and a contemporary Saturday evening service, is looking to expand its doors. "The more the merrier!"

This forward-reaching vibrancy is best exemplified by the presbytery's main website where congregations and service times, contact information, a brief description and individual website links are listed. Upcoming events, youth events, Leading with Care information, presbytery minutes and church growth resources can also be found there. According to Caldwell, who has been in the presbytery for more than 20 years, the dynamic within the presbytery changes as ministers come and go. "It's a presbytery where people are respectful of each other. There's often fellowship after presbytery meetings."

"People seem to be pretty close," said Chris Evans, presbytery clerk and elder at Elmwood Avenue, London. "There's a camaraderie between clergy and elders."

Of the presbytery's 24 charges, seven are multiple points for a total of 32 congregations. Only 10 of those are in London, with the remainder in smaller towns, quaint villages and fanning communities. Hugh Appel, a retired minister now acting as supply at Argyle, Crinan, and Duff, Largie, sees the situation as grim. "There are healthy, strong congregations, but they're mostly in the city. But by and large, the smaller congregations are the majority and they're suffering."

Speaking of his own charge, Appel says, "I've learned that rural people are very loving. They really appreciate what you do and give a lot of support. Many people think the bigger the church, the better the church, but that's not always true."

That openness is in evidence at Guthrie, Melbourne, where the website calls out to newcomers: "Whether you are new to the community or have been around for a long time, we would like to welcome you at Guthrie. We would like you to feel free to call upon our church at any time if you have any pastoral concerns or would like to get involved in the life of our church and community. If you have any ideas about how we can better minister to the needs of our community we would love to hear from you."

Despite their size the presbytery charges take their mission responsibilities seriously. At Dorchester (which is linked to South Nissouri), the Sunday school has penpal relationships with a Sunday school in Nunavut. Burns, Mosa, has a large youth group, two WMS groups and an active mission and outreach group that organizes fellowship and outreach activities each month. St. George's, London, is very active in supporting local AIDS initiatives and the national church's Towards a World Without AIDS campaign.

St. John's, Wardsville, "is a small church with a big heart," and its people love to sing. They offer a choir, a youth praise band and a men's quartette. St. John's, Port Stanley, is known as "the friendly church," and the relaxed atmosphere at St. Lawrence, London, emphasizes great music (both contemporary and traditional), a strong sense of worship and meaningful outreach to the community. Knox, Fingal, is a small community church "known for its warmth and readiness to share the spiritual experience of our worship services." Knox, Kintyre, Knox, New Glasgow and St. John's, Rodney, is the presbytery's only three-point charge that works closely together by holding joint services and events. They are also active supporters of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. And at Chalmer's, London, Rev. John Bannerman lends his skating expertise to the Revs on Ice, a group of about 20 clergy from the Kitchener-London-Stratford area who meet once a week to play hockey and raise money for various charities. The presbytery as a whole has begun a campaign to deliver care packages to Presbyterian university students at the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College at Christmas. They are currently working on connecting these young people through a presbytery dinner.

Knox, St. Thomas, has been blessed with a strong music ministry that includes traditional, classical and Gospel music sung by a senior choir, junior choir, soloists, worship band and guest musicians. The congregation also supports a church in Kenya, holds an annual Kirkin' O' the Tartan service, and operates a library, which has become one of the most popular rooms at Knox.

New St. James', London, celebrated its 150th anniversary back in 1983. Today, it is active in outreach, having recently sent a mission team south to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Their pastoral care outreach involves regular visits to the elderly and house-bound members of the congregation.

The congregation at Westmount, London sells plants each year to raise money for the congregation, holds an annual pie drive to raise funds for local and global issues, and runs a library cafe that sells coffee, tea and homemade treats (with several thousand dollars in annual profits going to the library).

And there's always something going on at Elmwood, London, according to Chris Evans. Whether it's raising funds to dig a well in Malawi, buying cows for people in Guatemala, hosting community breakfasts that attract 60 to 70 people and a seniors' community centre that provides coffee and conversation, line dancing, crafts, Bible study, movies and cards, or the Help Elmwood Thrive committee which hosts fundraising events, spreads news throughout the community and holds monthly luncheons, Elmwood is always bustling with activity. "It's exciting to be a part of all of this," said Evans.

Oakridge, London, is also reaching out to youth. A high school is located next to the church, so the congregation hosts a weekly pizza lunch for the students, and allows them to skateboard on its property. A contemporary service on Saturday nights is tailored to a younger crowd, and they have a young adult group, and senior and junior high youth groups. "We have a desire to minister to youth who may not have been to church before," said Caldwell. "How do we bridge the gaps and how do we attract them?" A group of Oakridge's young people travelled to Trinidad last fall to encourage youth groups there, and did the same thing in Elliot Lake. A mixed group also recently returned from Ukraine.

Caldwell has seen a lot in her 20 years as part of this presbytery, and she admits there are challenges. "They're typical of any presbytery--small churches wanting to grow and looking for ways to do that. We've had some close, and some are going half-time as an option other than becoming a two-point charge. But how many part-time ministers can you attract? There have also been conflicts in congregations, and those take resources to sort out," she said. "But it's still exciting. Church growth is about mission, and often our local church is the mission."

RELATED ARTICLE: The best deal in town.

LIKE ALL OTHER PRESBYTERIES, London suffers the same challenges: as membership declines, churches close. Still, three of our churches are busting at the seams and another has hired a half-time minister. As a way to encourage more seam-busting and slow more declining, I have urged presbytery to start an Evangelism (Church Growth) Committee. Why bother with an evangelism committee? Because I believe the love and grace of God, who so loved us that he sent his sinless son to die on the cross so we can have a meaningful relationship with Him, is the best deal in town.

I believe our timing is critical. Folks everywhere are beginning to seek spiritual answers that promotions, prestige, money and consumerism haven't answered. We have a window of opportunity that exists right now!

The battles we face appear endless. Obstacles include contradictory opinions, cynicism, defeatism, fear of change, conflict and avoiding conflict. Each church challenge is unique and there is no magic one-two combination. Diverse realities include rural vs. urban, growing vs. dying communities, contemporary vs. traditional worship, minister vs. laity and minister vs. lay control.

But, great deals are not cheap and they require a lot of effort.--Owen Thornton


The Oakridge, London Concert Choir is on tour to Ottawa in June, led by director of music, Janet Fischer, and with concert organist, Ian Sadler. They will perform at Christ Church Cathedral and St. Andrew's on June 10 and 11.

The choir will also be touring Britain from August 10-24, singing one Sunday in Coventry Cathedral, with a week of services as Choir-in-Residence at York Minster Cathedral, and concerts in Lincoln Cathedral and St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.

The 78 members of the choir pay their own way to participate in this ministry. The choir previously toured Britain in 2003, singing in eight cathedrals. They regularly sing across southern Ontario and have produced three CDs.

To hear the choir and for more information about the tour please go to the Record's website:
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Title Annotation:presbytery profile
Author:MacLachlan, Amy
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Previous Article:Obituaries.
Next Article:Beneficial and heart-warming: a breakfast program seeks a way to do for Christ by doing for others.

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