Find a broken wall – and then Rebuild it.

Find a Broken Wall by Brian C StillerFind a broken wall, Brian Stiller says in his new book — and then rebuild it.

This is not a book for everyone. It is a book for leaders of Christian churches, ministries, and organizations. Particularly, it is a leadership manual for those individuals who are called to take on the leadership of deeply troubled churches, ministries, and organizations. In fact, for leaders who are in charge of such troubled organizations — and, sadly, there are many — this book should be required reading.

The books central image is drawn from the Bible book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah found the city of Jerusalem in a very difficult situation and managed to restore the city by rebuilding the city wall and making other important changes.

However, the bulk of the content of Stillers book is not drawn from Nehemiah, but from Stillers own experience. Stiller knows what he is talking about because he has spent his life assuming the leadership of broken ministries and fixing them.

Not everyone is called to lead broken-down, distressed, and undeveloped ministries (page 24), but Stiller was. He assumed leadership of the Montreal and Toronto branches of Youth for Christ when each was in deep trouble, and he revitalized both. After leading Youth for Christ Canada, he became executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in 1983 when it was a little known umbrella organization with almost no ministry. By the time he left in 1997, not only was the EFC a highly effective organization, but the Canadian evangelical movement had become an influential factor in Canadian life. Stiller then took over as President of Ontario Bible College when it was bankrupt and on the verge of closing. He turned it into Tyndale University, a vibrant institution with a new $100 million campus.

Two things stand out about this book. One is how frankly open Stiller is about his own failings and the failings of the organizations he restored. For instance, in 1983, he was asked what the purpose of the EFC was, and he recalls, I stumbled and fumbled. I didnt know. (page 83) Unlike authors who offer only sanitized descriptions, he is willing to call a train wreck a train wreck.

The other thing that stands out is the wise insights that Stiller offers which can be applied by leaders of many organizations, whether they are in trouble or not. For instance, Stiller talks about how to focus on vision and avoid diversionary claptrap (page 53); about how to protect an organization from spiritual drift (page 93); about how to deal with boredom, fatigue, or burnout (page 96); about not treating people with different views as enemies (page 144); about admitting mistakes (page 146); about the importance of strategic planning (Chapter 5); and about seeking the good of the ministry instead of self-fulfillment (page 155).

Along the way, Stiller offers pithy comments that remain in the mind to encourage and challenge:

  • Endemic among leaders is the tendency to not listen to what another has to say. (page 26)
  • Review your schedule for the past month. How much time was given to what you really want to accomplish? (page 53)
  • Vision is not a half-baked idea that you ask God to bless. (page 57)
  • Faith is risking, knowing that without the help of the Lord Ill fail. (page 69)

Such insights are invaluable for leaders of all kinds. And, insofar as they help followers understand the issues their leaders wrestle with, the book could also be read with profit by followers. Maybe it is a book for everyone.

Find a Broken Wall: 7 Ancient Principles for 21st Century Leaders ($26.96 hard cover, $19.95 paperback) is published by Castle Quay Books.

Book Review: Find a Broken Wall

Find a Broken WallFind a broken wall, Brian Stiller says in his new book—and then rebuild it.

This is not a book for everyone. It is a book for leaders of Christian churches, ministries, and organizations. Particularly, it is a leadership manual for those individuals who are called to take on the leadership of deeply troubled churches, ministries, and organizations. In fact, for leaders who are in charge of such troubled organizations—and, sadly, there are many—this book should be required reading.

The book’s central image is drawn from the Bible book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah found the city of Jerusalem in a very difficult situation and managed to restore the city by rebuilding the city wall and making other important changes.

However, the bulk of the content of Stiller’s book is not drawn from Nehemiah, but from Stiller’s own experience. Stiller knows what he is talking about because he has spent his life assuming the leadership of broken ministries and fixing them.

Not everyone is called to lead “broken-down, distressed, and undeveloped ministries” (page 24), but Stiller was. He assumed leadership of the Montreal and Toronto branches of Youth for Christ when each was in deep trouble, and he revitalized both. After leading Youth for Christ Canada, he became executive director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) in 1983 when it was a little known umbrella organization with almost no ministry. By the time he left in 1997, not only was the EFC a highly effective organization, but the Canadian evangelical movement had become an influential factor in Canadian life. Stiller then took over as President of Ontario Bible College when it was bankrupt and on the verge of closing. He turned it into Tyndale University, a vibrant institution with a new $100 million campus.

Two things stand out about this book. One is how frankly open Stiller is about his own failings and the failings of the organizations he restored. For instance, in 1983, he was asked what the purpose of the EFC was, and he recalls, “I stumbled and fumbled. I didn’t know” (83). Unlike authors who offer only sanitized descriptions, he is willing to call a train wreck a train wreck.

The other thing that stands out is the wise insights that Stiller offers which can be applied by leaders of many organizations, whether they are in trouble or not. For instance, Stiller talks about how to focus on vision and avoid “diversionary claptrap” (53); about how to protect an organization from “spiritual drift” (93); about how to deal with “boredom, fatigue, or burnout” (96); about not treating people with different views as enemies (144); about admitting mistakes (146); about the importance of strategic planning (Chapter 5); and about seeking the good of the ministry instead of self-fulfillment (155).

Along the way, Stiller offers pithy comments that remain in the mind to encourage and challenge:
• “Endemic among leaders is the tendency to not listen to what another has to say.” (26)
• “Review your schedule for the past month. How much time was given to what you really want to accomplish?” (53)
• “Vision is not a half-baked idea that you ask God to bless.” (57)
• “Faith is risking, knowing that without the help of the Lord I’ll fail.” (69)

Such insights are invaluable for leaders of all kinds. And, insofar as they help followers understand the issues their leaders wrestle with, the book could also be read with profit by followers. Maybe it is a book for everyone.

Find a Broken Wall: 7 Ancient Principles for 21st Century Leaders ($26.96 hard cover, $19.95 paperback) is published by Castle Quay Books: castlequaybooks.com.

Jim Coggins (www.coggins.ca) is a freelance writer and editor from Abbotsford, B.C.

Motion 312 has support

Stephen WoodworthWhen MP Steven Woodworth’s private member’s Motion 312 is debated in the Canadian House of Commons on Friday, September 21, Woodward will have a lot of backing.

Woodworth’s motion states “That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth.” Specifically, the committee would study four questions:

  1. What medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?
  2. Is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?
  3. What are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?
  4. What are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?

On September 18, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in support of Woodworth’s motion. The statement said, “The Catholic Church holds that a human being comes into existence at conception. The lives of human beings are, therefore, sacred at every stage in our existence — from beginning to natural end…The Bishops of Canada invite all members of the Parliament of Canada to take into full account the sacredness of the unborn child and each human life. We also encourage Canadian Catholics, and all people of good will, to pray that our legislators be blessed with wisdom and courage to do what is best to protect and further the common good, which is based on respect for the human dignity of all.”

On September 19, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) issued a statement in support of Woodworth’s motion. The statement said EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger “has joined other Canadian leaders in signing the Declaration of Support for Parliamentary Study of Canada’s Legal Definition of “Human Being”. Over 60 organizations have signed the Declaration.

Clemenger stated, “With the developments in medicine and science over the last century, it’s time to revisit this outdated law.”

The EFC statement said that Subsection 223 (1) of the Criminal Code “was drafted based on scientific and medical knowledge of centuries long since passed.” (The wording is borrowed from a 400-year-old British law.) It added that there was also “a companion section in the Criminal Code that noted the interest of the state in the pre-born child. That section was revisited by Parliament in 1969, and its revised form struck down in 1988 because the amended form did not allow equal access nation-wide to therapeutic abortion committees.” However, the court left open the possibility of Parliament acting to protect children before birth.

EFC Vice- President and General Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson stated that while the motion would lead Parliament to consider laws regulating abortion, “Motion 312 is not about abortion. It’s about the state’s concern for the best interests of the child prior to birth.” He explained, “The courts have been faced with many challenging situations dealing with the pre-born child – potential medical malpractice, intentional effort to kill a child in the womb, efforts by children’s aid societies to protect children in the womb from abusive mothers. In all of these situations, the courts have felt bound by the decision of Parliament to avoid debate and declaration of whether or not Canada has an interest in children prior to birth.”

In addition to organizations speaking out on the issue, there have also been grassroots campaigns in support of Woodward’s motion.

Alexandra Jezierski, a 17-year-old Ontario girl, started Letters4Life last March, with the goal of sending to Parliament 100,000 letters that “speak out against abortion.” Her efforts, combined with the MP Postcards founded by Miles Driedger (see separate article), actually resulted in 116,000 submissions being sent to Parliament. That is about the number of abortions carried out in Canada every year. In fact, so many letters were sent that LifeSite News reported it clogged the postal system in Ottawa.

Woodward admits that it is unlikely that his motion will pass (it was to be debated September 21 and will be voted on on September 26) since no party supports it, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that he will vote against it in keeping with his promise not to reopen the abortion debate

Harper apparently stated in an interview earlier this year with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, “If you want to diminish the number of abortions, you’ve got to change hearts and not laws.”

Yet the EFC notes that polling shows a large majority of Canadians are in favour of some restrictions on abortion, including forbidding abortion when the child is old enough to survive outside the womb and when abortion is used for sex selection. That information is summarized in the EFC report, Abortion Polls in Canada: A Compilation by Topic of Opinion Polling in Canada from 2007-2012.

Canadian moviemaker produces controversial film Hellbound

Kevin Miller of Hellbound

Hellbound, a feature-length documentary that explores today’s highly contentious debate over the Christian doctrine of hell, is set to hit Canadian theaters in October 2012, hot on the heels of its September release in the United States.

Written and directed by award-winning screenwriter Kevin Miller, who is based in Abbotsford, B.C., the film also marks Miller’s directorial debut. His previous credits include the documentaries Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed with Ben Stein; Sex+Money; spOILed; and With God On Our Side.

Hellbound features interviews with an eclectic group of authors, theologians, pastors, social commentators, musicians, exorcists and other high profile participants in the debate.

“Throughout history, Christians have disagreed about pretty much everything,” says Miller. “With every debate, particular doctrines become a litmus test to determine ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders.’ That’s certainly the case right now regarding the doctrine of hell. Hellbound is my attempt to get to the bottom of the current debate, to find out why challenges to the traditional ‘fire and brimstone view’ are so contentious and to discover the implications of this dispute for Christians as well as those watching from a distance.”

Miller has no illusions about the controversy this film might cause. “No matter what you believe about hell, this film is definitely going to push your buttons. But I see that as a healthy thing. Rather than just stir people up, though, I hope Hellbound will provoke informed discussion and get people to take a second look at the impact their religious beliefs have on the world at large.”

Production on Hellbound took place in more than two dozen cities in the United States, Canada and Denmark throughout 2011. It was produced by Miller’s own production company,

Kevin Miller XI Productions Inc. The film’s ethereal music is provided by three musicians from British Columbia: composer Marcus Zuhr, singer/songwriter Ari Neufeld and the band YUCA.

For more information, including theatre locations, visit www.hellboundthemovie.com or watch the trailer below:

Why Canadian young people are leaving the church

Photo by Angel A. Acevedo

“Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still does so today,” says James Penner, lead author of Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to Church.

Hemorrhaging Faith is a study commissioned by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry Roundtable and carried out by James Penner and Associates, based in Lethbridge, Alberta. It is partly based on a survey of 2,049 Canadian young adults (18-34) who had indicated that they were raised in the church, conducted in the summer of 2011 by Angus Reid Forum. The study also included a comprehensive survey of literature on the subject and in-depth one-on-one interviews with 72 young adults.

Almost all of those surveyed attended church as children, 69% of them regularly (weekly) and 30% sporadically. As adults, only 27% attend regularly, and 35% never attend at all. Further, three-quarters of the non-attenders do not even identify with their Christian tradition; mostly, they have not converted to other religions but describe themselves as being spiritual, agnostic or atheist or as having no religion.

Only one-fifth of Roman Catholics and only one-third of mainline Protestants who attended church regularly still does so as an adult. The news is slightly better for evangelicals; for every three evangelical regular attenders in childhood, only two still regularly attend in young adulthood.

Facing the Problem

Those responsible for the study say that the purpose of the study is to get people talking about the issues.

“We hope this provokes a discussion,” says Rick Hiemstra of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). “We’d like the church to realize the magnitude of the problem.”

The report is available for $15 on the website hemorrhagingfaith.com. Readers can comment there, but Hiemstra says he hopes leaders of local churches will read the report and discuss it among themselves, including what they can do about the problem.

Barriers and Drivers

Penner and Hiemstra also hope that churches will not just discuss the problem but do something about it. Heimstra says the study shows “some practical things” churches can do. In part, this is because the study analyzes why young adults leave church and why they stay,

There study found four key factors which either create barriers to faith or which “drive” young people to faith.

The first is whether they have experienced God directly. Penner says, “If young adults say they have experienced God, they are far more likely to be in church.” The study asks, “Why does God seem to reveal himself to some and not to others? We won’t pretend to know.” However, the authors point out that if this first factor is beyond a church’s control, the other factors are not.

The second factor is whether young people consider their church community to be vibrant or contaminated by hypocrisy and judgmentalism.

The third factor has to do with theology and morality. The study shows that some young people reject Christianity because of rigid positions on morality and theology. On the other hand, the study also shows that evangelical churches, which tend to be more rigid on these issues, also do the best job of keeping their young people.

The fourth key factor is the spiritual fervor of parents. The study states, “If parents model a vibrant faith, their children are likely to also engage in a vibrant faith that is likely to extend into their adult years.”

These factors are spelled out in considerably more detail in the study.

A Cross-Cultural Mission

One of the things that came out of the study is the realization that the younger generation is different.

Hiemstra says the study is “a signal to the church that this generation will hear the gospel in a different place.” Therefore, churches need to approach ministry to the younger generation “as cross-cultural missions.”  “We think that if we preach the same way, in English, the kids will understand,” Hiemstra says, but they won’t. The culture has changed and is continuing to change.

Hiemstra stresses that church doctrine does not have to change, but that how people accept that doctrine has changed. Young people will no longer accept rational presentations of doctrine on the basis of institutional authority.   They are willing to study the Bible, but “you have to explore Scripture with them, not just present pat answers” – and church leaders need to “answer the tough questions.”

Hiemstra explains. “This generation doesn’t trust what you say” but “discerns truth through experience.” Therefore, sending young people to summer camps and on short-term missions trips and giving them an opportunity to take leadership roles are crucial.

Penner notes that young people are idealistic: “They are looking for a faith that will change them and transform the world.” This means that a lukewarm faith will not cut it. Penner noted that only 12 percent of those surveyed had a mother or father who regularly attended church, prayed and read the Bible. Penner stated that those young adults who had a consistent, fervent role model and mentor often became fervent Christians themselves. Conversely, those who had an inconsistent Christian upbringing did no better than those who had no Christian input at all.

Prophetic Warning

In this sense, Penner says, young adults are “canaries in the coal mine” or “indicator species,” warning signs that all is not well in the ecology of the church. They are a “prophetic call” for a “self-emptying church” to follow the example of the “self-emptying Christ” in Philippians 2. Churches that are vibrant usually keep their young people while churches that are not vibrant do not. “Faith is sticky,” the study says.

This is why spiritually vibrant parents are key to young people having a vibrant faith. But it is not just parents who need to have a vibrant faith. Hiemstra says it is important for young people to see “consistent mature Christians” living out a vibrant faith and mentoring young people. This includes youth leaders, he says, but it is also important to have such people “outside the program” such as the “elderly woman who prays regularly for young people, someone who knows them and will walk with them.”

This is the reason that, in an age of individualism and consumerism, it is important to remain part of a church. Penner says the idea that individuals can be spiritually healthy on their own doesn’t usually work. “If you leave the community, you leave the conversation, and worldview hangs on the thread of conversation. Young people start to doubt there is a God if they are no longer part of a community where that view is reinforced.”

The need for consistent mentoring is related to another key finding of the study. Churches must pay attention to transitions, Hiemstra says, because young people are often lost at transition points. And, surprisingly, more are lost at the transition from elementary school to high school than at the transition from high school to college. Young people are also lost in the transition when one youth pastor replaces another and even when one senior pastor replaces another. Penner suggests churches are often too quick to start and stop programs and change staff; he says they should consider whether there is some merit in Eugene Peterson’s call for “30-year pastorates.”

In sum, this study highlights not so much a problem with young adults as a problem with Canadian churches. On the other hand, Hiemstra and Penner say the changes that are needed are “in the control of churches.” Like Joshua and Caleb looking at the Promised Land in Joshua 1, Penner says that church leaders should not see the current situation to be characterized by problems and difficulties but by opportunities and invitations. They should see that “This land is ours for the taking.”

Music Ministries with a Message

“God desires that his people would move outside the walls of their churches. He wants them to meet people wherever they are, whatever they do,” says Del Riemer, Associate Pastor of Summerland (B.C.) Baptist Church.
“Too often local churches are like a prison that keeps their people in and unintentionally intimidates people outside church and keeps them out. How did Jesus move outside the walls of the synagogue? He spent his time with people that others avoided like the plague.”
At Summerland Baptist, part of getting outside the church walls means creating a vibrant Music and Creative Arts Outreach. The outreach has four performing bands, each with its own style and audience demographic, who travel throughout B.C, Western Canada and the US to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through music and a message of hope and truth.
The best known and busiest of these bands is Back Porch Gospel, a bluegrass band whose members are all retired (except for Del). The band visits churches, prisons, treatment centres, parks, seniors’ homes and other venues as far away as Missouri to share the fun and joy of gospel bluegrass music. Most, but not all of the songs are Christian; however, every performance includes stories and testimonies that explicitly witness of Christ and his gospel of hope and forgiveness.
“There is something that is down home and fun about bluegrass music. Iit breaks through age and style barriers. Bluegrass provides a phenomenal open door, from prisons to seniors’ homes. It is the style that seems to attract people,” Del says.
Hope Road is a contemporary music group made up of people who have come through difficult and discouraging periods of hopelessness in their lives. This team shares a message: that hope lies not in a place or a philosophy, but in the person of Jesus. Members have suffered the death of loved ones, illnesses, sexual abuse, shattered dreams and job losses.
“We share that in hopeless situations, hope can come alive again when God breaks through,” Del says.
The Groundswell group, made up of six young adults in their 20s and 30s, shares original and inspirational light rock/folk music with jazz and blues overtones to appeal to audiences in their 20s to 40s.
“Groundswell is a term surfers use where a deep ocean swell of water rises up creating a larger dynamic wave,” Del says, explaining that this group performs concerts but also does ministry fundraisers, church music and praise as well as music for children.
The Three Okanagan Tenors, dressed in tuxedos and accompanied by piano and violin, offer triumphant, familiar songs of faith with a more classical and traditional flavour. The Tenors are well accepted with older audiences in concert and conference settings.
The four groups do about 50 concerts a year between them. Since Del plays in three of the groups as well as on church music teams, he enjoys partnering with others in areas of music ministry five to seven times per week.
“I am not particular about the style of music. God uses what we offer. I personally have an eclectic musical taste and enjoy wonderful opportunities to use music for God’s glory. We can use any opportunity to connect with people,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be music. I’m really interested in motorcycling, so God uses that too.” He adds that the church’s Roadsalt Riders club attracts those from the local community to connect and enjoy fellowship together.
Summerland’s outreach ministry isn’t limited to its four bands. Every second year, the entire community of Summerland anticipates “Uncle Phil’s Dinner,” a dinner theatre that offers a simple gospel message through engaging music and drama. The church also has a bell choir, men’s chorus group and regular music and praise teams.
For the past 15-20 years, Summerland Baptist has hosted a monthly Sunday night concert to enrich and share the gospel. Now called Searchlight Gospel, this concert series features local and well-known musicians sharing through many styles, “it’s not to showcase talent but to share Jesus.” Del explains that the concerts attract mostly Christians but offer a way of inviting neighbours and friends who wouldn’t otherwise set foot inside a church.
The church also encourages its members to host neighbourhood block parties. A church band performs background music, providing a light, non-intimidating atmosphere. The church helps to organize the event and designs and prints the invitations. The church even has a professional clown who is available to connect with the children.
“We are trying to encourage people in our church to find creative ways to connect with the non-Christians they know. If it opens up connections with people, we want to engage that,” Del says. “At the block parties, the initial intent is not to lead people to Christ; it’s just to connect.”
Del himself is a lifelong musician. His dad played steel guitar and his mother the electric bass, and together they led a family music group and had a radio show in the Edmonton area. Del was singing on the show by age two and a half and doing four-part harmony by age four. His mom encouraged him to always be in the same grade in piano as he was in school. By grade eight, he gave up piano but picked up the flute and later became a woodwind specialist. After training in music and theology at Taylor University, Del travelled with a contemporary Christian band called Liberty Union. Throughout the 1970s, Del toured and performed with other well-known Christian musicians.
He accepted his first pastoral call at Summerland after an eclectic career as band musician, restaurant manager, worker with young offenders and outdoor wilderness and music director.
Summerland Baptist continues to build on its legacy of outreach. The church has assembled a resource trailer containing $50,000 worth of light and sound equipment, allowing the teams to put on a concert anywhere, whether in a church a park or a prison. On the side of the trailer is a picture of a horse-drawn wagon with a pump organ inside, a reference to Summerland’s 1905 origins when, after worship service on Sunday, members would load the pump organ into a wagon and travel 10 miles to the Kettle Valley Railroad camps to lead church services.
“When we celebrated our 100th anniversary in 2005, we were inspired to re-establish that ministry. The church is moving beyond its walls to equip and train and risk,” says Del. “We can’t keep the message of Christ to ourselves. We have to spread it around.”
Del hopes other churches will start neighbourhood block parties so they can connect with their neighbours, discover their interests and come alongside.
He says, “Churches shouldn’t let limited resources stop them. Be a place that equips people for the work of the Kingdom. When Jesus sent out the 70, he told them to take nothing. All you need is him. The Lord will provide the resources –- if we take the first step and move beyond what is safe.”
Bookings for any of the four music outreach teams can be made by contacting Del at pastordel@summerlandbaptist.ca.Originally published in Making Connections, a Canadian Baptists of Western Canada newsletter.

Hidden data a health and political issue

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) has accused the Ontario government of hypocrisy.

In January, the Liberal minority government passed Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act. It was supposed to increase public access to information from hospitals and clinics. However, while it made some information more readily available, it made other information less available. In a news release, Lauren Klammer, an IMFC researcher, explained that the bill made changes to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA) so that citizens can no longer request information on public health issues such as patient care quality and abortion statistics.

These changes came to light when a Patricia Maloney, a blogger with Run With Life, had a request for information turned down.

It is already difficult to gather accurate abortion statistics in Canada, and the change in Ontario makes it even harder.

The change has also been criticized in an even more detailed study by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) called Black Holes: Canada’s Missing Abortion Data.

Starting in 1969, abortion statistics were collected by Statistics Canada. However, in the R. v. Morgentaler case in 1988, the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion laws. After that, some hospitals stopped reporting abortion statistics or reported only incomplete data. Private clinics, which could also legally perform abortions after 1988, were even less inclined to report.

Between 1995 and 2010, Statistics Canada transferred to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) responsibility for compiling and publishing abortion statistics. However, even CIHI recognizes that its statistics are incomplete.

Because of this, pro-life groups have used FIPPA requests to gather additional information.

The reporting discrepancies are extensive. For instance, a Freedom of Information request discovered that the Ontario Health Insurance Plan was billed for 44,091 abortions in 2010 while CIHI’s figures counted only 28,765. Moreover, even these figures do not include abortions performed in doctor’s offices and unlicensed clinics, particularly those done by prescribing medication rather than using a surgical procedure.

Under the new changes, Freedom of Information requests for OHIP billing data on abortions will be categorically denied.

The IMFC and the EFC say there are two problems with the lack of data. One is that it prevents health care professionals from recognizing trends and health issues.

For example, IMFC says it is now impossible to have accurate information regarding changes to the pregnancy rate. In May 2012, the Vanier Institute, an Ottawa-based family think tank, published a fact sheet stating that the teen pregnancy rate in Canada had dropped by 36.9 percent between 1996 and 2006. However, since the pregnancy rate is a combination of live births, miscarriages and abortions, there is no way of knowing what the actual pregnancy rate is. IMFC says it is also impossible to determine if changes to diet and exercise, lifestyle choices or environmental pollution are reducing women’s ability to become pregnant.

It is not just numbers of abortions that are not reported but also the details – such as the age of the child aborted, any prior abortions the woman may have had, the method of abortion used and any complications that occurred in the process.

The second problem is that keeping information secret weakens democracy.

The EFC document points out that there was no recorded debate on the amendment in either in the Ontario legislature or in committee hearings and that therefore it is not clear why the Ontario government made the change. In response to a question by the National Post, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care released a statement stating only that “Records relating to abortion services are highly sensitive.”

The EFC study discusses in some detail “the vital link between access to information and democracy.” It states that access to information is necessary so citizens can “participate meaningfully in the democratic process” and so “politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.”

One Step Closer

Grandview-Calvary-Affordable-housing

Grandview Calvary Baptist Church (GCBC) has cleared a major hurdle in realizing its dream of creating affordable housing in its Vancouver neighbourhood.
Earlier this year, Vancouver city council unanimously approved the church’s re-zoning application to convert the church’s parking lot into a four-storey, 26-unit building to house low income and marginalized individuals and families.

The $6.8 million project has been a vision held by GCBC for at least seven years and is part of a larger vision to live incarnationally within its community alongside the marginalized and those who face barriers to employment.

“We are trying to create a place of welcome and doing it in a way that focuses on mutual transformation through interactions with people different than ourselves,” explained Johanna Suttor-Doerksen, Community Housing Director for (SCS), GCBC’s partner in the housing project.

The four-storey building will be purposely built to include private units that share common areas such as a common kitchen, living space and gardening space. It will be segmented into six ‘pods’ where all apartment doors will open onto each other and will share a common area with couches and a balcony, as well as a laundry room.

“We’ve created a design that will facilitate community-building but still allow people their own private space,” said Johanna. Each unit will have its own kitchen, bathroom and sleeping areas so individuals and families can be on their own when they want to, but “the building is designed so that people will just naturally run into each other. The main floor will be like coming into a home with a living room, fire place and community kitchen.”

Most of the 26 units will be for individuals. Eighteen will be studio apartments, four will be one-bedroom apartments, and four will be two-bedroom apartments. Between six and eight of the units will be reserved for members of the Grandview Calvary community or another local church community, so they can live their lives alongside the other tenants and share their lives together. Rental rates are set at welfare or 30 percent of income, and everyone, including Grandview Calvary members, will be paying rent.

“We are trying to move away from a provider-client model towards a shared experience,” said Johanna. “It takes a lot of time and energy to be present to people. [Grandview Calvary members] will be helped by affordable rental rates so maybe they can take a part-time job and spend more time being with people. They are not paid, and they aren’t professionals, but affordable rent will allow them to be more present.”

Johanna described the re-zoning meeting as a “great evening because we were able to talk about our vision.” More than 50 people spoke at the meeting, which ran until midnight. All but 15 were in favour. One presenter, a choir called Local Vocals, sang their support of the housing project.
When the city council gave its unanimous approval two days later, they expressed their gratitude for the church’s leadership in working to address affordable housing issues and voiced the hope that this project could be a model for other churches.

“What was really interesting is they started to use our language of inclusion and mutual transformation,” Johanna said.

Creating affordable housing in exceptionally expensive Vancouver is the natural next step for Grandview Calvary, which has rooted itself in the community through its Co:Here Housing Initiative where church members live together and with guests intentionally in shared housing owned by the church. Some other initiatives that have grown out of Grandview Calvary Baptist Church and manifest the church’s presence in the community include Kinbrace, which provides housing for refugees; Crossroads Community Project, which runs a community kitchen; and JustWork, which provides work and job skills for people facing barriers to employment.

With the zoning issue behind them, the next steps for Grandview Calvary and its partner Salsbury Community Society are to fulfill the conditions placed on the zoning application, such as making the design fit the neighbourhood a little bit better and then to get the development and building permits. They could start to build as early as the late fall.

Before they build, however, they want to raise 100 percent of the project’s capital cost. They have already raised $4.8 million, including the church’s donation of the land, which is estimated at $1.5 million. Two other large donations, as well as many smaller ones, have brought the total raised so far to $4.8 million. That means $2 million more must be raised before starting the building phase.

“Most developers would start now with 70 percent of the cash raised, but our vision is to ensure that rents are affordable, and we can only do that if we don’t carry a large debt,” Johanna said, explaining that Grandview has rejected the idea of charging market rates on some units to improve the project’s bottom line because this would dilute the original vision for affordable housing. “I’m really confident we will raise the money. People will come alongside now they know it is moving forward.”

Johanna would like to encourage other churches to consider building affordable housing on parking lots or other unused property. Although such projects are expensive, “it is doable if churches have land, which is more than most affordable housing project have. Having land is not to be underestimated,” she says.
She suggests that churches wishing to build affordable housing need two things in addition to land. First, they need “people in the church community who will hold onto the vision and keep coming back to it because it takes a very long time to make it a reality,” she says. Second, they need to connect with a development consultant who has experience seeing similar projects through, covering everything from managing budgets and timelines to understanding bylaws and building codes to knowing how to raise money for the project.

You can find out more about Grandview Calvary Baptist at www.gcbchurch.ca or about its offshoot and ministry partner Salsbury Community Society at www.salsburycs.ca.

Originally published in Making Connections, a Canadian Baptists of Western Canada newsletter.

Going out with a bang

Billy Graham preaching at the 1967 Centennial Canada crusade

Evangelist Billy Graham is convinced that he is going to live until 95, and he wants to celebrate that event with the largest evangelistic event of his life.

Graham first came to prominence through a tent revival in Los Angeles in 1949. His career has also included the 16-week New York Crusade in 1957 and his final evangelistic preaching to more than 200,000 in Flushing Meadows, New York, in 2005.

Graham turns 95 on Thursday, November 7, 2013. Instead of filling a stadium to mark the occasion, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) is planning a “living room crusade” called My Hope. The plan is for Christians and churches across the United States and Canada to invite family, friends and neighbours to their homes or other relaxed venues during the week of November 3-9, to watch a 30-minute gospel presentation. The program will be available via DVD, streaming video, and a television broadcast.

The BGEA has used the same method in 57 other countries over the last 10 years, with a reported 10 million people making decisions to become believers in Jesus Christ.

The BGEA says, “The method will change, but the message will be the same.” It also repeated something that the organization has learned over the years: “It’s the training for evangelism and follow-up, along with months or sometimes years of prayer that make the biggest impact.”

Billy Graham no longer preaches, but the Association he founded carries on evangelism through a number of means. Graham’s son Franklin is preaching in a number of evangelistic outreaches in North America this year, including one in Ottawa in September.

However, Billy Graham continues to write. A July 24 prayer letter the elder Graham wrote has garnered considerable attention. In that newsletter, Graham cited his late wife Ruth’s comment, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Graham stated in the letter that the American lifestyle is now characterized by self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin” and that mention of Jesus is being driven out of public discourse. Graham wrote, “Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone—except God. Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control.”

Graham continued, “My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the lone world superpower—wealthy, unconcerned, and self-centered. When the Prophet Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh and proclaimed God’s warning, people heard and repented. I believe the same thing can happen once again.”

Gospel in the park

The 40th anniversary of a unique ministry was celebrated on the evening of Sunday, July 29, 2012. That night, churches in the town of Dresden, Ontario, marked 40 years of “Sunday Evening In The Park.” This drive-in church service was the brainchild of Baptist minister Dann Filyer.

The invention of the automobile is sometimes blamed for drawing people away from church, but some Christian ministers decided to make use of the new technology rather than fight it. Drive-in church services had sprung up in the US, but Filyer first tried out the idea when he was pastoring a church in Aurora, just north of Toronto, in the early 1960s. Using a bullhorn on top of his red station wagon, he drove around town inviting people to “Come as you are—come in your car.” The first services took place in a small strip mall along Yonge Street in the centre of town. Filyer preached from a trailer fastened to the car’s back bumper. Later, a farm stake truck with wooden racks was customized into a travelling sound stage. Typically, Filyer painted the truck fire engine red.

When Filyer moved on to pastor the Baptist church in Waterford, Ontario, in 1965, that church agreed to follow a similar pattern of outreach—except that the service took place at the local baseball diamond. Most people parked their cars on the outfield grass, but some sat in the bleachers.  Filyer preached from another converted farm truck parked on top of home plate. That church continued the ministry for quite a few years after Filyer left.

When Filyer moved to North Dresden Baptist Church in the spring of 1972, he was anxious to continue this unique ministry. In this case, the groundwork had already been done. The previous Baptist pastor, Bert Lorimer, had been holding outdoor services in Dresden’s Jackson Park, but had used chairs from the church set out in rows—which had more of the feel of a regular church service. As well, the Baptist church had a practice of having occasional joint services with Evangel Pentecostal Tabernacle in one of the church buildings. Filyer decided to combine the two ideas. By the summer of 1972, the two churches had received permission to hold drive-in services on Sunday nights in the park. At first, the preaching was done from a farm wagon equipped with a piano and a pulpit.

The format was to have a musical group present a number of songs (it was the era of the gospel quartet), and then one of the pastors would preach a short gospel message. People could sit in their cars or on lawn chairs.

When Filyer moved on to Brantford, Ontario, in 1977 he acquired another farm truck and held drive-in church services in the parking lot of an auto parts store—a practice he continued until he retired in 1986.

Back in Dresden, however, the service continued. Between 1988 and 1994, the Charlemont and Zion Free Methodist Churches joined with the founding congregations. The service was handed over to the Dresden and District Christian Ministerial Association in 1994. It is now run by a committee consisting of two pastors and eight laypeople, currently chaired by Paul Shaw, minister at Mount Zion Presbyterian Church. In 1998, the churches received permission to erect a permanent pavilion in the park, at a cost of $3500. People still sit in lawn chairs or in cars parked along the edge of the park.

Dann Filyer passed away about 15 years ago. At the anniversary service, the guest speaker was his son, Stephen Filyer, who now pastors the Bothwell and Clachan Baptist Churches 30-40 kilometres away. Stephen reiterated his father’s goal of “getting the gospel out of the church and into the community in every way possible.” He noted that his father’s practice was to turn up the sound system all the way so that “people in surrounding homes would hear the gospel message whether they wanted to or not.”

It is hard to judge the exact impact of the services. There was no altar call, although people were offered the opportunity to talk to the ministers after the service. One of the first guest speakers was Bill Crump, who was director of Fair Havens Bible Conference and Retreat Centre in Beaverton, Ontario. He reported that after one of his gospel presentations, three responded—“a Ford, a Chevy, and a Plymouth.”

The services have been more about building long-term relationships and connecting with the community. They are a relaxed, non-threatening place where people who might feel intimidated about going into a church building can “come as they are” and hear the gospel.

The committee’s written materials affirm, “Sunday Evening In The Park has become a phenomenon that can only be explained as the activity of the Holy Spirit.”

PHOTOS

Cake was served after the July 29 service to celebrate the anniversary.