Western Ministerial Conference 2007
A Bit to Read
For a number of years now, the ministers serving the churches of Western Canada have come together each November for a conference – WMC for Western Ministerial Conference. This year the venue was in Edmonton, on the premises of the Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church. On November 6 & 7, some two dozen ministers got together to work through the proposed agenda. Once more, the two-day meeting was invigorating and stimulating.
It all began with an early rise Tuesday morning, to catch the 7:20 plane from Abbotsford to Edmonton. Seat allocations had Rev Ijbema and myself seated together, and that gave an hour’s worth of opportunity to broach a wide variety of subjects – not the least being the wonderful view of Yarrow and Chilliwack, Veddar Mountain and Mt Cheam.... From our seat in the sky, a hike up Mt Cheam’s southern flank seemed so easy.... The clouds soon got in the way of our vision, but not of our conversation. In fact, it was the opportunity for extensive collegial contact that, in my opinion, formed the greatest positive of the WMC. Scattered elsewhere in the plane were four other ministers from the Fraser Valley. Once we got to Edmonton, it didn’t take long for the six of us to find a Smitty’s somewhere for a brunch...., and much more talk about events in the churches, trends in North American theological thinking, pastoral issues where expert advice was helpful, and so much more. Again, the satisfying part of the brunch lay deeper than the stomach.
As to the conference itself: the first speaker, Rev Moesker, took us for a tour through the History and Doctrine of Islam. Notably, Rev Moesker passed on to us that in Canada there are currently some 800,000 adherents to the Muslim faith, and the number is growing rapidly. His point was that Islam does not come to us only in the news, but is growing within the Canadian social fabric as well. With increased numbers comes also increased influence in Canadian politics and law. We shall meet more and more Muslims in our communities, and so it’s only fitting that we know something about the Muslim faith. Yet instead of me now passing on the details of the speech in this Bit to Read, permit me simply to draw attention to an Introduction to Islam available on our website.
The second item on the Conference agenda was an entry entitled “Book Talks”. The idea here was that each participant at the conference would introduce a book he’d recently read, giving a brief overview of its contents, showing its benefits, and so pointing other brothers to a worthwhile read. Each talk gave opportunity for a brief interaction, and I found that interaction just as helpful as the talks themselves, since the interaction tended to give extra background information, particularly about developments in North American theology.
The third item of the conference agenda (we’re into the evening by now) was an exegetical workshop on Paul’s final speech to the elders of Ephesus, as recorded in Acts 20:18-35. The purpose of the exercise was to listen together to what Paul was actually saying, and then consider how to bring this material into the shape of a sermon. Rev R Bredenhof ably led the event. As it turned out, his selected passage spoke very directly to much of the actual work a minister does. As a result, the discussions turned time and again to very practical aspects of our work. Obviously, having two dozen ministers ask questions and relate their struggles and thoughts in the context of seeking to understand Paul’s instruction to the elders of Ephesus was a very worthwhile exercise.
Interspersed between these agenda items were the predictable coffee breaks and supper, with the inevitable and O-so-beneficial walk-and-talk. To carry on some of the conversations on a one-on-one level was highly rewarding and stimulating.
We closed the evening at around 8:45, and eventually made our way to our respective hosts in the Edmonton Immanuel congregation. More talk with the hosts followed..., and eventually a collapse into the oblivion of sleep.
The new day saw us all gathered again at the church for a 9:00 AM start. Our speaker this time was Joyce deHaan (from the URC in St Catherines), a very experienced counsellor. Several of the younger ministers present at the Conference knew her from lectures she had presented at the Theological College in the past, on the topic of pastoral counselling in the congregation. She already had another commitment in the Edmonton area, and was able to squeeze in a talk for us entitled ‘the Pastor as Person’. Her conviction was that ministers have emotions like anybody else, can get despondent and discouraged, perhaps struggle with living daily in a glass house, and needing weekly to get up there twice and feed the flock. Yet the minister is a real person, having pastoral needs as much as anyone else. How, then, is the minister to cope with constantly being in the public eye? How should he digest criticism? What impact do negative vibrations around him have on him? What stresses are there on his marriage? Though sr deHaan never lived in a manse, it was obvious that she had spoken enough with several ministers to know very well what struggles the minister has and what goes on in the minister’s family. She portrayed quite accurately that there is a work ethic within Canadian Reformed ministers that drives them to put in long days and give the extra to make that one additional visit, or do that one extra class. She also was aware that some congregations and/or members have the expectation that the minister must make that special visit instead of an elder or someone else. Demands as these make ministers prime candidates, she said, for burnout. Ministers therefore need to be very aware of that danger, and so make a point of recognizing the symptoms of burnout and taking the necessary steps to head it off. She counselled specifically the advantages of getting outside in God’s big creation, and taking time to take in its lessons. She insisted too that the minister needs to have someone to confide in, and so too, she added, does the minister’s wife.
I could not pretend to cover fully all that was said in this presentation, or in the discussion that followed. Thankfully, precisely because sr deHaan demonstrated an accurate sense of what the actual struggles within the parsonage are, the discussion was very candid and open – and therefore helpful. It left a sense that one is not alone, is quite normal in one’s struggles, doubts, and questions.
Somewhere in the course of sr deHaan’s presentation, we scored a lunch...., and, contrary to her advice, missed our walk outside. After a coffee we went straight into the next item on the agenda, a sermon on Philippians 2:1-11, followed by a sermon discussion. Rev D Poppe opened God’s word for us to set before us how serving the other must characterize each Christian’s life – and so too that we ministers need to exemplify such an attitude to the congregation. Again, his words were very instructive to us. The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life to pay for our sins of selfishness was so very comforting, and the fact that He has given us His Spirit to renew us and make us able to serve another in love was so very encouraging.
The reason for having a sermon on the Conference agenda went beyond the instruction and the comfort the passage itself contained. The intent was also to have a discussion together about what makes for a good sermon, what the strengths and weaknesses of this particular sermon were, etc. For my part, I missed this discussion, as I had to run off to the airport to catch a plane to Ontario. The other participants continued with a sermon discussion, some more Book Talks, a brief presentation on ministerial finance, plans for the next conference, and a closing supper together.
All in all, the Western Ministerial Conference of 2007 was most worthwhile. I look back with gratitude to what I learned from the various presentations, and the good conversations I could have with several other ministers. I’m thankful for consistory’s encouragement to attend this meeting, and look forward to the next. It’s to be held, the Lord willing, next November in Carman.
15 November 2007