Official Prayer graphic logo that was distributed on post cards throughout the Encouragement Road Trip 2015 to the East
The Encouragement Road Trip east has been quite full so far with the exception of a wonderful day of Sabbath yesterday to charge my batteries and get ready for the upcoming week.
So far I have been part of a good-sized prayer gathering in Ottawa, spent in-depth time with two ministers that I stayed with, shared a meal and shared over the table with four ministers and have been able to further the plans for a number of prayer evenings being planned among churches.
The interest in our prayer initiative of calling the denomination to prayer for this year's General Assembly and the times ahead is being well-received. If you would like to use our official prayer logo shown at the left to promote a prayer event in your area, please go ahead. We have a good supply of 5 x 7 postcards with this logo on one side and 2 Chronicles 7:14 on the other: "…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." There is space to print or write in an invitation to a prayer time. Please send me an email indicating how many postcards you can use. (There is no charge but a donation to offset costs would be appreciated if possible.)
So, here I am on Monday night in Moncton, New Brunswick. I have already driven over 2,000 km. I have met new people and renewed relationship with others. Virtually all believe that prayer is the answer to the challenges we face as Canadian Presbyterians. My prayer is that this prayer initiative will spread across the country and that we will hear of dozens of Prayer and Praise gatherings.
My prayer requests for this trip are:
1. Health and strength to finish strong.
2. Continued good favour in arranging meetings and prayer times.
3. Prayer for a Prince Edward Island prayer time which has been on again and off again.
4. Prayer for two ministers who are having great difficulty and need more than a couple of hours of encouragement.
Time flies by so quickly and I find myself at the halfway point of this trip. Since I last reported, I have continued to travel, to meet with new and existing friends, to minister to many ministers and to pray with congregations and several local ministerials. I have visited people in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. I am now back in Moncton, New Brunswick, a very natural hub for the rest of my time in the Maritimes. Today was a travel day; tomorrow includes another one-on-one with a minister and planning for both Sunday worship services at St. Andrew’s in the morning and the Prayer and Praise service at Riverview in the evening. Wednesday will be my second Sabbath on this trip. I need it as I am physically and emotionally drained.
Thursday I travel up to the Miramichi region of New Brunswick to meet with two ministers and to host another Prayer and Praise evening. Please pray for all these meetings and services. May God grant me favour in the words I say and in my ability to listen well.
I can sense the prayers of God's people. On Thursday night after sharing time at a minister's home with his family, I experienced a terrible racket under my car. To make a long story shorter, I was able to get it looked at Friday at the only place in Charlottetown that I could find, even though they were "booked up". Instead of needing significant work, they were able to weld a joint for under $70 and I was on the road again in hours. God is good.
The high point of this trip so far is Encouragement. I love being able to tell congregations and individuals that supporters and supporting churches have sent me with the intent of encouraging them. Some people smile. Some people have tears in their eyes. All appear moved and blessed. Thank you for providing your prayers, and for many of you, your financial support. I believe it is making a difference.
Time continues to race on. In my last email I was anticipating a Sabbath day. That had to be delayed as opportunities for ministry continued to open up.
Since I last reported I have spent time in Sackville with the minister there and travelled back to PEI to visit with Lonnie and Joan Atkinson. Lonnie shared his involvement in Wellspring, an amalgamation of four churches and their plans to possibly build a new church. I doubt many of us could keep up with Lonnie even in his retirement.
I had the privilege of spending a good session with Andrew Hutchinson, the Leadership pastor for the Presbytery of PEI. Watch for more information of his ministry in retirement in the June Record Renewal column. What a blessing to be able to spend time with both Lonnie and Andrew.
Then yesterday I moved up to the Miramichi to Chatham and booked in at the Derek and Yasmine Krunys manse. Shortly after 6:00 p.m. people started arriving from surrounding Presbyterian churches. By 7:00 p.m. when our Praise and Prayer service began, we had folks from seven churches with some travelling over an hour to get there. I shared leadership with Derek and also Glen Sampson. Also present were a couple of the lay leaders who help minister to the congregations that are vacant or in multi-point charges.
The service was awesome with great singing and a most wonderful time of prayer for The Presbyterian Church in Canada. I was blessed mightily. I have attached a picture below of most of the folks that gathered. (Some had to leave early and some were already in the kitchen preparing for the fellowship hour that followed).
Participants drawn from seven churches for a Prayer and Praise Service in Calvin Presbyterian Church in Miramichi (Chatham), New Brunswick
So now I really am going to get away and rest. The final few days of this trip include a lot of travel and a lot of meetings. I need to rest and recover, preparing for the final push.
So far I have driven 4,200 km.
I have flown 1,820 km.
I have attended three Presbyterian prayer times.
I have attended three ecumenical prayer times.
I have been at worship twice.
I have attended a communications workshop.
I have had coffees one-on-one with a bunch of folks.
I have shared a restaurant meal with eight ministers (often with their spouse) and numerous meals at the homes of ministers.
I have billeted twelve nights.
I have shared encouragement and greetings more times than I can remember.
I have met hundreds of folks.
Please pray for me to get recharged over the next 24 hours.
It has taken some time and emotional distance from the road trip that ended May 20th to be able to sit down and write this wrap-up letter. Partly, it is a need to recover emotionally more than physically. When you open yourself up to the stories of both friends and strangers, you become part of their joy and pain. For me, certainly more extroverted than introverted, I reached my limit over and over again.
Partly, I needed time and distance to integrate properly all that I experienced in those three weeks. So many faces and so many stories. Such a diverse set of stories at both the individual and congregational level.
Before sharing my learnings, I should tell you where the last days of my trip took me. Sunday, May 17th, I preached at St. Andrew’s, Moncton, in the morning. It is such a privilege to share worship in a vibrant, clearly-purposed congregation. In the evening, Bethel, Riverview, hosted another Prayer and Praise gathering. Praise leadership and musical interludes were provided by Cathy Cook. She is so gifted!
Monday the 18th, I headed for Thetford Mines, Quebec, and spent time with the minister there. Tuesday, I headed to Presbyterian College in Montreal to meet with local ministers there and at the continuing education program. Tuesday night, I had the privilege of addressing the Presbytery of Montreal and sharing time with old friends and new. Wednesday the 20th, after three weeks on the road, in the wee hours of morning, I pointed the GPS to my favourite destination: HOME.
Now to sum up. In many ways this trip was parallel to last year's trip west. The need for encouragement is sometimes so evident as to be heartbreaking. The isolation and disconnection of many clergy is disturbing. For many congregations, the future is either murky at best and clearly terminal at worst.
However, only the most despondent did not respond to the words of encouragement I was bringing. They were touched by the effort. They seemed more moved by the fact that people they had never met had sponsored and prayed for this trip and are prepared to stand together with their fellow Presbyterians across the land.
There were some differences. This time, because of previous contact, we experienced more than a few "second" conversations. In most cases, the conversation this time was more upbeat and encouraging for me. However, a few were darker and more discouraged talks. Pray for our clergy daily!!
I had the opportunity to share a dozen times of fellowship with ministers together with spouses. This was usually over a meal. I found these times a real blessing. We have some very wonderful, supporting ministry partners out there. Pray for them too.
There was a lot of concern across the Maritimes concerning the matters being discussed at General Assembly this year. These concerns were expressed by folks taking positions on both sides. While I tend to spend more time with those from the evangelical/conservative perspective, as they invite me more, I also am seldom turned down by more liberal brothers and sisters. The majority I talked to out east are very concerned what the collateral damage will be.
Last, I learned that this kind of effort is not possible in my strength or even the Renewal Fellowship's resources. So, it is good and proper to end this journey's story with gratitude.
First, I could not have possibly done this without divine, supernatural help. God gave me strength and refreshment when I needed it most. God went ahead and prepared opportunities and open hearts. God directed my activities with often surprising detours and chance meetings. God continues to direct my path within a diverse family of Presbyterians.
Second, this trip would not have been possible without our supporters of this Encouragement Road Trip. The prayer support was critical and noticeable. The financial support was foundational. Even though the budget we prepared was too small, as I ended up driving 6,000 instead of 4,000 km, there was sufficient to pay every bill.
So, thanks be to God and to you. May Jesus be praised.
Now some of you might ask what comes next. Be in prayer about this. My current belief is that next year I should concentrate on the places in Ontario I haven't gotten to yet. This might take the form of a couple of two-week trips. We will see.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Over 500 Facebook members viewed our final road trip post last week. It leaves me very encouraged.
Again, thanks be to God who gives us the victory.
– Fred Stewart, Executive Director