- Journey Notes from the Ontario Encouragement Road Trip 2016 – Fred Stewart
- A Vision for Renewal Fellowship – Nan St. Louis
May 19 Summary
I am sitting in my billet's living room reflecting upon yesterday and today: the first two days of this year's road trip. What a blessing and a privilege it has been to minister in this way! My first stop was Waterdown to attend a morning prayer group of mostly Presbyterian ministers.
Waterdown Prayer Meeting Participants
It was wonderful to renew acquaintances and to meet new people. After a time of sharing there was prayer offered up for all our ministers and their families as well as the denomination and its congregations and ministers. Lunch was followed by some one-on-one time spent with one minister.
Joint session meeting in Niagara
I then drove down into Niagara, and after supper with my billet, I was off to a joint session meeting for a two-point charge nearby. It was an hour or more of them sharing what they felt was important and how they felt they should move into the future. Lastly, I spent some time with a local minister and ruling elder passionately discussing the future of the church.
Today I had lunch with six of the ministers in Niagara Presbytery. There was active conversation around my road trip and the challenges of ministry today. I drove right from lunch to the Hamilton mountain to meet with another minister one-on-one. The discussion ranged from home and hearth to ministry strategy and staffing needs and communication.
Then I drove east across the Hamilton mountain to upper Stoney Creek where I got to have supper with one of Heritage Green's elders and then attend their session meeting. It was a delight to visit this exciting church, now named Family Church of Heritage Green, and it was encouraging to hear about the challenges of congregational growth.
So, numerous meetings, lots of minister and elder contact and one clear message: I can tell them all that I have been sent with prayer and financial support to speak encouragement into their lives and ministries. I share with them that folks across the country give and pray so that I can tell them that they are not isolated and alone but part of a family of love and support. And it makes a difference. I can pass on to you that it is appreciated. I have seen the smiles, the tears, and the hope that comes from this encouragement. So, thank you folks. Thanks for everything.
May 27 Summary
Since I last wrote you, over a week ago, much has happened on the road trip. On Saturday, I travelled north to Parry Sound and was hosted for dinner by Karin Cowan, one of our board members and treasurer for the Fellowship. Chris and Miriam Carter were there and the food was great and the conversation uplifting. Sunday morning I got to preach at St. Andrew's, Parry Sound. The long weekend drew a big crowd with many folks that I knew from Parry Sound and churches in my past. After church I was blessed to visit with the Missions Committee over lunch. We were joined by some Renewal Fellowship board members; both current and previous. I left Parry Sound realizing that the encouragement was both given and received.
On Wednesday, my first stop was in Barrie with Matthew Ruttan at Westminster Presbyterian Church. It was great to hear of the good things happening there. More and more young families are connecting with the church and VBC registrations are coming in quickly with their limit rapidly approaching. I then headed to Durham for a BBQ and Praise and Prayer time. I appreciated the presence of four ministers and some of their congregants. It was a powerful time together.
The next morning I met in Arthur with Ed Charlton. It was good to spend some extended time with him. After thoroughly discussing church, family, and life, we were able to pray together and be reminded of all the people who were praying for my trip and the ministers and ministries I encountered in this way.
Tonight I am in Wingham and get to share a time of prayer with a group of folks there. Tomorrow I head to Thedford to meet up with Christine O'Reilly, whom I haven't seen since seminary days. I look forward to discussing small church ministry and picking her brain on this subject that she is so passionate and knowledgeable about.
Yesterday I got a phone call from one of my pastor friends, asking if I would go visit a fairly new minister that was stressed. I was glad to say that this was exactly why we do these trips. So, please pray for this young minister and the time we will soon share together. Also pray for this old guy. I find I need to pace myself more and more carefully each year. I need strength and good rest so that I can be present and encouraging day after day, especially when I am meeting with those who are struggling. Thank you again for your support and prayers. I am happy to report that we are almost 100% funded now for this trip. God is faithful!
June 8 Summary
When I last wrote to you I was on the way to Wingham to meet with some of the elders. The church is currently looking for a full-time minister. They have a part-time minister on staff named Larry Skinner. Larry was not able to come due to a previous obligation. We had a wonderful time of sharing and a time of prayer for their search process and the future of their witness in Wingham. My billet for the evening was the Clugstons, Hugh being clerk of session. We spent hours discussing church and ministry. It was a wonderful visit.
My next call was a small gathering of pastors arranged at my billet for the evening. I found out that Christine O'Reilly's husband was having emergency surgery and Chris wouldn't be able to join us (He is recovering well). What a joy to spend many hours with Allan and Judith Farris and Janine Dekker. Allan and Janine are both ministers in Sarnia. We ended our evening with a powerful time of prayer.
Knox Presbyterian Church, Thedford
The next morning I joined Christine O'Reilly at her church in Thedford to share in worship. When Christine invited me up and I faced the congregation for the first time, imagine my surprise to see the church full of folks. Twenty children came up for the story. After church Chris met with some of the folks seeking baptism and membership. This is a growing ministry and very exciting. After church we lingered over lunch and she shared her challenges with growth and the Vacation Bible Camp upcoming that would see 200 kids in attendance.
Sunday evening I was invited to Andy Cornell's home in Chatham for dinner and discussion. He was joined by Mike Maroney, John Guirin, and Barb Sergeant, all ministering in the area. It was a lively evening as we exchanged views on a wide range of subjects. It was over too soon. I billeted with Mike and Jodi Maroney and had morning coffee in the garden with Mike. Mid-morning I headed off with Barb Sergeant to observe the community lunch put on by the Wallaceburg church. We came in during volunteer devotions. What a joyful and dedicated group. What a privilege to see them minister to the community in the name of Christ.
Monday evening I billeted with Chuck Congram. It is great to connect with Chuck as he has a great heart for ministers and is involved in mentoring many of them in formal and informal ways. I value his wisdom as we shared the experiences we were having and the observations we were making. He wanted to encourage the road trip and he did. We were invited over to St. Andrew's, Lakeshore to visit a class being given on the Holy Spirit. The leader, Pastor Glenn Hart, invited me to share encouragement with the group of about 25. Then they prayed for me and the road trip. It was a special time. Tuesday morning Chuck and I continued our conversation over breakfast. I drove to University Community Church in Windsor in time for lunch with Rev. Scott McAllister. Scott shared deeply of his passion and challenges in largely student ministry. Please pray for them.
I was able to make it home Tuesday evening and sleep in my own bed. Wednesday was a day off with family and errands. Thursday I was off to General Assembly with an evening of Praise and Prayer at University Presbyterian near York University (location of General Assembly). Thanks to Rev. Thomas Kim and his praise and hospitality teams. It was a small but enthusiastic gathering. Friday General Assembly began with the installation of the new Moderator, Douglas Rollwage. (You can see all of GA142 on the denomination's website.) As a commissioner, I found his leadership exceptional and Spirit-filled. I was able to host prayer times in space provided by the Assembly Office once again. The prayer was powerful and meaningful for me. Many people prayed for the road trip specifically.
Monday I travelled home and crashed on the couch. Tuesday (yesterday) was a day off with family, errands, and rest. Today, Wednesday, I begin the last leg of this road trip. I am heading to North Bay and then on to Sault Ste. Marie tomorrow. This trip ends next Tuesday.
At General Assembly it was clear that there was a lot of awareness of my travels. Many people stopped me to thank me and to ask questions. There was a significant number of commissioners present who I had visited over the past few years. It is wonderful to be greeted as a friend.
As I mentioned in my last letter, prayer and financial support has once again been so encouraging to me. We have actually received slightly more in contributions than we need. God is good and His people are faithful. I thank you and the recipients of the love and encouragement you have shown are also very grateful.
June 9-14 Posts
First stop on the last leg of the last road trip. Yesterday I got to spend the whole afternoon with Frances Saville, the minister of Calvin Presbyterian in North Bay. She shared some of the wonderful things that are happening. We could have talked longer, but it was soon time to prepare for supper and the evening gathering. About 30 came for the excellent potluck. A big surprise was finding Cal and Phyllis Brown at supper (shown in the foreground in the accompanying photo). They were visiting Cal's brother John and family. After supper we went upstairs, and by the time the program started, there were about 40 people there. After a time of praise and worship led by Frances and her wonderful worship leader Jennifer Levitan, I was asked to speak words of encouragement and to share about the road trip and my two congregations. Then we had a time of Q&A. They were so keen and enthusiastic!
Potluck at Calvin Presbyterian Church, North Bay
I then got to ask them about what they loved about their church. Many of them spoke about prayer, the studies they had done, the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit and the journey they were on. The energy was palpable. They were so affirming of Frances and her ministry with them. They also affirmed Jennifer and her music and prayer leadership. Lastly, they all came up to lay hands on me to pray for the road trip and my safety and effectiveness in encouragement. A number of them prayed and I felt God's power moving through them. Some of you may remember that North Bay was my first stop on my first official Encouragement Road Trip 2014. I thank the Lord for the blessing and encouragement I received from them.
Second stop on the last leg of the last road trip: Yesterday I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie in the late afternoon to stay overnight with Charlene and John Wilson. Over the next many hours, we had a wide-ranging conversation covering a multitude of subjects. Occasionally John would ask what or who we were talking about now! I was especially interested in Charlene's D. Min. project with anxious women. It is always amazing to me how I can meet with strangers or, like the Wilsons, casual acquaintances, and leave mere hours later as friends. It was such a joy to share our stories of ministry and family and to experience deep connection for all the things we have in common in ministry and in Christ. It was well worth the drive to the Sault. I look forward to the next opportunity to connect. Maybe the Wilsons will come to Lagoon City some day.
Sunday morning I was able to worship in Ottawa with St. Paul's and their minister Grant Wilson. Grant graciously introduced me – and the road trip – to those present. I was afforded the opportunity for some important conversations after church.
Grace and Grant hosted me at lunch and we were able to cover a lot of territory in a few hours. Things are well with St. Paul's. They have two services and active ministry to youth, college kids and children. It was a wonderful morning.
Sunday evening found me in Trenton. Minister Luke Vandercamp hosted some of his leaders and myself to a Sushi supper. It was a fitting last call on this road trip. There was appreciation for the encouragement shared and a deep commitment of prayer for the denomination and its people.
A tired but content roadtripper then headed his car towards home.
Number of kilometres: 4876.60.
Number of different beds: 22.
Joy of sharing encouragement: priceless.
My last trip is done. Thanks to all who shared their ministry and lives with me. Thanks to all who made this trip possible. Thanks to all who viewed, liked and shared these posts.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
The Renewal Fellowship Board met in Nobleton (thank you Jeff Loach and St Paul's!) in June and the purpose was to seek a vision for the future – one that will include a search for our next executive director, and directions for the Fellowship as an agent for renewal in the Presbyterian church in the coming days.
Every one of the board members was present for this, one via SKYPE, but, of course, we are short a few board members these days, so we are seeking those whom God may be calling to join us in this work.
Looking back on the past five years, we certainly appreciate the work that Fred Stewart has done. The pastoral direction he has followed has certainly benefited a lot of people, and our increased presence in The Presbyterian Record through Fred's writings has been a blessing.
As we thought together on the way forward, we realized afresh the need to leave some things behind and to embrace new ways. The truth of the scriptures must never be lost, but communicating them in the past looks quite different from today's methods and language. Renewal has more to do with spiritual transformation than with institutional survival and the church going forward will look quite different from the church of the past. We discussed some of the various initiatives across the church toward renewal and it is encouraging to see that, whether it is mentoring or congregational development or congregations getting together to worship and pray, all are encouraging and the Renewal Fellowship looks forward to supporting and working with congregations and leaders.
We hope to upgrade our website so that it is more informative, easier to update and navigate, and interactive. Fred's presence on Facebook has been well received. We made a few small but, we feel, significant revisions to our vision statement, so that it now reads:
- Our vision, passion, and hope is to experience God's renewal in our lives, our congregations, our courts, our theological schools and everywhere Canadian Presbyterians gather. Our mission is to bring Presbyterians together for prayer, learning, discussion and mutual support in groups large and small, and to create environments where all God's people can hear His call for renewal and respond together.
We look forward to getting together again in August for a time to fellowship together and to further explore some of the ideas arising from our visioning, and to plan and prepare for our search process and a celebration of Fred's ministry as he retires as Executive Director on September 30.
Renewal Fellowship Board,