By Rev. Andy Cornell
I think I can, I think I can.
The unforgettable lines from the 1930 children’s classic, The Little Engine That Could, became a motivational mantra for generations.
And they are just as powerful today. I read the story – via PowerPoint – at our after-school kids program recently. It was an illustration of Proverbs 28:20: “A faithful person will be richly blessed.” I was taking a chance. Would the message come through despite the dated language and lifestyle? I delivered it with dramatic punch – and it worked! The kids chanted the lines with me. Timeless messages can shine through ancient illustrations.
In the same way, it’s worth knowing that an old-fashioned small group gathering retains its power in an age of online everything. That’s how my congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Dresden, Ontario, is tackling the reports handed down by 2017 General Assembly for study. We have partnered with Knox Presbyterian Church, Wallaceburg, and have contracted a recently-retired Presbyterian Church in Canada minister to take the lead. We started with two evening discussions on physician-assisted suicide. We heard intelligent questions, profound insight, and powerful stories. Four evening presentations and discussions on sexuality and marriage are on tap.
As moderator of the Presbytery of Essex-Kent, I took privilege and closed our September meeting with a pep talk. Our denomination’s action on sexuality and marriage will change us in a profound way, no matter what we do, hence the importance of these conversations at the congregation level.
Yes, the volume of documents is heavy, in every sense of the word. Yes, many of our minds are already made up. But we still need to gather, pray, and talk.
At the 2017 General Assembly, some commissioners were opposed to the additional motion to add the Life and Mission Agency (LMA) report to the document pile. We already have four documents, and the challenges of predominantly aging and declining congregations are already a burden for our ministers. I will never forget the final speaker, a young minister of a small-town charge: “I have no problem finding the time for important theological reflection,” he told assembly.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the conclusion of the LMA paper or are passionately opposed; we are called to study it. The Apostle Paul’s command to submit to governing authorities demands it. In Dresden and Wallaceburg, we are committing an entire evening to it.
On the issue of finding the time, our Saviour’s words in Mark 9:24 come to mind: “Anything is possible if a person believes.” Jesus was chastising His disciples’ inability to cast out an evil spirit, but this truth can be applied to any ministry. We can get through it. We can do it.
Gathering in person to pray, open the Bible, and apply its timeless truths to postmodern problems may be considered old school. But with faith, it will happen. We can wade through lengthy documents and provide Reader’s Digest versions on PowerPoint or in print, as many have done in recent weeks.
The Renewal Fellowship is encouraging all congregations, whatever their theological bent, to study these documents. Earnestly pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truths and untruths.
I think I can? I know I can, for anything is possible if a person believes.