The Main Thing
There are three things that St. George’s is doing to meet the challenges of the contemporary church.
The first is my personal posture in preaching and teaching. We are bombarded 24/7 with crises and calls to action on all sides. It can be exhausting as well as disempowering. We can never do enough. I have transitioned from preaching mostly law to preaching grace. The sermon and worship is now primarily a vehicle to receive the good news of what God has done and is doing in our lives. We are forgiven, we are not alone, and are forever in God’s good keeping. As a result, church has become for many a place of rest and respite rather than yet another moral harangue. The gospel has moral implications, but our work is never framed apart from the One who first loved us. God is real, Jesus is alive, and we aren’t left to our own devices. It’s a hopeful remedy to contemporary catastrophism.
Second, we have shifted our focus to explicitly bringing adults to baptism and the life of discipleship. This year we implemented an 8-month faith formation process called “The Way.” Structured in a similar way to the ancient catechumenate, candidates of a variety of ages and faith backgrounds were each paired with a sponsor from the congregation. These groups met together weekly for a home-cooked meal, followed by small group Bible study using lectio divina, hosting that Sunday’s scripture and sermon. Each session ended with each person praying for another. The process was open-ended, with a lot of space for questioning, wondering, learning, forcing us to trust God to work with people at their own pace (again, grace). This past Easter Vigil, we had 19 adults and children of The Way be baptized or renew their baptisms. This process has been transformative, with people learning how to listen to the scriptures for God’s voice, learning to pray for each other while being knitted into the community of faith. It has been a great success—one we will likely be doing again.
Finally, we are intentionally investing in children’s ministry. This year we employed a half-time Minister for Children, Youth, and Families, Sarah Provan. We have had a solid and consistent children’s ministry for some years now, but we have experienced our greatest growth so far post-Covid, with a high of over 30 children in worship this Easter Sunday. We may have the most flourishing United Church children’s ministry on Vancouver Island, and likely one of the most in British Columbia. Again, our strategy has been providing children with a strong biblical education and space of grace rather than moralism. Similarly, in our children’s ministry God is real and Jesus is alive, sparking a sense of joy. While forming children in faith early doesn’t guarantee adult disciples, it is still the easiest and likeliest way. It takes time and money, but most of all it takes a faith that matters. And for us this has been paying off.
Ryan Slifka shepherds St. George’s (Courtney, BC) as Minister of Word, Sacrament, and Pastoral Care. He was called as minister to the congregation July 1st, 2014, having previously served as Campus Minister for the United Church of Canada at UBC, and as Associate Minister at University Hill Congregation. As minister, Ryan is primarily charged with carrying our story and tradition forward, and empowering others in our community to live out the Way of Jesus day-to-day. VST Alumnus, MDiv, 2013.