The following is an article originally printed in the May 2012 issue of the Missional Voice newsletter.
How is this, “good news?” That has been the driving question asked by Pastor Kirsten Waldschmidt at Hope Community Covenant Church in Strathmore, Alberta. Five years of restlessness and transition makes ‘good news’ hard to find, at times. How do we bear witness to the gospel when our circumstances are troubled?
Here is the back-story, one that might be familiar to many churches in Canada today. The founding pastor and church community put down roots and planted a church in Strathmore, Alberta in 1997. Supported by the newly relocated Covenant Bible College and the excitement that comes from a growing town, Hope Community Covenant Church was poised for growth and impact. The church met in a junior high school gymnasium and eventually moved up to a large high school gymnasium, where they soon outgrew even the larger space. The church decided to “take the leap”. They pursued a large building campaign and took on extra staff. The die was cast, anticipation was in the air, the future was bright.
And then things started to go sideways. The local Bible College, which had provided enthusiastic students and faculty, closed its doors in 2007. Suddenly, the church was strapped for cash and the founding pastor was called into another ministry. The church faced a financial and leadership crisis. This began five years of uncertainty and transition. A new pastor was called, but it was determined he was not a good fit, leaving fresh wounds. The need for restructuring became apparent and the community, which enjoyed a healthy decade of growth, was wrestling with challenges and new questions they had not faced before. How is this good news?
Pastor Kirsten Waldschmidt speaks about the gospel and how the good news is about Jesus, not the immediate circumstances. She says:
“Jesus the Resurrected One is the Powerful One with all authority. He has the ability to take horrible things and redeem them: that’s what the gospel is. Even when the reality is that things are not good, the Kingdom economy offers the potential for redemption and Jesus has the power to do that. It’s a good place to be in that respect.”
Pastor Waldschmidt describes the congregation as being in a desert place where issues faced by the church no longer fit the common expectation. “This is a questioning time for the church. People are trying to figure out the new normal.”
In his book, God So Loved the World, Jonathan R. Wilson describes the gospel as, “a reality more real” than what we can dream (Wilson 2001, 20). For Hope Community Covenant Church, they are on a journey to discover this reality that may be different than the dreams they formerly had. With this in mind, Pastor Kirsten Waldschmidt has been taking a new approach, “instead of talking about the reality we see, I am telling the stories of maybe what God sees. The bigger Kingdom reality of what is going on here.”
Two Kingdom Stories
Since the beginning, Hope Community Covenant Church had offered their space for free to some community groups; this feels harder to do in the middle of financial crisis. Pastor Waldschmidt gathered with the leaders and told the story of one community group member who was faced with a painful home life. In the midst of brokenness, this person found the church building to be one of the safe places she knew. Waldschmidt recalls that this community member asked if she would be allowed to come to a worship service and soon began to attend. Today her whole family is participating in the life of the church and “good news” has come to her home.
Another story came from a group of church members who went to the local elementary school principals in Strathmore and simply asked how they could serve. The principals said that many students come to class without having breakfast. The church members went to work to start “School Fuel,” a volunteer-led breakfast program that now offers 100 children a muffin, cheese and an apple to get their day off to a good start. Pastor Waldschmidt says that for the members of the church, it was simply, “the Jesus thing to do, someone is hungry, so we feed them.” Church members and non-church members work together to run School Fuel. Waldschmidt says,
“People in the community want to help and volunteer with us and by doing so they get a taste of the Kingdom of God. We’ve sometimes operated under the assumption that someone must first become a believer, then mature in faith, then serve. We now believe that people come to learn something meaningful about Jesus as they serve.”
Hope Community Covenant Church is not out of the leadership and financial crisis of the past several years. Yet the painful realities facing the church have compelled the community to turn towards the good news of Jesus and the “reality more real” than any dream or struggle that they might contend with. By living attentively to this gospel reality, Hope Community Covenant Church is entering a new season of trust and mission.
Preston Pouteaux (DMin, Tyndale Seminary) is the Director of Discipleship Ministry at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Calgary, Alberta, and member of the Forge team. Preston lives with his wife Kelly in Langdon, Alberta and is an aspiring beekeeper. firstname.lastname@example.org