We all have favorite things that we like to do individually or as families. Perhaps you have a favorite movie that you like to watch. As a family we have a Christmas movie that we like to gather and watch together every year at Christmas.
It is the National Lampoon “Christmas Vacation” with lovable but disturbing cousin Eddy. The story has a successful ending because Cousin Eddy was included and allowed to be himself. Well about four years ago as a Parish we started to “hang out” with the cousins in our neighbourhood.
In North Delta we find ourselves in an area where we are in walking distance of a number of other Churches of various denominations. I won’t make a comment as to who falls under the “Cousin Eddy” category. In some ways we are all so different we probably all seem a bit like cousin Eddy to the others.
At this point when we come together we are a gathering of Anglican, Fellowship Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Free and two congregations that are ethnic in focus: one that holds services in Punjabi and the other in Hindi. On occasion, depending on the liturgical calendar, the local Roman Catholic Parish joins us as well.
Many are familiar with the Ministry Assessment Program (the “MAP”) that has been helping parishes look outside their walls and reflect upon our Lord’s call to go into the world with the Gospel. The same principles are driving our relationships.
It started about four years ago with the clergy going out for lunch together to explore the idea of working together. It was a safe event with no commitments or expectations of commitments. It led to the clergy committing to gathering monthly for prayer and reflection and support of one another as we considered the question what should or could we be doing together as Christians in North Delta to make a difference in our community. We have tried a few things over the years. Some have worked and some went no where.
We have seen some clergy from other groups check us out and choose not to participate. We have had clergy from some of the denominations move on and in the interim have the church continue involvement as they search for new clergy – making the expectation that the new clergy would welcome hanging out with the “cousins” on occasion.
|The Rev. Al Carson of St. Cuthbert’s, North Delta.
Two new traditions have emerged. One is a joint Good Friday service that we hold at the local Secondary School. All the “cousins” bring something to this service. The focus though is not on what we bring but on Christ. This year will be our fifth joint Good Friday service.
We will also be holding our third Canada Day celebration this year. It has become a community event with the municipality working with us now on that celebration.
We will be hosting our third joint Alpha program. Not all Churches participate in that program because not all of them embrace the Alpha program—but that’s OK. We still continue to ask the question though: what are we called to do as Christians in North Delta. It is not an easy question to answer.
At this point we rejoice in the positive witness of Christians as diverse as our group actually working together. At the same time it has been challenging for many in the pews. One of the hopes of the clergy is that people would get to know each other and discover that they have neighbours on their street who are family in Christ and that together they can then reach out to other neighbours.
We have not made a great deal of headway in organizing those connections but have witnessed some of them happening naturally. We are also cautiously moving forward in discussions around youth ministry: cautious in that we seem to be moving towards some concrete outreach into the two local high schools that would include jointly hiring a full-time person to work in the schools and not in our churches.
The fact that we could even put on the table the idea of having a joint staff person reflects what is truly happening in North Delta. We all have our struggles and uncertainties in many areas, including attendance and finances. But we are not a group of churches just fighting for self-preservation and trying to maintain our status quo.
Instead we see that we are members of the body of Christ who together desire to embrace what John proclaims at the beginning of his gospel – “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Hanging out with the cousins is lifting our hopes and visions to the Glory of Christ. We enter a an exciting and challenging landscape. It is far more exciting and challenging than the one in our own backyard.