The WMS Council met at Crieff Hills Retreat Centre from Tuesday May 1 to Thursday May 3.
We began with a time of praise and then Southwestern Ontario Syndical led us in our opening worship. Using our theme, A New Day!, they reminded that each and every day is a new beginning and a perfect gift from God. Following this, we had a time of games where we got to know each other better and enjoy the gift of laughter.
In business, the financial budget was passed, and the auditor’s report was approved. We also worked through the WMS Constitution and Bylaws, which was accepted with some minor changes.
During our evening, we enjoyed a wonderful presentation on Haiti by Alexis McKeown and Janet Brewer. Haiti is the poorest country in Western world, but just knowing that, means you miss out on what makes Haiti interesting.
Council members were also encouraged, at their leisure, to participate in some stations about Haiti, including a prayer station and a colouring station. We also got to enjoy some Haitian cuisine: gingerbread cake and Haitian hot chocolate.
Our first day ended with Central Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda Synodical leading worship.
Wednesday, after a time of praise music, Quebec and Eastern Ontario led us in our opening worship centred around Joshua 1:9: I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
This was the perfect introduction for our speaker, Pauline Brown. Pauline said that when she heard that verse shared this morning, she nearly leaped out of her chair. She reminded us that the Lord is with us wherever we go. It’s true. She also reminded us that we don’t learn from the good times, but the bad times.
Pauline began her time serving in India in 1954, working with the mobile medical units in Mendha and Barwani. She says that the community health work in Vindhya Satpura was some of the best in the area. Although this work is finished (and the government is doing more), now it is the churches that are flourishing. There are young Bhil pastors who care about the church and that are speaking out. There are strong leaders in the church because of the faithfulness of the church in Canada over the years. Many of the churches have expanded! (Last year they had over a thousand young people come for confirmation.) The congregations are growing and they work together in their building expansions and their programs.
Pauline says that these churches want to continue the rich partnership and relationship they have with the WMS and the PCC. She acknowledges all of those that went before her—planting, plowing and watering. She says that she is enjoying the fruit. The people in her community love the Lord. They are strong. They are wonderful friends. She says to the WMS, “you have helped establish God’s church in this part of India and it is strong.”
Following this, Mary Jane Bisset led us in a Bible study on John 21:1-14. She had us reflect on this passage using Lectio Divina as a group.
We also heard from the Rev. Peter Bush, Moderator of the 143 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. He gave a very information presentation on Residential Schools and on Winnipeg water. An important piece of this discussion is that our understanding of time is fundamentally different than the Indigenous People’s understanding of time.
For example, in talking with Band 39 of Treaty 3, he found they kept talking about the 13-point agreement. He discovered this agreement was from 1902, but to the Indigenous Peoples it is not given a date because it is a living document. It is as alive now as it was in 1902. It has changed how he thinks. Elders speak about a treaty in the present tense—they live now. We as settlers, tend to think in chronological terms—it is past so why is it relevant?
Peter also reminded us that we need to continue to issue our apology. He had the honour of speaking on behalf of the church at the site of the Cecelia Jeffrey school. He was heckled as he spoke. Yet, after lunch, the person who heckled him approached him and thanked him. This individual said he was still mad at the church, but thanked Peter for his apology. It is important that the words of apology be given in person as we continue to move forward.
Ian Ross McDonald Executive Secretary of the Life and Mission Agency, was our next speaker. Today, he was speaking on behalf of the Rev. Glynis Williams who could not be with us as she was in Malawi.
Ian says that mission is done in a community by communities. It is always focused towards hope.
International Ministries recruits and send mission staff overseas, provides grants for project in partner churches, and provides leadership development grants (which help individuals serve their churches and community in their own countries.)
Stephen Allen, Executive Secretary of Justice Ministries, then talked about his work. He says that Healing and Reconciliation became part of justice ministry during his time and it has overwhelmed the department in a good way. He was delighted when it became part of justice ministries, though he wasn’t hired as an expert in indigenous issues. He says it has been a journey for him—partly a journey in humility.
That evening, we enjoyed a wonderful dramatic presentation by Laurie Atkins. Through music and word, Laurie shared the story of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, his best friend.
On Thursday, the Rev. Peter Bush reflected on his year as moderator. He has shared prayers regularly with the denomination and has had an overwhelming response to these.
He also spoke of his trip to Taiwan. Within The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), he says that 40% of its members are in Indigenous communities. In Taiwan itself, the population that is Christian makes up only 5-6% of the population, but within the Indigenous communities, 50% are Christian.
He says that the PCT are missionary entrepreneurs. They are prepared to do whatever it takes for the gospel to spread. For example, the McKay hospital of the PCT has three branches and claims to have the largest chaplaincy program in the world with 17 full-time chaplains and 400 volunteers on the Christian side. They have a premier burn unit and preform the best palate surgery in Asia.
Peter also led us in worship with communion, and installed the 2018-19 WMS Council Executive.