Posted on July 6, 2016
Trip from June 24-27, 2016
My wife Janel and I made our third Canadian church visit trip in 2016 this past weekend, visiting the church congregations based in Toronto and North Bay, Ontario for the Sabbath of June 25. We had visited Toronto in January (before the North Bay congregation began), and the congregations in Alberta (Edmonton and Calgary) for Passover, the Night to be Observed and the first Day of Unleavened Bread.
Crossing the border at the Peace Bridge, connecting Buffalo, New York to Fort Erie, Ontario on Friday, we made our way to the city of Milton, the southwestern suburb of Toronto where the congregation meets. It would be an early start to the day, with pastor Scott Lord picking us up at the hotel by 9:00 a.m. to have time to fellowship with the Toronto brethren before the 10:00 a.m. start time for services.
Minor glitch—our meeting room had another group ensconced, deep into the progression of their own meeting! Not to worry—Mr. Lord spoke to the management of the Milton Sports Centre, and we were quickly set up in an alternate (and roomier!) meeting place. The Archer and Lee families quickly had the set-up in hand, and we began on time, with Justin Archer leading songs. Gemma Main provided the lovely flowers for the speaker’s table, and services were under way.
Mr. Lord delivered announcements, and I followed with a sermon on biblical examples that show the importance of striving to view our lives from God’s frame of reference, not limiting our mindset to our narrow human viewpoints. Following services, we had the chance to share some snacks and further fellowship with the small but warm and supportive group, and then headed north.
The North Bay congregation actually meets a significant distance south of the city of North Bay (presently in the tiny hamlet of Ullswater, in the beautiful Muskoka region of Ontario). This allows Mr. and Mrs. Lord (and the Johnsons, on this Sabbath!) the opportunity to “run the circuit” on one Sabbath per month. Services began at 3:00 p.m., with 17 in attendance.
One of the questions often put to Janel and to me on our trips so far has been “Why are we so small?” Mr. Jim Franks’ comments in his recent reports on his trip to Asia are echoed in Canada. The doctrinal deviation that destroyed the cohesiveness of the Worldwide Church of God in 1995 was devastating to the church in Canada.
From the annals of modern church history for Canada, the Radio Church of God sent Dennis Prather from Pasadena to Vancouver, B.C. in 1961 to open a regional office. Mr. Dean Wilson became the first resident regional director of the church there the following year, and served 14 years in Canada. By the 1980s, attendance had grown to nearly 13,000, with, at one point, 100 full-time servants in the ministry (including ordained ministers and trainees)! Today, numerous Church of God offshoots of the original WCG exist, with all being quite small by comparison. The number who attend the services of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, totals less than 100, in six congregations (up from four on January 1). Of course, for you “numbers people” that means there has been a 50% increase in the number of our congregations in Canada this year—from four to six! And from no Feast sites in Canada (for COGWA) in 2015, there are two in 2016—Victoria, B.C. and Orford, Quebec (a small site designed primarily to serve the needs of our French-speaking brethren)! There is no percentage attached to going from zero to two, so we’re calling that one “an infinite increase!”
While the numbers are small, the warmth and desire to be part of the Body is strong. The North Bay group has three attendees who are new to the church in recent months. They were all friends and neighbors of long-time church member David Candy, who died recently (you may recall prayer requests on his behalf). These three individuals were so struck by Mr. Candy’s obvious dedication, and the clear care and support from his church (through member and pastoral visits and cards of support from church members all over the world) that they determined to “look into things”—and are now attending services. Others in this congregation are long-time members, including the family of Aden and Shirley Bowman, who are well acquainted with the Johnsons. Their first pastor, when they came into God’s church in 1988, was yours truly, when my wife and I served in the Ottawa, Ontario area. Twenty-eight years later they’re “still stuck” with us, in one form or another!
It’s interesting to ponder the passage of time, the people in our lives and the tapestry God is weaving as He knits us together, isn’t it?
Following delicious snacks at the tiny but airy and pleasant township hall in Ullswater, the “North Bay half-dozen” needed to depart for their 90-minute drive home. The rest of us decamped to the Bowmans’ home nearby for two more hours of visiting, asking and answering questions, and a wonderful conclusion to a beautiful Sabbath.
Following an overnight stay a few miles south in Bracebridge, the three of us (Monica Lord had been unable to make this trip due to family commitments) made our way back south to Milton, where our (the Johnsons’) car was still parked at the hotel. We parted ways with Mr. Lord, after a very encouraging and full day-and-a-half.
Janel and I then were able to spend a lovely day at Niagara-on-the-Lake, a picturesque town of 15,000 (and Ontario’s first provincial capital), situated on Lake Ontario. Due to complicated travel plans earlier in the month on the actual date of our 43rd anniversary, we had determined to “add a day” to this trip to appreciate the milestone God has blessed us with. Mission accomplished! Many interesting sights here, notably including the Welland Canal, which connects two of the Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie) to form part of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Next on the “Canadian docket” for us is a much-anticipated trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland over the Sabbath of July 30. This will be the first time we have ever traveled to this unique and beautiful area of a truly gorgeous country, and we look forward eagerly to meeting our congregation there.