Monthly Archives: November 2011

Profiles of Hope – Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington I’ve mentioned Chrissie Wellington on this blog before, but I think she deserves a mention in my ‘Profiles of Hope’ series.  Chrissie is one of the outstanding athletes of our generation, comparable in her field of Ironman triathlon to Lance Armstrong in cycling or Michael Schumacher in motor racing.

She has won the Ironman world championship four times, so far, and in fact has won every single iron-distance race she has ever entered.  This fall her win in Kona came just two weeks after a serious bike crash that left her with major road rash and a torn pectoral muscle.

But Chrissie inspires me for more than just her athletic ability and determination.  She spent several years working in international development before becoming a professional athlete, and even since turning pro she has frequently used her fame to draw attention to the under-privileged and those caught up in conflict.

“It is my passion, and has been for a long time. Poverty, conflict, violence, crime, exclusion and so forth are not givens. They happen for a reason. We have the power to change things. And sport is one vehicle for doing so. It has the power to build bridges, to empower, to teach, to heal – this is what triathlon and every other sport should be about. I hope that I – together with the rest of TeamTBB – can, in a small way, help to inspire people to take up sport, realise their own dreams and their full potential.

– Chrissie Wellington,

Church 14 – Barrie Gospel Hall

Some of the churches that I’ve visited on my ‘church crawl’ have given a lot of thought to the new visitor’s experience.  Redwood Park creates a cafe style environment in the foyer.  Connexus uses the familiar environment of a movie theatre to make newcomers feel at home.  Barrie Free Methodist has a welcome centre to introduce you to the church and explain what to expect on a Sunday morning.

At others, like Barrie Gospel Hall, it’s assumed that you know what you’re doing. As I said in my previous post, I’ve had some experience of the various expressions of the Brethren movement, so I had some idea what to expect.  A complete newcomer might find the experience a little confusing, however.

The first thing that strikes a visitor to Barrie Gospel Hall is the clear separation between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’.  ‘Insiders’ sit in a square around the communion table, and ‘outsiders’ are gently guided to a secondary row of chairs at the back of the room.  It’s very important to folks in this church to draw a distinction between participants and observers of the service.

This is a small congregation, with 17 or so adults present this morning.  The first half of the service was a set of five-minute meditations given by various members of the congregation.  These were delivered in the form of prayers, and mostly couched in what sounded like 17th century English.  Interspersed with these meditations were several a capella hymns sung very well, if a little slowly.

Although the language was sometimes hard to follow, it was clear that all the meditations and hymns focused on Christ’s passion and crucifixion, and this focus culminated in the celebration of communion.  The bread and wine were passed around the ‘insider’ group, carefully avoiding  those of us in the ‘outsiders’ row.

The service wound up after a short sermon and announcements.

Fortunately, in common with all other churches in the city, Barrie Gospel Hall believes in sharing coffee and Timbits after the service.  I got to meet and chat with a few members of the church, and once more ask my favourite questions about what God is doing in the city and what the mission of this particular church is.

Once again, these turned out to be hard questions to answer.  The mission of this church is, apparently, to witness to the gospel and make disciples.  I feel that they may have some hard questions to ask themselves if after 70 years of following this mission they have a mere 14 members.

I was also left with a strong impression of ‘exclusivity’.  I was told very clearly that there is ‘One True Way’ of doing church, that Barrie Gospel Hall is getting it right, and that all the other churches in the city, by implication, are not.

It saddens me to hear this.  I’ve been thrilled to get to see over the past few months some of the different expressions of Christianity in the city, and the diverse ways in which people are encountering Christ and celebrating their faith together.  To be told that all the people I’ve met so far are misguided is not something that sits well with me.

My sincere hope is that the churches in Barrie can transcend their boundaries.  As Greg Neuman at Big Church said when I visited, “God is calling the churches of Barrie to compliment, not compete with each other.”


Profiles of Hope – Sebastian Castellio

John Calvin may have disagreed with nearly every aspect of Catholic faith and practice, but there is one area that he and the Inquisition stood in total agreement on.

Heretics should be executed.

Michael Servetus was a 16th century scientist and theologian who had the dubious distinction of being condemned as a heretic by both the Catholic and the Protestant authorities.  He was arrested by the Catholic Inquisition in France,  and sentenced to death.  Although he managed to escape, he made the mistake of then travelling to Geneva, where he was promptly arrested again, this time by the Protestant authorities, under the leadership of Calvin.

Although Calvin had split with the Catholic church many years previously, and had denounced the Pope as the Antichrist, he was in complete agreement with it that heresy should be punished with banishment, torture or death.  Michael Servetus was burned at the stake on October 27th, 1553.

In contrast to both Catholic and Protestant leaders who believed that religious truth must be promoted by the full force of the state, one man stood out as a voice of reason, compassion, and freedom of conscience.

Sebastian Castellio.

In his own words, “To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.

At great personal risk to himself, Castellio argued strongly and publically against the persecution of ‘heretics’.  To him, a heretic was anyone who disagrees with another on a religious matter.  Given the differences of opinion between religious authorities, everyone is a heretic by someone’s definition.

We might take freedom of religious conscience for granted these days.  Unlike the tumultuous 16th century,  I can live in peace with my Catholic friend or my Muslim neighbour or my atheist colleague. But the ideals that make it possible for our diverse Canadian society to flourish in many ways can trace themselves back to the pioneering teaching of Castellio.

As he said,  “We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace.”

General Assemblies – A Lesson in Patience

This evening I had the privilege of attending a General Assembly for Occupy Barrie.

Much of the media attention for the Occupy movement has focused on public protests and the aggressive way that some jurisdictions have responded.

However to me the most interesting aspect of this movement is its decision making process, which centres on the idea of consensus.  For someone used to board rooms, or company meetings, or parliamentary votes, this process must appear slow, unfocused and repetitive.  There is no ‘show of hands’, no chairman, no binding rulings.  Any individual can speak, and everyone is listened too.  A few basic mechanisms exist to ensure order, and a set of hand singles are used to indicate points of order, agreement or disagreement, and speakers running over their allotted time.

It became very clear this evening that ‘efficiency’ and ‘consensus’ are two very different goals.  This is not the way to quickly and decisively take action.  But I suspect that that is not the point.  I have a feeling that if the Occupy movement has any lasting legacy, it may well be that it introduces an entire generation to this alternative method for making group decisions.


Profiles of Hope – Rupert Ross

The first person I profiled in this series was a Christian monk.  The next person I want to talk about, strangely enough, is a criminal prosecutor.

His name is Rupert Ross.

During his work with Justice Canada, Ross examined and experienced the Aboriginal approach to ‘peacemaker’ justice.  In contrast with a justice system that focuses simply on identifying and punishing criminals,  this is an approach that addresses the full set of connections between the perpetrator of a crime, the victim, and the wider community that they find themselves in.

In his book ‘Returning to the Teachings‘, Ross describes a Native American approach to restorative justice called a Healing Circle.  This is a tool that gives a voice to everyone affected by the crime – the victim, the victim’s family, the offender and their family, and community representatives.

The ultimate goal is not merely punishment, but to break the cycle of crime, in part by bringing the offender to a point of recognition and accountability for the effect their actions have had.

Just as Brother Roger devoted his life to reconciliation between different branches of the church, practitioners of restorative justice such as Rupert Ross are dedicated to bringing reconciliation and healing to broken individuals and communities.


Profiles of Hope – Brother Roger of Taize

I’m starting a new series here, called “Profiles of Hope”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of hope.  It’s one of my key values.  And yet I find that hope can be a very esoteric concept.  It’s not something I find easy to define.

With that in mind, I’m going to start writing about some people who’s lives have inspired me.  People who have acted as if it is possible to make a difference in this world.  People who have used what they have to affect the situation they found themselves in for the better.  People who have creatively imagined a better way of living.

I’ll start with the fellow on the right, Brother Roger.

You can’t spend a long time in the Christian world without noticing that sometimes we don’t get on all that well with each other.  Since the Great Schism the Orthodox and Catholics haven’t exactly been on speaking terms, and since the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics have been refusing to play nicely together.

We are forbidden by our leaders from sharing communion together, and have been for hundreds of years.

Except for one man.  Brother Roger, above.  He founded the Taize community in France, and spent his life working towards Christian reconciliation.  His work was so impressive, that despite being a Protestant he received Catholic communion from two Popes.

Every year Taize hosts thousands of young people who want to reach across cultural and denominational boundaries, and many thousands more have been blessed by the music and simple liturgical style that the community inspired.   In the words of the current leader, Brother Alois:

“In Christ we belong to one another. When Christians are separated, the message of the Gospel becomes inaudible.

How can we respond to the new challenges of our societies, notably that of secularization and of mutual understanding between cultures, unless we bring together the gifts of the Holy Spirit placed in all the Christian families? How can we communicate Christ’s peace to all if we remain separated?”

The need for reconciliation is becoming clearer to me as I travel around the Barrie churches, and I can think of no one who embodies this ideal better than Brother Roger.

“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.”


Church 13 – Northside Bible Chapel

I came to Northside Bible Chapel perhaps a little more prepared than for some other denominations that I’ve visited so far.  Churches with the phrase ‘Bible Chapel’ in their name tend to be part of a lose knit denomination known as the Brethren.  My family has strong Brethren ties, I spent several years attending a Brethren church in Mississauga, and my wife and I were married in a Brethren church in Oakville.

There are several elements of Brethren practice and theology that I appreciate.  Perhaps foremost is the idea of the “Priesthood of Believers“.  This, quite simply, is the idea that a follower of Christ is meant to be more than just a consumer of religious goods and services.  They are all meant to be active ministers in whatever capacity God has gifted them.  In the Brethren church this is seen partly through the absence of a formal clergy.  Services are conducted by the laity, and in some services the floor is open for any participant to contribute a thought, a song or a prayer.

The other element of Brethrenism that I’ve always liked is the centrality of the shared meal.  They tend to celebrate communion every week, and much of their community life is built around eating together, potlucks, fellowship lunches, breakfasts and so on.

This focus on community was evident at Northside this morning.  Many people welcomed us when we arrived, and most of the announcements were devoted to various community events: Bible studies, men’s breakfasts, birthdays and celebrations.

If I was a complete outsider, a couple of impressions would have struck me.  Firstly, this is clearly a very conservative denomination.  The majority of the women present wore head-coverings during the service.  Nearly everyone had a bible open on their lap during the sermon, with the pages rustling every time the preacher mentioned a new verse, and the sermon contained strong warnings against associating with the ‘wrong’ type of person.

The second thing you would notice is that this church really, really cares about soteriology. the doctrine of salvation.  A strongly Calvinist view of sin, repentance and heaven was repeated probably 10 or 15 times in various ways during the service.  As it says on their website, doctrine is important to the congregation of Northside Bible Chapel. I get the feeling that they see their purpose as deducing correct doctrine and then propagating it to those around them.

In every church I’ve visited I’ve asked the question ‘What is God doing in this city?’  I’m afraid I came away disappointed by Northside on this front.  Although they clearly have a warm internal community and are well connected to other Bible Chapels in Ontario, they were the first church who couldn’t comment on any external connection to the broader church in Barrie or the broader city in general.  This lack of connection unintentionally weakens both Northside and the rest of the Church in the city.



I’m tired.

I ran more than 50 kilometres this week.  As avid readers of this blog (all 3 of them) will know, I’m training for an ultramarathon.  Specifically my goal is to be able to run 50k in a single race.

Given how exhausted I am after having done that distance spread over 6 days, I clearly have a long way to go.

With the help of the Triathlete’s Training Bible, I’ve written myself a training plan based around a series of four-week cycles of increasing mileage.  Next week I get to take it a bit easier, and then the kilometers will start building up again. Despite my fatigue I’ve been pleased at the way my body has been responding.  On Monday I ran 29 km, the furthest I’ve ever done in one go, and although I was tired at the end my hips and knees didn’t complain at all.  Clearly the work I’ve been doing re-engineering my running style has been paying off. Apparently my body responds well to a high cadence, and to running in sandals or barefoot.

There are different theories as to whether you should incorporate any speedwork while doing base-training.  I’ve chosen to do one fast 5k tempo run every week, so as not to lose my speed completely, and that seems to be working fairly well.  On Thursday I did my 5k only a few seconds per kilometre off of race-pace.

I’m getting a renewed respect for the serious athletes who do several times this mileage week-in, week out.


Where are the Anabaptists Hiding?

As I slowly make my way around the churches of Barrie, I’ve encountered a number of streams of Christianity.  I’ve met Pentecostals, Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans.

But I haven’t yet found an Anabaptist church.

This seems to me to be a glaring omission.  Are there really no Anabaptists in Barrie?  While this has never been a huge movement globally (I understand that there are only two Anabaptist churches in all of England),  I know that they are strongly represented in Southern Ontario, especially in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.  And in Oakville we have what I suspect is the only Anabaptist ‘mega’ church in the world. But none apparently in this city.

I have a huge level of respect for this tradition.  During the Reformation Anabaptists were persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics for their approach to Christianity, and to the present day they have been seen as very ‘fringe’.  Yet they bring some very important emphases to the theological table, and I think that we would be poorer without their contributions.

Anabaptists are known for a number of distinctives, including a focus on Jesus’ teachings as summarised in the Sermon on the Mount, a history of building close-knit communities, and a practical ethic of serving basic human needs through such organisations as the Mennonite Central Committee.

But to me perhaps the most attractive facet of this stream of Christianity has been their centuries-long tradition of peace and restorative justice. Anabaptists are known for choosing non-violent approaches to resolving conflict, for sending peacemaker teams to conflict zones, and for working towards the restoration of broken relationships.

Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers, and I know of no other denomination that has made this ideal such a central part of their theology and praxis.

So, where are the Anabaptists in Barrie?  Have I just not found them yet?  Are they hiding somewhere?  I hope so, because their voice needs to be heard in the conversation.


Church 12 – Hi-Way Pentecostal Church

One of the neat things about living in a city like Barrie is that it gives you the opportunity to witness so many different streams of Christianity.  So far I’ve seen bits of the sacramental stream, the liturgical stream and the evangelical stream.  On Sunday I was expecting to see some of the charismatic stream, when I attended Hi-Way Pentecostal Church on Anne Street.

As it happened, it turns out that Hi-Way is a lot less Pentecostal than I was expecting, but a lot more focused on social justice.  In fact, I’d say that of the churches I’ve visited so far none have been so connected to the needs of the community and involved in so many community programs.  Hi-Way very much has a focus on seeing and meeting the needs of those it encounters.

While I was their on Sunday I met people involved in the Out of the Cold Program, the Coats for Kids program,  the Angel Tree program (which seeks to meet the needs of the families of prison inmates), Samaritan’s Purse, Campus Alpha and Christian Business Ministries.

During the service we heard about the work of a missionary family in Costa Rica that is helping people out of drug addiction and prostitution.  We also took time to remember the persecuted church around the world, and to pray for both them and their persecutors.

I suspect that Hi-Way is one of the key connecting churches in the city.  If you want to know what’s happening in the city, where the needs are, and how they are being met, you could do a lot worse than to wonder down to Anne St. on a Sunday and start asking questions.