Category Archives: Barrie Church Crawl

Church 27 – St. George’s

I spent last Sunday morning at St. George’s, another Anglican church.   As well as being Palm Sunday, the service was lead in part by Bishop George Elliot, the area bishop for York-Simcoe.

I liked the liturgical nature of the service.   Rather than listening to a lecture where the point of the talk is pushed in your face and reinforced with bullet points on the screen, the approach taken on Sunday gave us space to reflect on the Palm Sunday story.  Bishop George noted that most of us present were very familiar with the passion week narrative, and suggested that rather than rushing ahead, we take some time during the week to ‘dwell’ in the story, for example by contemplating the thoughts and actions of the minor characters.

We also had an opportunity to do this during the service by participating in a responsive reading.  Being part of a crowd yelling ‘crucify’ made me think about why we would be saying that.  I suspect that it’s very easy for us to see someone that society has condemned as a loser, as a criminal, or as an undesirable, and adopt that perception ourselves.  Even though the crowds in Jerusalem must have suffered under the unjust Roman regime, they were quick to accept the authorities’ condemnation of Christ.  It’s much easier to sidle up to power than to stand with the outcast.

One thing that concerns me about St. George’s is the demographic.  It seemed to me that the vast majority of congregants were retirees.  There is a lot I like about Anglicanism, and I think the Anglican approach to doing church has a several aspects that the postmodern, emerging generation may be looking for, but in Barrie at least it seems that they are not finding it here.

Church 26 – Emmanuel Baptist Church

I was less of an ‘outsider’ this week, as I’ve visited Emmanuel a number of times, and know quite a few members of the church.  In general I’ve also heard the church spoken about favourably by others around the city.

The first thing I noticed about Emmanuel is how incredibly well organised it was.  Everyone, from the parking attendants to the Sunday school workers to the sound engineers were doing their job with a practiced efficiency.  The service finished with a heartfelt extemporaneous prayer exactly one hour and ten minutes after it started.   The audio-visual were flawlessly executed, the musicians landed their openings perfectly, and the congregation sang enthusiastically and on-key.

The second thing I noticed about Emmanuel was its use of carefully controlled emotionalism.  The entire service is engineered to elicit a certain emotional reaction.  Writing this a week later I remember far more about the delivery of the sermon than the content.  I recall that the subject was Paul’s letter to the Colossians but I remember much more about the preacher’s style.

He told moving stories.  He showed us a picture of a truck nearly falling down a canyon.  His voice rose and fell, sometimes he was warm, sometimes impassioned.  He called us ‘friends’ a lot.  He came out from behind the lectern and reached out a hand to the audience, urging us to accept his point.

And, as far as I could tell, the whole congregation was listening with rapt attention.

It’s at times like this that I realise that I don’t really get evangelicalism.   Part of my goal during this journey is to understand the church in Barrie, and this requires understanding her practices.  Pretty much every church I’ve been to does the following:

  • Sing together.
  • Drink Coffee.
  • Some form of prayer.
  • Listen to a sermon.

Sometimes other rituals such as communion or confession are included.  Now, to a certain extent I understand the sacrament of communion.  My spirit is refreshed and I leave the Eucharist feeling like I’ve encountered some of God’s grace.  And I find myself wondering if the sermon is something of an evangelical sacrament.  Just as it wouldn’t be a catholic Mass without communion, perhaps  it’s not a proper evangelical service without a sermon.

It’s clear to me that the point of a sermon, however, is not education.   A university lecture is accompanied by textbooks, tutorial groups, practical sessions and tests, and operates in conjunction with these other teaching tools.  Furthermore, it’s structured – you know before you start a course what the curriculum is, what the prerequisites are, and generally you choose your subjects based on your interests or goals.

But I’ve yet to see a church where the sermon curriculum is published so congregants can see which ones they can skip because they’ve already covered the material.  Furthermore there’s little allowance made for the self-directed learner, who might want to read the material rather than listen to it, or remedial classes for those that are struggling with the material, or any evaluation mechanism to determine whether students are grasping the topic.

So I’m left with the conclusion that a sermon is about inspiration, not information.

Given the near-ubiquity of this style of doing church, this must be what a large number of people actually want.  Maybe for most people listening to this style of motivational, inspirational speaking for 45 minutes every Sunday makes them feel better prepared for their week, more focused, or more connected to God?

I want to understand this dynamic as I try to understand the church in Barrie.  So help me out!   If you’re a regular churchgoer, tell me why the sermon is an important part of your church experience.  Let me know why it appeals to you, and what you feel its benefits are.   Is it an essential element of church, or just an important one?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Church 25 – Calvary Community Church

This morning’s church was Calvary Community Church, located just outside the city limits on 5/6 sideroad.

I’ll get straight to the point  – I liked this one.  There are quite a few things that this church is getting right.

In no particular order, then:

I liked the decor.   The outside is ‘classic North-American church’, with pillars and a spire, but the inside felt more like a nicely decorated house.

I liked the mix of people.  There was a good range of ages and backgrounds represented this morning.

This might be my personal bias showing, but I liked the Pentecostal feel.  The worship was heartfelt and led by a competent group, and the  congregation felt quite happy responding with a lot of ‘Yes, Lord‘s and ‘Amen‘s.

The sermon lasted the best part of an hour, and I even liked that.  It’s not that common to find a speaker who can take quite a lot of theological material, deliver it in a very accessible fashion, and manage to keep the whole message both cohesive and pastoral.   I  heard from my ‘agents’ in the Sunday School that the same material was covered during the children’s ministry.  My agent was also pleased to report that her questions and contributions to the discussion were received respectfully, which has certainly not been the case in every church we’ve visited.

The message was anchored in Mark 11.  In the Old Testament, God’s presence was found in a specific physical structure, the temple.  But after Christ, his presence is now in humanity, enabling us to be God’s agents to one another, and for God’s ministry of reconciliation to work through us.

After the service it took a while to find someone to talk to; like many close-knit churches visitors can easily feel like outsiders.   But I did get to ask my standard questions about both this particular congregation and God’s work in the city.  This church, I was told, is learning to be more outward focused; learning to move into the community  rather than expect the community to come to her.   Furthermore, I got a strong sense of a desire to serve the city in both spiritual and practical ways.

This is definitely a common theme I’m seeing in nearly every church I visit.  Regardless of the specific ministries they are engaged in, there seems to be an awareness that the church in Barrie is being called to serve the city, and especially the under-privileged, in gracious, practical ways.

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Finally, I found the video that was used to start the service pretty funny:

Church 24 – Bethel Community Church

So, if last week’s experience left me feeling a little like an outsider, my visit to Bethel Community Church this week was the complete opposite.  I’m sure at least 10 people introduced themselves to me or my wife and welcomed us to the church.  This is definitely one of the friendliest congregations in town.  We even got to meet some readers of this blog, who had some very complimentary comments to make.

As an aside, my goal here isn’t to create an official ‘church directory’ for Barrie, but I expect that when I’m done this will become one of the most comprehensive descriptions of the congregations in the city.

The service at Bethel was another fairly typical Evangelical one.    The usual pre-service music, opening songs, greetings and announcements, and then what I thought was the sermon.

As it happens, Bethel likes its sermons, and generously provides several of them during the morning.   First we had a kids-oriented discussion about communion.  Unlike most Anglican churches where children are brought into the service from Sunday school to take communion, at Bethel they get given a talk and then sent out before it starts.  And whereas some churches I’ve visited have emphasized communion as a celebration of our participation in God’s family, the focus here was on encouraging the children to ‘make a decision for Christ’ at some point in their later lives.

After the kids were dismissed we had the second sermonette of the day, again about communion but this time focusing on the need for reconciliation with each other before we seek reconciliation with God.  I liked this bit; the speaker urged the congregation to take time, even during the service, to seek out others with whom they had disagreements before they ate together.

After communion another guy got up to give what I thought were going to be closing remarks, but actually turned out to be the main sermon.   The subject was ‘tithing’, and I’ve already reflected a little on this talk here.

Finally, just in case we didn’t get the point, after the last song yet another leader stood up to give a mini-message re-iterating the main speakers point.

Bethel is currently in between pastors, and so going through all the usual pastoral search committee fun that that entails.  This also means that a visit now may not be 100% representative of what the church would feel like in six months time – pastors like to stamp their character on a church fairly soon when they arrive in my experience.

I’d heard good things about Bethel from other folks in the city before I visited, and my impressions were of a warm, friendly, welcoming congregation that’s in the middle of a transitional phase.   I wish them all the best as they figure out the direction they are going in.

Church 23 – Collier St. United

Collier St. United is another of our larger downtown churches, steps away from the bar and shopping district on Dunlop street.

Unlike Painswick United, a small congregation meeting in a strip-mall, Collier Street has a large facility that it uses to the max.   The main sanctuary on Sunday was packed, and the balcony was mostly full too.

Collier Street strikes me as a very ‘involved’ church.  During the service, an ‘Installation of Officials’ was held; a recognition and commissioning of those serving the church in various capacities this year.  25 or 30 people came to the front for this part of the service. In fact, there’s clearly tons of activity going on here.  There were 60 or so events listed for this week alone on the handout sheet, and judging by the announcements, the church website, and the various bulletin boards around the building, Collier Street should win the award for ‘Church in Barrie with the Most Programs.’

The service itself followed a typical format; songs, announcements, performances by two different choirs, and a sermon.  Interestingly, although the topic of the sermon was Christ’s passion, the Rev. Dennis Posno chose to talk about Jesus’ life, not death, about Jesus’ passion for peace, for hope, for justice and for healing.

Collier Street is clearly a tight knit community, and like some other similar churches, it can be very easy for a visitor to be aware of their status as an outsider.   At First Christian Reformed, 4 or 5 people introduced themselves to me and welcomed me to the service before it had even started.  At Collier Street no-one really noticed my presence, despite the convivial atmosphere at coffee hour.  This is a tricky balance for any church to strike, between nurturing its existing community and being open and welcoming to outsiders.  But that said, I think if someone did take the time and effort to get involved, they would find it a warm and accepting community.

Church 22 – St. Margaret’s Anglican

This will be a short article, as I unfortunately arrived very late for the Sunday morning service at St. Margaret’s Church last week.  However, despite my tardiness, I had a very positive visit.

 

The building is only 12 years old, and has a wonderful airy design.  From the sanctuary you can look out through windows on either side directly into the subdivision the church is located in.   The architecture gives the church a feeling of being rooted in the local community.

I had an interesting conversation after the service with Reverend Stephen Pessah.  We talked about the fact that for churches located in urban cores, usually the needs of the local community are very obvious.  Poverty, crime, housing difficulties and so on are usually quite visible.  But in suburbia, although the needs may be very real, they are frequently hidden behind a veneer of respectability.  You cannot immediately distinguish between a a resident who is comfortably well off or on the verge of bankrupt – they may both drive an SUV, dress smartly, and so on.

Furthermore I’m convinced there are more forms of poverty than simply financial.  Our community can frequently suffer from relational poverty, as we isolate ourselves in our detached houses behind our ‘good neighbour’ fences.  Or we can suffer from poverty of imagination, as we trudge through a lifestyle we find unfulfilling but can’t imagine changing.   Or we can wrestle with poverty of hope – an inability to dream that life might one day be different than it is today.

St. Margaret’s will be holding a series of contemplative services during Lent, which I’m pleased to here.  I’m convinced that the church in Barrie needs a healthy contemplative stream of Christianity.  Brian McLaren, in his book ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’, says

I’ve noticed that among the people most dedicated to missional activism, you find either (a) people burned out because of the difficulty of the task, or (b) people who have best learned to undergird their activism with contemplation, with quiet resting, with finding God in the center of normalcy… Contemplation isn’t only for passive, withdrawn people, but also for active, involved ones.

Overall, I felt very welcomed at St. Margaret’s.   In many ways, Anglicanism still feels like ‘home’ to me.  I find that good Anglicanism strikes a very healthy balance: formal without being stuffy, orthodox without being exclusivist, liturgical while remaining accessible; a global denomination constructed entirely of local communities.

Church 21 – First Christian Reformed

When I told my daughter I’d visited the ‘First Christian Reformed’ church on Sunday, she asked me if it really was the first ever Christian church. I told her that, no, despite the name, it wasn’t.

However, it is a warm, friendly congregation.  Unlike some places I’ve been where I’ve been able to stand around at coffee hour for twenty minutes without anyone talking to me, at this church three or four people had introduced themselves to me, got me a coffee, and started to get to know me before the service had even started.  So full marks for hospitality!

This is another of Barrie’s larger churches, with several hundred people in the Sunday morning service.   The format is very typically Evangelical.  We sung several songs accompanied by a small band, there were announcements,  a short message for the children, a brief prayer,  and a thirty minute sermon.

I’ve found myself asking recently when and why the sermon replaced communion as the central sacrament of the Protestant church.   I’m sure no Catholic would feel that they had really ‘gone to church’ if Mass had not been celebrated.  And likewise, I suspect an Evangelical feels that they have not ‘gone to church’ unless they have heard a sermon.

It may not formally be referred to as a sacrament, but it certainly gets treated like one.   It’s clear to a casual visitor of this church that the sermon is the main point of both the Sunday morning meeting and, in fact, the entire building.   Just as an Anglican or Catholic church has as an altar as its focal point, this church clearly is centered around the pulpit.

I’m fairly sure that the point of the ritual of the sermon is about more than simple information transfer.  This is not just about educating a congregation.  Not least, there are clearly more efficient ways to transfer information.  You could read the texts for 52 sermons in a few hours on the first day of January.  And there are certainly more effective ways to transfer information.   Any decent degree program complements its lectures with tutorials to discuss the material, with practicals to investigate the subject first hand, and with exams to monitor progress.

As far as I know, most churches don’t have a formal curriculum, nor any way of assessing student progress, so I really don’t think that the point of a sermon is fundamentally about education.  And indeed, as I’ve been asking people on this journey why they go to church, I’ve rarely heard the answer ‘to hear a sermon’.

And yet we construct buildings, hire staff, and organise services largely in order to deliver sermons.   I can only assume that this is because we believe that sermons do, in fact, have some kind of sacramental value.  That maybe people are influenced in some spiritual way by the act of sitting in a chair and listening to somebody talk for thirty minutes.   And that this has to happen on a consistent, weekly basis to have the desired effect.

Understand that this is a general question, and not a criticism of First Christian Reformed church.  Pastor Mike Borgert gave an engaging message on Mark 1:29-34, although he somehow managed to talk for thirty minutes about a four-verse passage that includes multiple healings and exorcisms without really talking about the supernatural elements of the story at all.

But my question remains – why the centrality of the sermon?  When did this become the focal point of ‘doing church’?  And what are we fundamentally trying to achieve?

Church 20 – St. John Vianney

Yesterday I visited the third and final Catholic church in Barrie.   Liturgically it was very similar to the others, of course, although I did notice that unlike the other churches, as St. John Vianney they give both bread and  wine at communion.

I also finally had the chance to sit down with a priest after the service and talk a bit about the church.  This is the first chance I’ve had to talk to an ‘official’ representative of the catholic church.

I have a lot of questions I’d love to ask the entire Catholic hierarchy, not least ‘how can we patch up the appalling mess that we all made during the Reformation, and while we’re at it, the Great Schism as well, and get on with this whole Kingdom of God business?’

However, my time was limited.  So I stuck to my usual questions: “why are you here,” and “what is God doing in the city?”  And I got probably the most comprehensive answers I’ve yet heard.

The priest talked to me about the church being a place where people are both drawn in to worship God, and then inspired to go outwards and serve the poor and the needy.  God, he said, works through people, and he calls each of us to serve others.

Within the formal structure of the Catholic Church in Barrie, there are various organisations such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Women’s League that provide specific opportunities for individuals to serve the poor and demonstrate Christ’s love.   And St. John Vianney tries to pool its resources with the other churches in the city to more effectively have an impact on society.

All this I deeply respect, of course.  But I still find the lack of communion between Catholics and other denominations deeply troubling.   In answer to my inquiries the priest told me that yes, I really did have to pick one side of the fence or the other.  If you want to take communion in a Catholic church then you have to first take Catholic baptism, and having done so you would not be allowed to share in the Eucharist at another church.

As I’ve said before, I’m a passionate believer in open communion.  I don’t want to have to pick sides in a fight that happened centuries before I was born. I want to be able to eat, pray, and worship alongside my brothers and sisters from across the Christian spectrum.  And it saddens me that there are still ecclesiastical rules that forbid me from doing this.

I will say that I felt listened to and respected as I talked about this yesterday.  We may struggle with a great deal of historical baggage, but I am grateful every time I encounter someone who shares my desire to bridge the gaps that divide us.

 

 

 

Church 19 – ‘M’

Yes, today we visited a church who’s name is a single letter.  Because that’s pretty hard to search for in Google, here is their website!.

‘M’ was quite a contrast from last week’s Catholic service.  Instead of large, structured and formal, this morning’s service had an almost improvised feel.  ‘M’ is a new community, and so I suspect that at the moment there is no such thing as a typical gathering.    This morning was billed as ‘Bring It’ Sunday, a chance for all members to share a song, a thought, a poem, a reading, or a painting.

Personally, I love this kind of interactive environment.  ‘M’ meets at the Creative Space in downtown Barrie, which is an ideal venue for getting a bunch of folks together in a circle to drink coffee, share ideas, listen, talk, and learn.

In some ways, this feels very contemporary, but the idea of group-led worship is nothing new.  The Brethren movement has been doing this kind of thing for more than a century.  Following Paul’s suggestions in 1 Corinthians 14:26, a typical Brethren service, although centered around communion, sets aside a generous chunk of time for anyone present to share with the group a thought, a prayer or a song.

The difference between this kind of church service and a more formally structured one is, perhaps, like the difference between going to a classical concert and taking part in a drumming circle.  The former may be more polished, more predictable, and perhaps ‘safer’.  The latter may be more chaotic, but is definitely more participatory.  Everyone plays a part, and when done well, everyone listens to and responds to each person’s contribution.

‘M’ is still figuring out what it wants to be, I think.  But, if you’re the kind of person who prefers dialog to lecture, or improvisation to formality, then I’d recommend that you pay them a visit.

 

Church 18 – St. Mary’s Catholic Church

This visit was slightly different as we had been invited to St. Mary’s to attend the baptism of a friend’s child.

While I am very familiar with a large range of Protestant denominations, Catholicism is still a bit of a mystery to me.  However, it’s one that I am determined to come to grips with.  St. Mary’s is one of three catholic churches in Barrie, and there were probably around 350 people in attendance at the service we were at, the second of the day.   Barrie has a large Catholic population, as well as a number of Catholic schools and social agencies.

So, I can’t really say that I’m getting to know the churches in Barrie unless I understand this denomination.  However, so far I haven’t got very far. I’d love to have the opportunity to sit down with a priest or well-informed layperson and get to hear what Catholicism in Barrie is all about.  And because my passion is for reconciliation and cooperation, I’d love to hear stories about how the Catholic churches in Barrie are working with others to impact the city.

So, the service.  St. Mary’s has a large, bright, airy sanctuary, with the light and sight lines all focused on the central altar.

Coming from an Anglican background, the liturgy itself was very familiar.  We sung hymns, listened to readings from the Old and New Testament and from the Gospel, and heard a short homily.  This was very well delivered, and was a meditation on the question that Jesus asks the first disciples – what are you looking for?

Communion at a Catholic church is still something I’m getting used to.  For one thing, it still hurts to be relegated to the role of an observer at what should be a shared meal.  I’m a passionate believer in Open Communion; a priest I know invites all present to share the bread and wine with the phrase ‘We welcome you because God welcomes you.’   I love this approach, because it replaces endless theological wrangling over who should and shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a sacrament with a simple recognition of God’s grace and invitation to community.

There are also some practical issues surrounding Catholic communion that I don’t understand yet.  Why do they only share the bread, and not the wine?  What is the purpose of the locked box to the right of the altar?  What is an ‘Adoration Chapel’, and how does it relate to communion?   Some churches take time to explain what they are doing to newcomers; at St. Mary’s, even during a baptismal service, it’s kind of assumed that you belong here and you know what is going on.

So, if you’re Catholic, and live in Barrie, please get in touch with me!  I’d love to have the chance to have some of these questions answered.