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.




Church 11 – Connexus Community Church

Once again I come away from a church visit with some conflicting impressions to figure out.  Connexus Community Church meets on Sundays at Galaxy Cinemas in Barrie’s south end.  As a newcomer, the location is obviously the first thing that strikes you.  While I’m not much of a movie-goer myself, for many people this will be a very familiar environment.  The church takes over most of the building on Sunday mornings, with one theatre being used for the main service, another for overflow, another for Sunday school and so on.

I like to assign a superlative to each church I visit; so Connexus is definitely the most ‘hi-tech’ church in Barrie.  Video is streamed in from another church in Georgia, and streamed out to a satellite campus in Orillia.  Sound and light are run from stacks of expensive audiovisual equipment, and we are treated to what amounts to a short indie-rock concert to start the service.

I have often said that architecture shapes theology.  Just looking at the building a church meets in, (or indeed any communally used building) tells us something about the thinking of those who meet in it.  The grandeur and floor-plan of a medieval cathedral makes some specific statements about the nature of man and God, with the entire building drawing your attention to the central altar, where Christ’s sacrifice is remembered.  The layout of a Quaker meeting house conveys a different message about God, and theology, and ecclesiology; the circular layout reminds us that ministry is a shared, communal activity.

I’m not sure yet what subliminal theology we absorb from meeting in a movie theatre, but it is a question that needs to be asked.  Connexus is just the epitome of a pattern that I’ve seen in many churches; a large audience watching a small group of professionals on a stage, and this is something I still feel very uncomfortable with.

Having stated my discomfort with consumer-church and piped-in video streams, I now have to admit that I actually found the sermon profound and insightful.  Andy Stanley gave a fascinating look at the book of Ecclesiastes that was very timely for me. King Solomon’s search for meaning in science, wealth, relationships and philosophy was expertly outlined.

I hugely appreciated his specific call at the end of the message to various groups.  He urged singles to focus on finding purpose in life, rather than the right ‘person’ or ‘thing’.  He urged married individuals to cherish their wives and families and not to trade the integrity of their relationships to chase after possessions or positions that will one day belong to someone else anyway.  And he urged empty nesters to not simply retreat to the golf course or the resort, but to share their wisdom and life experience with younger members of the community.  And he gave specific ways that his church enables that type of connection to happen.

Connexus has a very clear vision of being a church that the unchurched will love, and a mission to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ.  I heard this articulated from pretty much everyone I spoke to.  They also spoke positively of the other churches in the city and the downtown homeless ministries.

One person I met this morning likened their church model to a house, with a foyer, a living room and a kitchen.  The Sunday program is the foyer, where people can be invited in to an nonthreatening environment; and as they get to know the community better they can progress to the living room and kitchen.

I am aware that a Sunday morning visit only gives you a narrow snapshot of the life of a community, and maybe I need to start finding ways of connecting with churches outside their Sunday programs.  What would that look like?  Any suggestions would be welcome!





Connexus Redux

I forgot to say this in my previous post, but it really deserves a post of it’s own.

“We want the church in Barrie to be the type of church that the city would miss it if it vanished.”

– Carey Nieuwhof, Connexus Community Church

Church 10 – Celebration Church Barrie

I’m not entirely sure what to think about Celebration Church, one of Barrie’s newest congregations.  I have two distinct impressions coming away from this morning’s service.

First is the unavoidable issue that this church exists because of a ‘divorce’.  Celebration’s origins are in a group of people that chose to leave Trinity Anglican mostly, as far as I can tell, over the issue of homosexuality.

I often compare the church to a large, sprawling, fractious, dysfunctional family.  And like a large family she has her fair share of fights.  As someone who is trying to find the common life of the church in Barrie, and to see what God is doing through the whole family in the city, it’s always painful to be witness to these splits, conflicts and divisions.  No matter what the cause, the entire family is hurt when two members have a falling out.

The second impression is far more positive.  Celebration may well be one of the most diverse congregations in the city.  The 70 or so in attendance today represented a broad generational and ethnic mix.   The style of worship drew on the Anglican tradition, spiced with elements of Pentecostalism.   It was a reminder that the family of God is truly a broad and diverse one.

Celebration Church is meeting on the property of Inniswood Baptist church, a location that is rapidly becoming a multi-church ‘campus’.  I think this could be a hopeful example of different congregations working together and complementing one another.

Once again after the service I got to share coffee and conversation with members of the church.  I get the feeling that Celebration church is trying hard to move forward from her acrimonious origins, and genuinely determine what God’s calling is for the congregation and the area.

So, 10 churches down and at leas 60 more to go.  Is yours on my list?  Any suggestions as to where I should go next?  I’d also like to start connecting with the various para-church ministries that exist in the city, to get an even broader picture of the spiritual life of Barrie.  Please tell me if you think there are people or organizations I should be meeting!


Problems of Abundance

Nearly all the problems we face as a society today are problems of abundance.

Over the millennia, as a species we have become very skilled at dealing with scarcity.  Our ancestors often lived on the edge of survival.  They were one long winter, or one disease outbreak, or one failed harvest away from devastation.

And we have responded to these challenges by producing more.  We grow more crops, we mine more coal, we extract more oil, we build more cars.  But very soon our society will have to answer the question: how much is enough?

Unemployment is seen as an under-supply of jobs.  But an equally valid way of looking at it is as an over-supply of labour.  A society with unemployed members is a society that, as a whole, feels that it is using sufficient labour, and has no need for the efforts of some of its members.

Obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers are also problems of abundance. A hunter gatherer society expends nearly every calorie it ingests in search of the next one.  But now we’ve figured out how to mass-produce calories.   Many of the health threats facing the developed and developing world are not due to lack of food, but to an over-abundance sugars, alcohol and tobacco.

Pollution, likewise is a by product of the increased ability of our society to make stuff.  Everything that we dig out of the ground, or make in our factories, has to one day find its way to the landfill or other resting place.

So how much is enough?  Is it possible for a society to say “we have enough, we do not need to increase production?”  Is it possible for an individual to say “I have enough, I do not need to acquire more?”  Can a society see its over-supply of labour as an opportunity, not a problem?

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet.

Church 9 – Trinity Anglican Church

Two words came to mind as I sat in Trinity Anglican church this morning.  They were ‘beauty’ and ‘brokenness’.

This is because there are two ways of seeing this church.

On the one hand, I could see an aging population, a building in need of maintenance, and a congregation still healing from recent conflict.

On the other hand, I can see a church that has been serving downtown Barrie for 135 years, and is the repository of a rich spiritual heritage.  Three specific things struck me with their beauty this morning.  They were architecture, music and theology.

Firstly, architecture.  This strikes you as soon as you walk into the building.  Trinity has the richest interior of any church I’ve visited so far.  The stained-glass windows, the ornate woodwork, the vaulted ceiling and the banners all collaborate in silently telling the gospel story.

Secondly, music.  Parts of the service were accompanied by guitar and vocals, and others by the choir.  There is something special about well sung choral music, and I was particularly touched by their rendition of Ubi Caritas after communion.  The English text, ‘where charity and love are, God is there,’ was very appropriate for the theme of the service.

Finally, theology.  Through the singing, the prayers and the sermon, we explored the idea that love for God and love for one another is inextricably linked.   During the coffee time after the service I posed my usual questions about the purpose of church.  We talked about the church being a community where we can both receive the grace and love of God, and also be inspired to live out God’s love towards others.

Trinity also lives out her calling to minister to the city by hosting the David Busby Centre, a drop in centre serving the homeless and at-risk of downtown Barrie.  Nearly every church I’ve been to so far has mentioned serving the poor as being a key part of what God is doing in the city.  Trinity is one of the places where this ministry is being lived out.

This is not a church without challenges, or brokenness, or pain.  But there is still something beautiful about what God has done here for more than a century, and what He is still doing.

The Prisoner’s False Dilemma

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a contrived game popular among mathematicians, used to model aspects of cooperation or conflict between individuals.

A False Dilemma is the presentation of two alternatives as being absolute and exclusive.

I think that we frequently become prisoners of false dilemmas.

We have a tendency to categorize people.  We like to put people in nice little boxes.  Often these boxes represent a binary Either/Or choice.  You are ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’.  You are ‘christian’ or ‘atheist’.  You are ‘Mac’ or ‘PC’.

The danger of these labels is that they frequently represent a false dilemma: they assume that there are only two options, and that these options are mutually exclusive.

Perhaps you live in Northern Ireland, and it’s assumed that you’re either Protestant or Catholic.  But maybe you’re neither?  Maybe your agnostic, or Hindu?  Or maybe you consider yourself part of the ‘catholic‘ (or universal) church, yet still feel there are church practices that need to be protested?  Or perhaps you consider yourself a ‘Protestant’, but don’t really feel like protesting all that much?

Or take political labels.  All too often I see political dialog reduced to a polarised conservative-liberal axis, as if there are only two possible stances on any political issue.  But what if we want to be both?  Maybe want to be conservative, in that I think there are many good things that should be conserved, or preserved.  And yet at the same time maybe I like the idea of being generous, which is after all a synonym for liberal.

Is it possible to transcend these labels?

Perhaps I can be a skeptic and a believer.  Maybe trust and curiosity can walk hand in hand.

Maybe I can be a Christian and a secularist.   What if I have strongly held religious convictions and yet still want to live in a society that doesn’t enforce a particular dogma, that creates space for people of all persuasions?

Fortunately, as a Canadian I live in a country where many of our discussions involve a plurality rather than a duality.  We have several viable political parties at the federal and provincial level.  Although our history has included binary contrasts such as French/English, Catholic/Protestant, we’re now a multicultural, diverse society, and as such it’s harder to lock people into small boxes.   It’s harder to see race, for example, in binary terms when your family is English-French-Norwegian-German, or your friends are Polish-Trinidadian-Canadian.

So let’s not allow ourselves to be locked in boxes.  And let’s take care not to force others into this Either/Or duality either.   Someone may disagree with you on one issue, but that doesn’t automatically put them in the ‘Other’ box, and make them your life-long opponent.

And as for me, I shall continue to proudly be a liberal, conservative,  skeptic, believing, questioning, hoping, geeky, athletic individual.

I’ll even reject the Mac/PC conflict, and happily use both, with a fair helping of Linux thrown into the mix.