Nestled around the rivers in east-central New Brunswick is the tiny pastoral charge called Bass River. Four congregations, each with their own unique rhythm, make up this country cluster.
In these past two years they have worked with their Interim Minister, Rev. Dr. John Allison, to hurdle some serious grief and, in the process of being listened to and working things out in their own hearts, they have come to some settledness and readiness to move on.
Together they have worked on two Alphas in the country firehall in Beersville. Several of the firemen are Presbyterians, so the firehall is central to country life. Each one of the two Alphas had approximately 40 people; in each case one small group was made up of seven or eight youth, and in each of these the leader had received the video training for Small Groups provided by Alpha. (In our view the Alpha small group training is some of the best available anywhere, and should be mandatory.) All ages worked together. Even the worship was an intergenerational experience. Michael Green says in his book After Alpha that we must not forget the community-building dinner nor the Holy Spirit weekend away. He's right. Taking the time and spending the money allows everyone to process the truths that much better. And the community holds people together when sometimes the work of processing faith issues makes one want to run away. In fact others from other denominations joined in the Alphas as well and the present-day result is a monthly Sunday Night Praise held in and conducted by various churches in the area.
Rural Bass River Presbyterian Charge is on the map! They are conscientious about church business; two of the little congregations run one-room Sunday schools; another hosted the Christmas pageant with "live" everything including tiny baby lambs and a live baby playing Jesus… each "baaa…ed" or "cried" at precisely the appropriate time! In another church building they host a yearly Women's Day away. This year, the first weekend in June the theme is helping hands. They care about their neighbours.
All church buildings are used at least every second Sunday, are well kept and one senses the presence of God as worship takes place. I think "friendship evangelism" is a reality in this river-defined area. The past two summers the charge has participated in two Children's Summer Festivals in the same fire hall. A mission team came, lived in the manse and told stories, acted out stories, re-enacted stories and celebrated stories such as Jehoshophat's prayer and praise that resulted the defeat of the three "Ite"-armies, and Joshua's obedient faith acts that resulted in the collapse of the walls of Jericho or David's faith in the face of a mighty scary Goliath.
Youth mission teams are a great thing for everyone. Two of those young missionaries are members of Bass River congregations. Reaching out to the children is also evangelism. All four congregations produce one youth group of about ten called Kent County Christian Youth (KCCY) and they meet every Sunday evening to worship and to learn and to build strong friendships. Four parents of youth are the youth workers that nurture young leaders. In addition, seven youth, mostly from that group, are just completing the peer minister training put out by Augsburg College. It is an amazing amount of personal work to be trained in the social skills of listening beyond your listening filter, learning to ask open and informational questions rather than closed (yes and no) questions, how to handle bad peer pressure, how to welcome a stranger, dealing with sensitive issues, working with authority figures, "how" and "when" and to whom to "refer."
As we left the Interim assignment with all these delightful people we saw again what working together accomplishes. A great party, in the fire hall of course, sent us off with their blessings. Where will they go from here? Well, we pray that the great things Jesus Christ has for them will unfold quickly. A new minister is being sought.
A parting gift to them tells it all. My Heart Christ's Home by Robert Munger was given to each one. That classic is all about faith-sharing, faith-growing, and faith-challenged. Jesus holds the key to our hearts. Jesus must hold the title and deed to the home that is my life. Jesus must have control of even the closets of my life.
What would happen if he was really lord of the manor?