PresbyCan at a Quarter Century

In a pandemic, daily devotional more vital than ever

As the world prepares to enter a second year of physical distancing and restricted travel, PresbyCan Daily Devotionals promise to become more important than ever. For many devoted readers, the online ministry is a vital daily dose of scriptural wisdom. As some readers attest (see comments below) this ministry has kept them grounded in Christ in a world which has become somewhat unhinged.

With a volunteer staff of five, PresbyCan ministers daily to more than 5,200 people around the world through email, with 900 hits every day on its website as well as 600 readers on Facebook. There are over 8,700 devotionals in their searchable archives written by over 550 authors.

Those numbers are powerful. But there’s an even greater story behind it. It’s about how God works in ways we cannot imagine, preparing a foundation, piece by piece. Because of the sovereignty and providence of God, whenever we do something, however simple, we never know where the Lord will take it, or what effects our action will have.

All that is a fitting tribute as PresbyCan celebrates 25 years in May 2021.

The following is a first-person account of the PresbyCan story from one of its founders, Rev. Robin Ross – who is also Renewal Fellowship’s webmaster – who continues to guide the ministry in his retirement.

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“The roots of PresbyCan actually began in the mid 1960s. When I was in university 55 years ago, I was facing a 120-hour job of manual statistical calculations for a geography assignment. Computers were just coming into prominence, so I decided that I would rather spend 120 hours learning how to program a computer to do the work. I asked a friend to show me how to program those massive calculations on the computer. I grew to love writing computer programs immensely. Later on in seminary, as I stood watching the whirring IBM 360s in the Engineering building, I asked myself why I wasn’t pursuing a career in programming! I rationalized that computers are predictable, but people are more important, and re-affirmed my decision to enter the ministry. Little did I know that what I thought I had given up to serve the Lord would later become a major means of serving the Lord through these devotionals.

“Back in the early 1970s, straight out of seminary, I was posted to a two-point charge on the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan. As I was considering ways to do mission in our community, one of my ideas was to put an answering machine on a telephone line and record a brief devotional message that people could call in to hear. SaskTel said that if this outreach proved to be too popular, the line-up of calls could tie up the whole telephone exchange, so they insisted on multiple lines and call-switching equipment at business-class rates. The package was more than I could pay or ask my congregations to pay, so I abandoned the idea — or so I thought.

“My next charge was in Trenton, Ontario. During my time there, area ministers were asked to come into the local radio station and record three-minute devotionals to be aired at 8:00 a.m. each weekday. During that time, I wrote and recorded about 30 devotionals. I kept the scripts. Also during that time, the first desktop computers came out, so I bought one and learned how to program it.

“By 1996, I was ministering in Mission BC, and email and the Internet were just becoming popular. Michael Farris began PCCWeb with a grant from the church’s Experimental Fund. He posted a new editorial each week, but I suggested that he needed some feature that would bring people back each day. I suggested that he program a date function so that each day’s Presbyterian Prayer Partnership prayer request would be posted automatically without being manually changed. Michael took up the challenge, but instead of putting the prayer request on the home page, he put it on its own page. It looked pretty bare by itself, and he challenged me to write some devotionals to go with it. Daily made its public debut on May 25th, 1996. I used my 30 devotional scripts to get going, soon to be joined by 70 other volunteer writers. Within a year, Michael gave me access to the site, and I wrote scripts for the PrayerLine so that people could post prayer requests.

“By April of 1998, the Daily was still attracting only about 60-80 readers a day to our website, and I realized that we could minister to a greater audience if we sent the devotionals out by email. So I wrote computer scripts that would automatically send out the devotionals by email each day. I sent out emailed notices, and within two days, well over 200 people had signed up for this free service. That required more scripts to handle the subscriptions automatically. Obviously, we had developed a good reputation. People were subscribing from around the world. So often, people would write encouraging feedback saying that the day’s devotional was exactly what they needed to hear from the Lord!

“As my programming skills improved and my computer equipment was upgraded, I gradually added more design features. A year later, our circulation had reached 883 a day. Unfortunately, the growth had seriously cut into the time that I needed to spend on my congregational ministry. Reluctantly, I tendered my resignation to the church’s Internet Task Force. Instead of accepting it, they countered that at that time, I was the only person in the PCC who was trained to do this, and they offered me help in the form of Jane Anne Waller, who immediately looked after the subscriptions and feedback, and still does today. Garnet Schenk offered to moderate the PrayerLine and was recently replaced by George Myers. Mary Jane Hanson served for several years as the Submissions Editor. These days, I prepare devotionals for publication and record the podcasts, and James T. Hurd is the Devotional Editor while Terry Folster administers the Facebook page.

“When I look back on these desires and decisions of mine, I realize that God was preparing me for this ministry long before I (or anyone else) had even dreamt of there being an Internet on which a Christian computer programmer could present devotionals to a worldwide audience! It boggles the mind even trying to think about God’s foreknowledge – from before we were born! How could we ever doubt His care and loving kindness, seeing how He prepares us for unique ministries through our unique experiences? What a wonder and privilege it is to have the opportunity to exercise the gifts and inspiration that God has prepared for us, for His glory! And that’s not all that He has prepared for us: heaven awaits – the best is yet to come! Paul wrote, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b NLT). With unrestricted vision, He sees the whole scope of life, and how to fit in what we’re doing, right now, with His great scheme of things. We see only in part; we know only in part. Resolve today to trust His wisdom, who sees and knows all.

“As I think about my career decisions, there seems to be an important principle in life that something has to die before something else can be born. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) Jesus had to die before He was raised to new life. In order to serve the Lord in full-time ministry, I sacrificed my desire to do computer programming – the death of a vision. The Lord gave that back to me in an unexpected computerized ministry – the re-birth of a vision. So when the door closes, the Lord says “No!” or a dream of yours goes up in smoke, remember the principle of “the death of a vision – the re-birth of a vision.” In the Lord’s economy, what dies gives birth to new life somewhere else. We believe in the overcoming power of the resurrection – life conquers death. God gives back to us, in improved form, what we sacrifice to Him in obedience.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As with any volunteer-based enterprise, the future is never certain. Devotionals require editing and revision, PHP-based websites require constant supervision. Is the Lord calling you to lend a hand? Contact Robin Ross at rross@telus.net.

‘Calming reprieve in the hubbub of earthly matters’

PresbyCan readers voice their appreciation:

“In an increasingly troubled world, PresbyCan Daily Devotional reminds us of what is truly important, the love of God and His active presence in our lives. I have started every day for the past year with PCC Daily Devotional and the Bible reading selections. While the world remains troubled, PCC Daily Devotional is helping  me to live ‘in the world’ and not ‘of the world.’”

“Thank you! This message is exactly what we needed to hear this morning. We are going through difficult times, and now we are reminded of God’s promise for us through this verse in your devotional.”

“I love these devotions and every morning it is the first thing I read. Because of the devotions, I see God more and more in the ordinary things of my daily life and find myself asking what is God teaching me here now in this time.”

“I find the Daily to be a calming reprieve in the hubbub of day-to-day earthly matters that cause us stress and concern. Whether I read the Daily in the morning, evening or somewhere in between, I find it calms my thinking and reminds me that God is in control, that I am one of His children, and that He loves me in spite of my sins.”

“It blesses lives in need of spiritual uplift. Yes, you might say, the Daily blesses me. But that’s not very original. For me it is also God’s Daily dose of love, encouragement and instruction. Also, it is an uplifting Daily morsel from God’s word.”

“It seems to set my mind on the right path and makes a good start for the morning. . . . I have a granddaughter 16 years old that I have forwarded some very good advice to given in the devotional. Keep up the wonderful messages.”