While the Gospel call to salvation is the true and lasting Good News, it’s also true that people working together, sharing their successes and know-how is also good for The Kingdom.
In January 2020, the session of Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, PEI, sent an invitation to each congregation in the Synod of Atlantic Provinces asking them to share their success stories. “We are gathering Good News information from every church within the Atlantic Synod. By ‘Good News’, we mean special services, fellowship events, fundraising projects, etc. that have worked well for your congregation,” the letter said.
In faith, the seeds were planted. After a bit of work, the fruit was a 68-page collection entitled “Hear the Good News!” Categorized into 15 themed sections, it’s a rich mix of the expected, the unexpected and the genuinely delightful activities found in God’s earthly Kingdom.
Renewal executive director Andy Cornell asked Zion’s clerk of session, John Barrett, to provide a deeper look into thinking behind it and how it all came together.
Q: I note your closing thought [in the introduction page of the publication] in which you state your wish is to strengthen the PCC as we learn from others. I get the sense that we operate in a more congregational mindset these days. What’s the value of working together denominationally — especially in light of theological division and calls to create two national theological synods etc.
A: I’ve always been of the opinion that we have so much to learn from each other. During my six years on Assembly Council it was certainly an eye opener for me regarding the differences in styles and practices taking place within the PCC. What a wonderful melting pot of ideas and approaches we have going on within our denomination. By sharing our successes, we all become more successful.
Q: Walk me through the process — step by step from conception to distribution.
A: By using the Synod directory for names and addresses, I wrote to each minister and representative elder in every church within the Synod. I explained the project and provided them with two sample submissions from Zion Church so they could in turn send me their submissions in a similar word count and format. With people being people, many were either too long, too short, required editing, follow up emails etc. At the end of the day, however, we were able to create similarly styled and formatted submissions. As you would well know, many folks did not respond initially, so acting like a dog with a bone, I kept records of those not responding and basically hounded them until they gave in! I do think though that even those I likely annoyed were very pleased by the end result and that their congregation will benefit from at least one of these ideas. Once I had reached a point in time when I felt no more submissions were going to be received, I started grouping the submissions in like areas as noted in the table of contents. I then went about formatting the documents for type style, spacing, etc. Some folks were kind enough to include photos which I also incorporated into their submission. Once proofed, I started producing copies using the photocopier available to me at work. While I purchased paper specifically for the duplication, our firm absorbed the actual photocopying costs. Due to the length of the publication and the copies required, there were over 11,000 pages copied (two sides).
Q: Financial cost?
A: The only expenses we incurred were the spiral binding costs of the final publication, some paper, the postage costs for the initial introductory mailing and the mailing of the final publication. I had advance approval from session for a budget of $500. for the project. Actual costs came in at $686.
Q: If someone was to ask “How does this expand or serve the Kingdom?” what would you say?
A: It’s ironic really that in a day and age when communication tools have never been more plentiful and the world is getting increasingly smaller, that throughout our denomination we seem to be coming more and more insular.
Involvement in presbyteries, synods and even General Assembly for that matter are perceived more of an inconvenience rather than an opportunity to share in God’s Kingdom. As churches become financially challenged to keep the lights on, fundraising activities, rental solutions and other activities that lead us away from our respective mission statements tend to occupy our energy and focus. To rejuvenate our collective focus we need to increase our interest in what others are doing. We need to talk to each other and we need to take our participation in church courts more seriously. In our own tiny way, I think the Zion Church session initiative of creating Hear the Good News is a good start to get us talking, sharing, and ultimately expanding our Creator’s Kingdom. As we continue to cope with the restrictions of the coronavirus and approach a General Assembly where substantive changes in theological practices will be affirmed, there has never been a time more important than now to renew our relationships, rely on our fellow Presbyterians’ depth of experience and realign our approach to the fact that we are in fact a national denomination.
Q: You mention that this was distributed to other synod clerks. Was it disseminated elsewhere and have you received any response?
A: One of the unexpected benefits of this initiative was the communication that resulted following the release of the publication. Because the book was shared with all synod clerks and moderators across Canada as well as national office staff, churches in far reaching areas of the country were contacting churches within the Atlantic Synod to learn more about specific projects they had read in Hear The Good News. This communication alone was a wonderful side effect of the project, to say nothing of the positive impacts that the implementation of these ideas have had. Furthermore, I have heard from some presbyteries and at least one synod that they are hoping to produce a similar publication from the resources within their own court. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful project to be done on a national scale so that every church had the benefit of all the Good News being shared. Imagine, an 800-page document that contained all the best practices, worship concepts, fundraising ideas and the like from every perspective and approach contained in our rather diverse PCC.