A Summer’s Travels

Rev. Dr. Ian RennieDr. Ian Rennie, retired Dean of Tyndale Seminary, Toronto ON, lives in Vancouver BC, and worships at Fairview Church.

This summer my wife and I were invited by one of our daughters to join her and three other friends for holidays in Newfoundland. This is not the kind of invitation to which parents have to give much consideration, so we spent an exhausting and exhilarating two weeks on the Rock. Cavorting whales, the glorious mountains and fjords of Gros Morne Park and the Viking millennial celebrations captivated us, while the unexpected and prevalent economic well-being on every hand was a cause for gratitude. At the same time, as Christians, evidences of God's kingdom were matters of a great interest as well.

The major denominations in Newfoundland are the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the United Church, the Salvation Army and the Pentecostals. The Catholics are particularly strong in the southerly parts of the island, and on our first day we met an excellent representative in the person of the warm-hearted and jovial Loyola O'Brien, who took us whale-watching. The Anglicans, usually high church and theologically orthodox, are prominent throughout the province, while Methodism, which joined the United Church of Canada in 1925, is strongest in the northern parts, in places still retaining some of the fervency and zeal for which original Methodism was renowned. Two great renewal movements in Newfoundland Methodism, the one in the late nineteenth century and the other in the early twentieth helped to give rise to the Salvation Army and Pentecostalism. These two denominations are probably stronger in Newfoundland than in any other part of the western world, with the former claiming 8.5% of the population and the latter 6.5%. One Sunday evening driving into Deer Lake, a transportation hub in western Newfoundland with a population of some 5,000, it was a joy to see packed parking lots outside the adjacent Salvation Army and Pentecostal churches.

For me personally, one of the outstanding experiences of Newfoundland was the reminder of the great medical missionary, Wilfred Grenfell. He was a famous Canadian Christian hero when I was a boy in the Winnipeg schools some sixty years ago, but today in most parts of our country he is largely forgotten. However, as we drove into St. Anthony, the leading town near the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, we were forcefully reminded of his sacrificial ministry among the isolated and usually poverty-stricken people of northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador from 1892 to 1929, and by his colleagues for many years thereafter. There was the large and modern Grenfell Hospital, which still draws patients from a wide radius, the Grenfell Home on a hill above the hospital overlooking the harbour, and the relatively new Grenfell Centre, which with the use of modern museum technology brought the missionary and his work to life.

On Sunday morning in St. John's, Newfoundland's capital, we went to St. Andrew's Presbyterian for worship, and I was delighted to find that David Sutherland, formerly of Nova Scotia, is now the minister. He preached an excellent biblical sermon and after the service over coffee told us that he viewed the appointment of John Vissers as principal of Presbyterian College, Montreal (PC) as one of the most encouraging decisions in our denomination, and that his son was seriously considering PC to prepare for the ministry. There are only three Presbyterian congregations in Newfoundland and we need to pray for them, their ministers, and their ministries, in their relative isolation.

For the last three days of holidays my wife and I went alone to the Magdalen Islands (Iles de la Madeleine) situated near the centre of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and a part of the province of Quebec. These seven islands are famous for the great sand-dunes which unite all but one, with two of the dunes being at least fifteen miles in length, and topped with grade A highways, while the annual seal hunt may result in more notoriety than fame. As the banishment of the Acadians from the Annapolis Valley sent some of them, and their descendants, to lands around the Gulf, so they were the original fishing settlers of the Magdalens, today comprising 95% of the population of 14,000. The other 5% are anglophone Protestants, many of whose ancestors came from Nova Scotia in the nineteenth century, and who live in two fairly isolated and homogeneous communities, namely Grosse Isle with the adjacent territory of Old Harry at the northernmost point of the archipelago, and Entry Island to the east, reached only by ferry. The Anglos are all Anglicans, as a result of active home missionary work by the Anglicans a century-and-a-half and more ago, but as a new history of the Anglo-Islanders asserts, they did not appreciate the High Anglicanism often associated with the diocese of Quebec because many of them had a Presbyterian background and upbringing. We wondered if there was any Protestant witness among the francophone population, so on our last day on the Islands, driving toward the district of Etang du Nord, we were greatly interested to see a simple, modern building with the sign "Eglise Evangelique." We stopped to offer our Christian encouragement, but unfortunately no one was around.

One of the greatest blessings on the Magdalens was the visit of George and Jan Robertson and their younger daughter, Katie, who came by ferry from their summer home on PEI for a day-and-a-half. George lived with our family for a year while at Regent College, Vancouver, before completing his ministerial training at Knox College. Many students have stayed in our home over the years but none has compared with George, so he and his family are very dear to us. We shared many things, one being about students that George was counseling regarding the ministry, and how, once again, they were setting their sights on PC. As we talked we began to think of the number of children of friends in the ministry who were responding to the same call, and we thanked God. We spoke of Chris Little of Innerkip, Andrew Allison of Leaskdale, Kirk MacLeod of Keswick, Alex MacLeod of Knox College and Director of Student Ministries at Knox, Spadina, Toronto, Roland Devries of PC and interning at Cote de Neiges, Montreal, and Joel Sherbino studying youth ministry at Tyndale, and then on to PC, among others. We were reminded that just as healthy congregations need first-generation converts as well as children of the covenant, so healthy denominations need both ministers from secular and pagan backgrounds as well as those who are products of the manse. And it is encouraging to see that prayers in this regard are being answered.

As we left the Magdalens for Montreal we were aboard a milk-run flight, stopping three times before we reached our destination. But we were glad, because one of the stops was at Mont-Joli, which reminded us of a summer ministry at nearby Leggatt's Point Presbyterian Church in August of 1962. Ron Rowat, the devoted Superintendent of Missions of the Synod of Quebec and Eastern Ontario, who was such an encouragement to us during the period of Ordained Mission Field service, made the arrangements, and he certainly introduced us to an unusual situation. Not only did I conduct the service of the local congregation, which was part of the only Anglo community on the North Shore of the Gaspé Peninsula from Quebec City almost to Gaspé town, but also a few miles away in a summer building, for members of the Montreal "aristocracy," many of whose families had maintained holiday homes at this spot for generations. Along with a great deal of fun, one was convinced again that the same gospel — thoughtfully and sensitively presented — is the power of God for salvation for those represented by the one congregation as well as for those in the other.

On a previous trip through Montreal last Christmas we had the privilege of having dinner at Dorval Airport with the Vissers family, but sadly for us this time they were away on holidays. However, we did receive information of the largely increased student enrolment anticipated at PC this fall, and that our old friend Clyde Ervine was in the process of settling in to assume his new position at PC as Director of Pastoral Studies. We first met Clyde when we were on a sabbatical at the University of Cambridge in England in 1978-79 when he was completing his doctoral program. It was wonderful to discover that this superbly gifted young Irishman felt called to work within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He shared that his vision was "to make dead churches live," and in my joy I could only assure him that he would have no lack of opportunity.

It was also a pleasure to hear of the great induction service for Kevin Livingston into the pastorate of Knox, Spadina, Toronto on Sunday evening, June 25. During its 180-year history Knox has been greatly blessed with a succession of godly ministers, elders and lay people, and Kevin has been raised up to continue this heritage. He is a fairly free-spirited Californian, a graduate of Fuller Seminary, served on the staff of First Presbyterian Church, Seattle, under the leadership of Canadian Murray Marshall, obtained his doctorate in Missiology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and through the influence of his Canadian wife entered the ministry of our Church, having served in First Church, New Westminster, BC and at St. Andrew's, Hespeler, Cambridge, Ontario. An induction such as this is a reminder of the importance of spiritual continuity in the life of a congregation, and a call to do all that we can to maintain this process.

It is now back to Vancouver, sharing in the blessing of being part of Fairview Presbyterian congregation and looking forward with special anticipation to the fall Alpha program. Of special interest to many Canadian Presbyterians will be a proposal that is being considered here on the West Coast. Regent College, Vancouver, an evangelical, international and transdenominational theological institution, over the years has devised certain special programs to assist students from the various world-wide denomination families. Since the largest denominational grouping is Baptist, it was natural to utilize the existing link with Carey Hall, a nearby theological college on the campus of the University of British Columbia sponsored by the Canadian Baptist Federation. Because the Evangelical Anglicans have great vision, they have established their own program, with an affiliation with Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, England. Since Presbyterians comprise the second largest body, it is now considered fitting if not overdue by many that something should be done. Most of the Presbyterians at Regent come from the PCUSA, with others being from Ireland, Scotland, Korea and various other countries. So, course planning will need much sensitivity to be relevant to all. At the same time, Canadian Presbyterians in attendance at Regent, many of whom are lay people, may be strengthened in their confessional allegiance or may be directed to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Also, those who have not yet found a denominational home, and there are many in a school with a strong lay orientation such as Regent, may see the Presbyterian Church in Canada as a desirable option. So as always in Christ's Kingdom, the future is bright with the purposes and promises of God.