Community Engagement

I love stories! I love to tell them (and I always seem to have one, much to the eye-rolling of some who graciously wait for the point of a discussion while I tell it); but I equally love to hear them. I love to hear the ways God is working through people and communities and neighbourhoods all through the CBWC. Stories inspire me, bring me to raucous laughter and tears of compassion, empathy and delight. I remember stories because I’ve connected with them. This month we are featuring some of the stories we’ve been hearing that have inspired us and others. Hopefully they will inspire you as well and cause you to celebrate along with us how God uses ordinary people in ordinary places in extraordinary ways as we join Him on His mission.

Our first story comes from Victoria, BC, and we highlight it as it demonstrates what can happen when we take the time to invest in what is important to those who live, work and play in the communities beyond our church spaces and join them. Our modernist approach has mainly concentrated on inviting people to come see what is important to us, yet—as the story shows—when we engage in what is important to others, relational trust is established and doors are opened for engaging together. ~ Shannon Youell

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David Dawson & fire Chaplain Ken Gill

Community Engagement
by Pastor David Dawson, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Victoria BC

Often, church members do not live in the immediate neighbourhood of their church building. At Emmanuel Baptist in Victoria, people travel from many locations to attend church services and events. Yet when a church is grounded to a particular location through a building, it is important for the church to be connected to the more immediate community. This responsibility often falls upon church staff and the volunteers.

At Emmanuel we have a long history of reaching out to students because we are located near the University of Victoria. More recently, we have been making more of an effort to connect with our neighbourhood and municipality. In the last few years a couple of doors opened for us through the use of our building.

In connection with the Oak Bay fire chaplain ,who attends the Peninsula Mission Church, we have been able to host a couple of appreciation dinners for local police and fire personnel. We have used our building and hospitality skills to bless our emergency personnel with a first-class banquet. This has also allowed us to connect with our mayor and council, who attend these banquets as well.

Another door was opened for us as local neighbourhood groups have asked to host events at our church building. These town hall meetings on such things as urban development and emergency planning have been ways in which I, as lead pastor, have been able to meet people in our community.

On one such occasion, we were planning to host an event which had to be cancelled on short notice because of a power outage. A few people from the immediate neighbourhood still came out to the event and hung around for conversation. Out of this conversation, a local neighbourhood association was born and Emmanuel was able to support this group through printing their newsletter and offering free space to hold meetings and luncheons. Through these connections some of our neighbours have even begun to volunteer time gardening and helping with our student dinners.

It is been a pleasure to build relationships with those in the church’s immediate neighbourhood. We have been able to create positive connections through providing rooms, a few pots of soup and the use of our photocopier.

In an age where community members are not making it a strong priority to attend church, we have found a way to make connections through simple involvement in community activities. We hope that God will use our physical assets to build friendships and help us to create a good reputation in our community.

SERVE is for Everyone

I wrote this article for CBWC’s Making Connections enewsletter, but wanted to share it here too. One of the things I love about SERVE is that it doesn’t matter how big your youth group is or how good your administrative skills are, your teens can have a life-changing week of learning to love God with all of their heart, mind and strength. Even if your church plant has 2 youth, bring them to SERVE! ~Cailey Morgan

Each year, youth from across the CBWC gather for SERVE, a week-long ministry of community service, worship, and making new friends. Last year’s SERVE saw the largest registration ever–over 325 students and leaders, not including volunteers!

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When over 20 youth groups descend on a town for a weeklong conference and mission event, the focus immediately seems to be on the ministry the kids are doing throughout the community. But just as important are the servers working behind the scenes to ensure the youth are being taken care of. One volunteer at SERVE 2015 explains it this way:

“Everybody is valuable and everybody who’s part of the body of Christ can be part of the body of SERVE. SERVE is twofold—the youth go serve the community, and then in the background there are those who need to serve those people who need to be replenished—to uphold them so they can go serve the community.”

Since 2014, Susan Pike has seen it as her mission to replenish the youth of SERVE literally by preparing their bag lunches. Pike, of New Life Community Baptist in Duncan, BC, first offered to make sandwiches for SERVE Cowichan, when she heard last-minute that there was a need. Susan had such a rewarding experience in 2014 that she drove across two provinces last summer to coordinate the lunch team for SERVE High River—with four daughters in tow.

“It’s more than just coordinating a bunch of people to slap sandwiches together,” Susan says.  It’s about letting go of who I am…it’s about putting all I have in that box.”

Susan’s 2015 team, composed of her youngest two daughters and a roster of about a dozen High River Baptist volunteers each day, prepared a mountain of 440 sandwiches daily throughout the week. As SERVE momentum continues to build, and registration grows each year, we can imagine the sandwich team will need more help in 2016 to meet demand.

Emmanuel Baptist Church in Victoria, BC, will be hosting SERVE 2016, and registration is now open at cbwc.ca/serve. For more information on how you can participate, contact Youth Director Tammy Klassen at tklassen@cbwc.ca.

Listening and Learning with a Blackboard

As we further explore engaging our communities, I want to introduce you to an out-of-the-box idea that First Baptist Church in Victoria has been experimenting with.

FBC Victoria is located right on the corner of Quadra and North Park on the edge of downtown.  They are overshadowed by a much larger and dominant building housing Glad Tidings Church, so much so, that people are often surprised that FBC is a church too!

To help the neighbourhood realize that FBC is there among them, Pastor Jeff Sears and congregation decided they needed to do something so “people realize that we are a church and we are active.”

They have installed a chalk board, complete with chalk, inviting those in their neighborhood to write to one another and the folk at FBC.  Pastor Jeff explained to a passerby who inquired about why the board was up that “our church needs to hear from our neighbours so that we can learn from them.”  Not to preach to them or to write pithy inspirational messages, but to hear and learn how the people in the neighbourhood around them view their world and the beautiful and not-so-beautiful aspects of life and purpose.

blackboard2Each week Jeff poses a question on the board, such as “What was your most life defining moment?”  One of the poignant responses was, “The birth of my child; the death of my child,”  a reminder that there are those all around us whose lives are defined by both beauty and anguish. Perhaps comments such as these will heighten our awareness that every stranger we pass has a story that they need to share and we need to hear.

The decision to put the board up came with risk: in Jeff’s words a “dangerous venture.” What if it was damaged or stolen (the board was caringly made by a congregant), or people write vulgarities and statements against the church, Christianity and God? It was a risk the folks were willing to take to engage their neighbourhood. The good news wasn’t shared by hunkering down in veiled places, but by exposure and risk. They decided that they wouldn’t erase anything negative people wrote about the church as long as it had something to do with the question posed, and though some people did indeed write vulgarities, they were often erased by other passersby. The neighbourhood began to own the board, one person writing, “I love this blackboard.”

The first week they hoped for a couple of comments to the posted question and were blown away with how fast the board filled up.  Jeff says that this told him that people want to be heard, to tell their story, to find meaning from one another in sharing story.  blackboard1

FBC Victoria’s Mission Statement articulates the thought around the chalkboard:  “We are a diverse community united under Christ in spirit and in action, transforming the heart of our neighbourhood.”

The approach to fulfil their mission is not to go tell people what to think, but to hear what others think and to find the intersection between their stories and the God story–how to bring their stories into God’s redemptive, restorative story.  All the questions posted on the board relate to the message Jeff shares the following Sunday, praying that some board contributors/readers will be curious to hear and share more on the questions.

Nora Walker, Board of Deacons Moderator at First Baptist, shared that one man wrote that FBC could make a difference in the community by giving him someone to talk to.  An attempt to follow up fell through, but a few weeks ago at an FBC-hosted BBQ, the same man showed up and connections were made. Nora makes a point of visiting local coffee shops and eateries near the church and has engaged with many people in conversation who now know FBC as the “church with the chalkboard.”  Often they then talk with her and tell their stories.

But there is also an inward reason for the board. Jeff says that he and his congregation want to become more aware of the thoughts and feelings of their neighbours, to not look upon them as strangers but to see that they have deep and important things to share.

It would seem to me that this concept, too, is part of all our discipleship. We don’t have all the answers, and we need to understand the questions and hear the answers from one another both within and without our gathering spaces. That we learn and are enriched by our diversity as humans; that we share in mercy and compassion both in painful and joyful events; that in the midst of both, we can find Jesus ever-present amongst humanity laughing with us, mourning with us and bringing the comfort of God in deep, meaningful ways.

What ways are you engaging the community around you, or in what ways are you imagining engagement taking place? We want to learn from one another how to be Christ’s presence in our everyday spaces and places. Write and let us know what you are up to so we can share your innovative and risky ideas here.

Pastor Shannon Youell
CBWC Church Planting Director
syouell@cbwc.ca