On a warm Sept. evening in Grande Prairie, AB, a group of about 20 Anglicans listen intently as Bishop Fraser Lawton (Athabasca) reads the story of Peter stepping out to walk on water in response to his Lord’s call. Their weekend together at Christ Church Anglican will include delicious meals, contemporary praise music, Bible teaching and deep prayer—all part of a weekend mission event called FaithLift.
FaithLift is the fruit of conversations at Athabasca’s synod 2 years ago at which synod members identified some growth edges: “We really need some equipping in various areas with regard to community, discipleship, knowing the gospel better for ourselves and being poised to share that,” said Bishop Lawton.
But how could the diocese extend itself to help congregations in this way? A place to start was to look at diocesan structures and adapt them to the diocese’s newly clarified vision. “We had an Executive Archdeacon for a time but had had no one for 2 or 3 years. In that time we thought ‘What do we really need?’ Yes, we need administrative backup but that’s not the biggest priority. The biggest priority is congregational functioning.” And so the diocese did create an Archdiaconal position—but one with a major twist. This would be the Archdeacon for Mission Development, a position that was then filled by the Rev. Canon Terry Leer.
Instead of focusing on administrative duties, the new Archdeacon engages directly with conregations, equipping them in evangelism and in ministering to the particular needs of their communities. One of the priorities for the new Archdiaconal position was the creation of mission teams. There was a desire to “make the boundaries between parishes more permeable in order to make better use of the gifts of both clergy and lay people, especially those gifts that are ‘transportable.’” The FaithLift teams fit the bill. Neither the weekend events nor the teams themselves are “one size fits all.” Rather, the various teams, drawn from parishes across the diocese, design the theme and program to meet the specific needs of the local parish.
St. Mark’s in High Prairie is another parish that recently hosted a FaithLift weekend. Warden, Peter Clarke, describes the event: “One had a sense that a momentum was gathering, especially as we came back after the meal to continue hearing the word of God, and learning what that could mean in each of our lives.” The weekends usually include a time of prayer and laying on of hands—and it’s not just the clergy doing the praying. Clarke describes the “time to step out and make a step forward.” Bishop Lawton asked the Holy Spirit to surround the group and gave instructions to those gathered on how to pray for each other. “We would ask the Holy Spirit to come to that person, be present with them and fulfill their needs. We were set up in 2 lines opposite one another and given the words to say.” Clarke says this time of prayer was “very intimate…with lots of caring and compassion evident.” He says, “The whole room was immersed, and one felt the real presence of the Holy Spirit among us.”
For Karen Kovacs, the FaithLift weekend in Grand Prairie had a special significance. On the Saturday evening, she was recalling events in her life 20 years previous: “I didn’t realize how heavily it had been weighing on my mind, but it had been 20 years since I attempted suicide and ended up living, by God’s grace….So that was a really emotional thing.” Karen was praying with a FaithLift team member when another friend came alongside them. “Someone came up beside me and slipped her hand in mine and it was like a real strength—I didn’t know who it was because I had my eyes closed….But I had a sense after that that there was a real piece of me inside, somewhere in the centre of me, that sort of expanded and I could be filled with the Spirit.” At coffee after the service, Karen realized who had been holding her hand and asked what had prompted her to reach out. Her friend explained, “Well I was standing beside you and I thought ‘Well I should just take her hand.’ And then ‘No, that’s silly, why would I do that?…But I had a real sense that I needed to.” Kovacs reflects, “So when you have something like that happen, you really understand how God is with you at all times—if you listen for him.” Since this experience at FaithLift, Karen says her personal devotional life has deepened and she is “better able to hear God’s word.”
Following the diocese’s move to step out in faith, away from the old ways of running their synod office, parishioners from across the diocese have signed on to the sacrificial work of being part of the travelling FaithLift teams. And inspired by these mission weekends, Anglicans are deepening their walk of faith and being nourished and supported as they reach out to the needy and hurting in their northern Alberta parishes and communities.
Your ongoing, generous and sacrificial support of the Council of the North strengthens an Anglican presence in northern Canada.
Sharon Dewey Hetke
Council of the North Communications