It’s Not About Survival

On the final day of General Assembly, five individuals from across the country shared their reflections on two questions: What does it look like for the church to be on the edge of new possibilities? And, what does it look like for church to take those first steps into the crossing?

Here is a transcript of Corrie Stewart’s reflection:

My reflections will come from the perspective of being an elder. And being a young elder in my congregation; perhaps that’s hard to believe as I stand before you, but I am a young elder by a wide margin.

At least in my congregation, what it means to be on the edge from an elder’s perspective is to be on the edge geographically, way out in Cape Breton. Many elders think the national church doesn’t understand our context, our struggles and the challenges that we’re dealing with. I now know—and it’s been reinforced here this week—that you most certainly do. I hope to communicate that even stronger when I return to Cape Breton amongst my co-elders and amongst people in congregations.

To other elders, and a lot of elders, it also means looking for sustainability in the church. Which, in most elders’ minds, means survival of the congregations. It means keeping the church building open in the face of declining attendance, significantly aging congregations and financial pressures. It doesn’t directly mean, in their minds, finding new ways to engage God’s mission in the world. So I think first of all, that is the challenge. How do we change minds to understand that being on the edge is not about decline, fear and looking for ways to survive? It is about defining possibilities to engage God’s mission—not our mission—but participate in God’s mission in the world and in the place and time that we find ourselves.

There are signs of moving out from the edge and participating in God’s mission, even within my congregation. Several years ago a youth group was created. This has become a vibrant, strongly attended community group. It hasn’t translated into significant youth coming to worship on a Sunday, but it has provided an opportunity to witness 30 or 40 young people each week, many of whom have no connection with any other church. Our session has continued to see value in this youth group even though it has not translated into increasing attendance on Sunday mornings. They’ve continued to support it financially, and encourage the young people that come. There’s a strong contingent of the group is going to the Canada Youth 2012 in just a few short weeks from the congregation of Sydney Mines.

Another example of stepping out from the edge: When planning for combined Holy Week services, the Sydney Mines ministerial became aware of a loss of funding for a community group which was involved in providing assistance to young people looking for employment, and helping them improve their social skills so they could engage employers. This initiative has helped many who would otherwise be significantly challenged in finding employment. All the congregations involved in the ministerial participated together to raise funds during Holy Week, to offer encouragement and to continue to offer encouragement and hope that this initiative would continue.

I think it is by participation in such ministries that minds are changed as to what it means to be on the edge and that we begin to dip our toes in the waters of new possibilities—to participate in God’s mission.


About Corrie Stewart

Corrie Stewart is an elder at St. Andrew’s, Sydney Mines, N.S.