Encounters with God

Cover Story

General Assembly is about the business of the church and that business seems dry to many. This year, along with the much anticipated and expected conversation on sexuality, usual amounts of time were spent on money and grammar. Still, only the most cynical would mock the assembly as pointless.

Really important things happen: Community happens, strangers interact with each other. Commissioners encounter people from other faiths and denominations. Time is taken to honour veteran missionaries and church workers. And, this year, commissioners were given an extended opportunity to talk with and listen to each other; to share divergent views in a spirit of openness and grace. Together, they crafted prayers for their church, and imagined what the kingdom of God is like. Through all of this and more, the richly textured tapestry of God’s dominion is glimpsed within the course of the meeting.

Which only serves to encourage each commissioner’s personal journey with Christ. They are engaged with Jesus, through whom they encounter God, daily. It’s something we don’t talk about often: General Assembly really is an enlightening spiritual journey for the gathered.

The Record asked 17 people at assembly to talk about the last time they felt God in their lives. They were chosen arbitrarily; often accidently if an opportunity was convenient. This is not a thorough survey, nor an attempt to represent every facet of the denomination. It is only the voices of these people and their encounters with God, who collectively represent a part of God and this denomination.

The remaining interviews, along with more reports and stories, plus hundreds of photos from General Assembly are available on our website. In these pages we begin by seeing God in our lives. This is all about God, and that God is infinite and beyond our imagination, yet present and active in our daily lives. We need to be reminded; these brief interviews are a start.

Please go online—presbyterianrecord.ca—and share your own story of the last time God touched your life. Or the most significant recent encounter. Upload a selfie and share a story to the Presbyterian Record Community Facebook page. Tell your story of God in your life. Let us remind each other why we do this thing called Church.

And shift the focus to where it belongs.

Karen Horst
Karen Horst – St. Andrew’s, Orillia, Ont.
Moderator, 141st General Assembly

Today [Sunday June 7th] would be one of those amazing experiences when you sense the collective body of people who are faithful to God and Christ and Holy Spirit, wanting to discern the leading of God and there’s been a real zeal to do so. And I know that we’ve had different opinions here and they are quite divergent and yet there’s been an incredible respectfulness and I sense the Spirit in the midst of that.

I know God every day of my life, but one of the most memorable that comes immediately to mind is the loss of a very dear friend who died
of cancer and we travelled that journey together.

Amber Frisa – St. Andrew’s, Strathroy, Ont.
I’ve come to General Assembly twice before and this time I get to see a lot of familiar faces. The first time was a great learning experience; it was my first time with a more official national level. The second time I came as a Young Adult Representative. The first time I came as an elder.

I recently felt God in my life during a transition getting separated.

It was definitely the most time I’ve spent leaning on God and letting God guide me through it.

All the way through, learning how Jesus would treat people and applying that to a situation where, sort of, left on my own devices I might not have been as nice as I was.

Does that make sense?

Brad Blaike
Brad Blaike -Summerside, P.E.I.
The last time I encountered God in my life was a couple of hours ago, in our small groups listening to each other.

I think in the process, the way it unfolded, there was this space to listen to each other, to really encounter each other. So, I found myself sitting at this table with people I’d never met before, people I didn’t know, and all of a sudden we were united in our fellowship, in our discussion.

It was really cool. It was a God moment. We didn’t all agree and that’s okay, we didn’t have to, we were united in Christ in that moment. I thought it was beautiful.

Nsa Archibong
Nsa Archibong – Nigerian, Toronto
God in my life, I believe, is always available to me. At all times. In my family and my work and in everything that I do.

I always feel that with that consciousness, certain things I want to do are not right—I always get that direction from God. On what to do. And how to do it. I always follow that direction.

And I do it right.

Most times. Sometimes I disobey. I get it wrong. But I listen to God for direction.

Jinnia Baiye
Jinnia Baiye – Faith Community, Toronto, Young Adult Representative
I encounter God in my life in everything I do. At least I try.

But I think that last time when I felt it was a real big thing for me—I’m in grade 11 and I had a test and I was doing something for my church and I stayed up really late that night. I did the test thinking I knew nothing but I put it in God’s hands and when I got it back I got 93 per cent, which is really exciting.

Dianne Douglas
Dianne Douglas – St. Mark’s, Malton, Ont.
I felt God’s presence in my life just a few moments ago during the worship service. The sermon (by Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls) really spoke to me and I could feel the Holy Spirit moving through the room.

Outside of Assembly, in my daily life, I always feel touched by God but profoundly felt very called over the past few months to a new adventure.
I’m going to be running as a candidate in my area for the NDP in the upcoming federal election.

I struggled mightily with it because it’s a huge commitment and there’s a lot involved and I wanted to be sure that God was calling me to it as opposed to something I thought I could bring talents to.

Dale Woods
Dale Woods – Principal, Presbyterian College, Montreal
I grew up in a non-Christian home. My dad was a staunch atheist, didn’t believe in the Church, didn’t believe in God and thought it was complete foolishness. When I was in high school, I met some people who were committed Christians and I got involved with them, got involved with their families and I thought, these people have got something that I don’t have.

That intrigued me and I pursued it more. My sense of what the secular world had to offer me was not very much: Get an education, work hard, buy some stuff and then die. These Christians seemed to have a sense of purpose, God was doing something in their lives; God was doing something in the world. Over a period of time I came to believe that was something I wanted in my own life. That was my conversion.

My father used to say to me that religion was all nonsense. I used to reply, yeah, maybe it is, but from what I can tell everything you believe in is also nonsense. At least a Christian faith has hope. I think I’d like to have something with hope

Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott – Leaside, Toronto
The last time I felt the presence of God might have been half an hour ago when I stood here before the General Assembly of the church and said out loud for the first time that I’m gay. I asked that my voice and the voice of people like me be included in the conversation from here on. That felt pretty close to God’s presence somehow.

The prayer for me has happened mostly in conversation with other people. A groundswell seemed to begin last year with the overture from East Toronto and then other overtures and the conversations amongst the people who were supporting that. I think particularly of conversations with a friend from my home congregation of Vankoughnet. She enlisted me in conversation. So, it was the building support from other people. And that made me think the time was right.

Roger Millar
Roger Millar – St. Andrew’s, Norwood, Ont.
I go to Costco every week with my wife. I stop to get a hot dog and a pop. I always say grace when I sit down. As I was praying one time I heard some derogatory comments about what I was doing, who I was talking to.

I ignored those comments but as I started to eat the person continued to ask questions. I said I was praying to God. And that’s when a conversation began.

The next week when I returned it was to find this gentleman was there to meet me and to carry on our conversation.

In subsequent weeks it was more to broaden, not only in terms of the theology—we talked about God and Jesus—but also with other members of his family and some friends joining us.

So, we went from a one-on-one conversation to a meeting that four weeks later involved seven people. I’m not sure where this is all going to end.

I’ll be there next Friday to see if my friends are there and to continue.

What’s interesting is that as this conversation has continued my new friends join me in prayer over the hotdog and pop.

David Moody
David Moody – Heritage Green, Hamilton, Ont.
I have been feeling God’s presence constantly over the last couple of days. The Holy Spirit shows up when you’re talking about ministry and the struggles we are facing, and all of a sudden you’re like, there’s God’s presence, nudging us to pray for each other.

Today, yesterday, the day before, every day of General Assembly there’s been that God moment.

A moment before GA that is fresh on my mind, is of a single mom coming into our church, just looking for a place to do something with her kids. No church background, just looking for a place for the kids to get connected.

And watching the church just love on that family. And watching the kids become excited about what’s going on, and excited about Jesus and excited about this community.

And, me thinking, God you are so awesome, how did you do that? How did you just bring that family into our place and get connected just like that?
How did we all become family in just an hour and a half?


About Andrew Faiz

Andrew Faiz is the Presbyterian Record's senior editor.