Rev. Douglas Rollwage is minister at Zion, Charlottetown. He has moderated presbyteries, has convened and served on lots of committees at local and national levels, and has acted as a resource person at General Assemblies. He has also led pilgrimages to Israel, Greece and Turkey, which he describes as “intensive Bible study courses on-site.”
“It’s wonderful to have a group of people share that experience and come away with their faith just so energized. And then you can’t keep these people away from Bible studies. You can’t keep them away from wanting to read the scriptures.”
Rollwage says Presbyterianism’s rootedness in scripture is one of the things he loves about this strand of Christ’s church.
He didn’t grow up in the church. He came to the faith through the work of a Pentecostal youth group in his high school in Kingston, Ont. (“And it didn’t hurt that one of the girls was very pretty,” he adds with a laugh. “She ended up marrying the minister of that Pentecostal church. I never had a chance.”)
He attended a Kingston Pentecostal church and eventually began studies to become a minister. But, he says, “it soon became evident that the Pentecostals and I were not a great match for each other and to our mutual relief we parted ways.”
“I’d say what brought me out [of the Pentecostal Church and into the Presbyterian Church] was as much a matter of my growing interest and awareness of church history, which within the Pentecostal church kinda ends with the end of the book of Acts and begins again in 1910. But for me the history of the church and our place within that history is deeply important in our identification as Christians. And so a tradition which was rooted in that history and respected that history was for me very important and that ultimately lead me to the Reformed faith, both in the teachings of Luther and the writings of Calvin.”
Over his years Rollwage has served at Strathcona Park in Kingston, Guildwood in Toronto, and now Zion in Charlottetown. Back in the late 1980s he also helped to establish a congregation in Unionville, which eventually called Rev. Wes Denyer, this year’s second moderator nominee, to be its minister.
“My big motivation in ministry is watching the light come on for people, either through a sermon or a Bible study or through a personal contact or through pilgrimage,” he says. “Bible study is a hugely important part of my ministry.”
“Presbyterians used to be famous for being rooted in the scriptures.” But, he says, “I think that we have moved away from what we once took for granted.”
“How many people in churches go to Bible study anymore?” he asks. “For me Bible study is more important than Sunday morning. Because on Sunday morning we’ve got, what, 20 minutes to give a sermon, to try and inspire and teach and comfort and lead and direct. In Bible study you’ve got an hour and half. You’ve got so much more time to do that plus you’ve got a level of interaction that you just can’t have on a Sunday morning.
“When I look at the leadership of my congregation, session members, board members, committee leaders—these are all people who have had their faith energized and strengthened through their participation in Bible study. That’s where the leadership is drawn from.”
“For us to move forward with credibility and with true spiritual relevance, I think we need to recapture our love for the Bible. It sounds very old fashioned. But I also think that the Bible is more relevant now than it was a generation ago.”
Canada is now a “post-Christian society” he says, which makes it similar to the “pre-Christian society” in which the New Testament scriptures were written.
“Christianity was very much a subculture in the midst of either an uncaring—or if caring then openly hostile—surrounding culture,” he says. “I think now it’s fair to say that we are within either an uncaring or at times openly hostile culture. And the scriptures were written to people in those situations and by people in those situations. And so the relevancy of the scriptures, the milieu in which they were written—we’re closer to that now than we have been in the Western world in a thousand years. So the Bible doesn’t have less to say to us now; it has more to say. And the witness to Christ that the scriptures give is all the more relevant for us today, not less so.
“You don’t have to make the Bible exciting or relevant. It is. We succeed in making it boring and irrelevant. On its own it’s extremely exciting and relevant. We just have to allow it to breathe. It’s a living thing. We believe in our Presbyterian theology that the scriptures are alive through the work of the Holy Spirit and through their witness to Christ the Living Word. They’re alive. It’s us who are closed or dead to them and so the key is not to make the scriptures alive—they are alive—it’s to open our eyes and ears and hearts to recognize it as the living dynamic and exciting thing that it is.”
The new moderator will be installed when the General Assembly begins its meeting on June 3 at York University, Toronto.