CROSS CULTURAL INTERNSHIP THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS
In a recent Apologetics class, we discussed being called ‘the hands and feet of Jesus’ in the church’s role to serve the needs of others. Some very thought provoking questions came out of this discussion; when we’re serving the needs of others are we also spreading the gospel? And one student asked, where would Jesus be? Would Jesus be in the church serving the needs of the community of believers? Or would Jesus be out in the world serving the needs of the poor, lonely and lost? I walked away from that conversation thinking — does it need to be one or the other? “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24 – NIV) The church, as the body of Christ, is called to be Christ’s representatives “in the world but not of the world,” a light to those in spiritual darkness.
This summer I had the privilege of completing my Cross Cultural Internship at St. Thomas Anglican Church. I believe this community of believers exemplifies what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus; a light in this world. St. Thomas stands by their mission of “joyfully continuing the work of Jesus,” as they serve the needs of others while spreading the gospel message. Caring for their own as well as those living on the edges of the church.
Something I learned very early in my internship at St. Thomas is that the senior pastor, Reverend Douglas McClure, has been intentional about the congregation discerning the specific gifts and passions that God has blessed them with. The result of this discernment process is their beautiful vision of “transforming lives through encounters with Christ” as they learn together to recognize and live into God’s everywhere active presence.
One of the most impactful ministry experiences I had was working alongside the volunteers that run the Family Giving Centre. A few years ago, St. Thomas acknowledged their gifts and passion for serving the homeless and less fortunate. The church is located in Westfort, one of the Thunder Bay’s oldest communities within the city of Thunder, Bay Ont. The demographics of this community includes a higher population of Aboriginal families and seniors living in low income housing. In recognizing there was a need; St. Thomas opened their doors to offer free meals, groceries, clothing, toys, pet supplies, household appliances and more to their community. Witnessing this congregation transform themselves to be like Christ in their community, within the world, has helped deepen my sense of call to the mission of Christ’s church and grow in my pastoral identity.
This particular ministry has come to inspire openness in the church that includes Aboriginal culture in the life of the church as a whole. One Sunday, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Stan Beardy, gave an impactful testimony as part of the sermon. His wife and another member of the congregation blessed us with Aboriginal cultural hymns. It should be noted that the words “Welcome in the name of the Risen Lord” are written in Ojibway at the entrance of the church and along the top of the Sunday morning bulletin. This serves as a beautiful reminder that the church is a place where all are welcome. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14 - NIV)
To date, my own ministry has included similar outreach programs, but the Family Giving Centre has something different. While St. Thomas fed the people with the physical food our human bodies need to be healthy, they also fed the people with the spiritual food our souls need to be healthy. I believe this is the goal of many outreach programs, but I haven’t seen it done quite as effectively as I did during my time at St. Thomas. Upon reflection, I realize that the gospel message was at the forefront of all my ministry experiences with this church. I believe this stems from the strong connection they have to the church’s history, tradition, liturgy, sacraments and commitment to prayer. They embody these qualities first on Sunday mornings and then take them out into their everyday lives.
I was most surprised by my love of the Sunday morning early service. The service itself was comprised of liturgies, prayers, Scripture readings, the sermon and the Eucharist. This was the first church service I’d experienced with no music. It was one of the most peaceful and life-giving times of the week. By assisting in these services as a lay person, I found healing in a time of grief. As I led the people, I was also fed by the words that unite us as believers - not just across a few provinces or denominations, but across the globe. “Almighty God, You have made us for yourself, And our hearts are restless, Until they find their rest in you. May we find peace in your service, And in the world to come, see you face to face; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. Amen.” This Collect prayer is an example of the words that began to heal my heart and mind. Often, while visiting my brother’s gravesite, I would recite these words and find great comfort.
I was also blessed richly by the time of fellowship after the Sunday morning services. Like most churches, this was a time where people talked and shared about what was happening in their lives. What stood out in many of my conversations with people was how engaged they were in the service and their need to talk about what part impacted them, what part of the sermon spoke to them, a prayer or word of encouragement they received from Scripture. Through these conversations, I realized that there is life in the traditions of the church and there is purpose to the language that has been discerned and used for centuries. There are times when something old can seem completely new.
Overall, my experience at St. Thomas Anglican Church was a blessing and something that will remain with me as an important time of growth in my call to ministry. This internship was particularly important to me because I was going to have the opportunity to serve the Lord alongside my Dad; my best friend and a huge part of why I’m in seminary and pursuing my own call into ministry. Unfortunately, this internship started off with a tragedy – the death of my youngest brother. However, God providentially placed me exactly where I was meant to be —surrounded by those who have walked alongside me in my faith journey since I was a child. Many of these people made a promise to my family at my baptism to care for me and be Christ to our family in times of need. And they did just that – a profound example of caring for their own.
Now, becoming a pastor, I had the privilege of walking alongside this congregation as we learned from one another. What a beautiful example of how this journey on earth – although very difficult at times – is not meant to be done alone. And although God has called me personally to this vocation, it’s a family journey that spans generations. There is no greater witness to God’s faithfulness.
Recently, I came across this passage in Scripture, which I think helps point us to our calling as believers; both individually and as the church. It also connects well to my experiences at St. Thomas Anglican Church – thank you for allowing me to be in on it! J I’ll end with these words from the Apostle Paul, “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 - MSG)