The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) Eastern Synod is currently divided up into 17 different ministry areas – stretching from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia. These ministry areas are select groupings of churches within a close proximity of one another. One of the many benefits of the ministry areas is that they can accommodate larger church group gatherings, much like the two seen in the Thames Ministry Area and the Ottawa Ministry Area in late 2016.
Churches and ministry groups alike have already been gathering across the country to show their support for the ELCIC’s Reformation Challenge. The Thames Ministry Area held a joint worship service with its congregations to begin the 500th anniversary year, with the offering set to go towards scholarships for students in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), one of four areas of focus in the Reformation Challenge. The Ottawa Ministry Area held two services with the funds raised also going towards the Reformation Challenge.
Pastor Steve Johnston, of Trinity Lutheran Church in the Thames Ministry Area, spoke of how the event came to be.
“I am actually the Dean of the area, so I do know the eight collected congregations quite well,” he said. “Although belonging to the same Ministry Area, the geography actually works against us. We have about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from one corner to the other, so getting to the others is not the easiest thing. So after finding a date and planning the event with Eastern Synod Bishop, Michael Pryse, we all committed to it, and all of the pastors did what they could to get their churches involved.”
Planning a joint service, and carrying out with that service are two very different things. For Johnston, it was the time spent preparing the event that he believes really helped shape it into the gathering that it became.
“The 500th anniversary of the Reformation only happens once,” Johnston said. “So we figured that we might as well have a great lead up to it with a 499th anniversary commemoration. The pastors got together and we planned out the service and talked it over with Bishop Michael. He preached on that day, and each of the pastors from the congregation added their own pieces to the service. It was our chance to get together and celebrate our Lutheran identity while observing some commemoration parts of it as well. It was a very traditional service, but we did have some contemporary music in there just for good fun; it was a good day.”
Although many of the Thames Ministry Area congregations had already contributed to the ELCIC’s Reformation Challenge, Johnston says that it “just made sense” for the money raised to go towards a scholarship for a student in the ELCJHL.
“For one, it was quite pragmatic, as it was easy to decide that the money made from our gathering could easily be given that fund,” Johnston said. “And two, we are all interested in education, so it just seemed like quite a natural fit.”
Meanwhile in the Ottawa Ministry Area, Miranda Gray – member of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Orleans, Ontario – provided some information surrounding a very similar setup by her local Ministry Area.
“We as the Ottawa Ministry Area wanted to do something with the group as opposed to individual projects,” Gray said. “So looking to the upcoming Reformation commemoration, we planned out what we could do as a part of the Reformation Challenge. It was determined that a worship event between the churches would be the best idea – we actually had two services. We were adamant that A.) we should have an offering, and B.) the money raised should be donated somewhere to a charity or a project related closely to the church, so that is how we chose a scholarship for the Reformation Challenge.”
On top of the worship services, it was also suggested to congregations in the Ottawa Ministry Area to consider working towards an area of choice within the Reformation Challenge. According to Gray, although some churches had already participated in the Reformation Challenge, others began shortly after that initial conversation.
For Gray, and countless others within the eight congregations of the Ottawa Ministry Area, the most exciting part of the worship services, was just that, the worship services.
“I think that what is so special about this time in our lives is that we’re now enjoying worshipping here together,” she said. “Although this gathering was focused on the Reformation Challenge, it was the only time that we all worshipped together this year. It also is the first time that we have decided to do an offering event with a goal for what we have collected. So the Reformation Challenge has helped restore new light in our communities.”