What Next for the Church? A hope-filled gathering

Nearly seventy people from across the Montreal region gathered in late October to consider where God is calling the church in a new, pandemic-shaped world. 

Montreal Dio hosted a one-day conference on October 29 called “What Next for the Church? Congregational Ministry in a Pandemic-Shaped World.” It was the first time the college had hosted such an in-person event oriented towards the needs of Christian congregations and the positive response from so many people was a clear indication of the need for such conversation. 

The Rev. Dr. Tim Dickau

The Rev. Dr. Tim Dickau led the morning session. Dr. Dickau currently directs CityGate, a Christian resource organization in Vancouver, but he served for 30 years as minister at Grandview Calvary Baptist Church. During that time, the church grew into a flourishing, community-oriented and inter-cultural congregation. Dr. Dickau shared some of the strategies and programs the community implemented over that time. He situated his talk with reference to the work of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, whose ideas on secularism shaped the work in Grandview. “It seems like ‘doing church’ is so hard in Canada,” said Dr. Dickau. “But I want to see how we can find a way forward.” 

The Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones

In the afternoon session, three Quebec-based clergy shared stories of how their churches experienced the pandemic and its aftermath. The Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones of Cedar Park United talked about how the church’s feeding ministry has connected it in new ways to the needs of its Pointe Claire community. The Rev. Canon Jeffrey Metcalfe of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec told a story about how a community’s online Bible study practice has led to a new in-person ministry oriented around technology and young people. And the Rev. Jim Pratt of St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Montreal West shared the evolution of his congregation’s relationship with the plot of land it owns, first moving from considering selling it to developing it into a garden and edible forest that has led to new relationships with members of the community. 

Throughout the day, there was ample opportunity for conversation and discussion. Dr. Dickau led participants in thinking about how they can help their congregations move along three trajectories he identified as necessary for growth in Grandview’s context: from charity and advocacy to seeking justice for the least; from homogeneity and diversity to intercultural life in Christ; and from isolation to community to radical hospitality. 

“No single event is ever going to provide all the answers or chart a way forward for the church,” said the Rev. Canon Jesse Zink, Dio’s principal. “What I found so hopeful about this conference was how it lifted up the importance of stories and provided opportunities for us to talk to one another in new ways. All of us in the church are thinking about what’s next and these conversations are one step in that journey of discovering what God has in store for us.” 

If you were unable to join in person or want a refresher on what was discussed, click on the videos below:

In addition, Tim spoke on the Pew & Beyond show on Facebook Live in the week before the conference. That conversation, with Neil Mancor, is available below and is a helpful distillation of what Tim said at greater length at the conference.

All photography in this article is by Janet Best.