The following names will appear on the ballot for Moderator of the 2020 General Assembly. Ballots have been sent to presbyteries for members of presbytery to vote. The Committee to Advise the Moderator will count the ballots on April 1, 2020. The 2020 General Assembly will convene Sunday evening, June 7, 2020 in Waterloo, Ontario.

The Rev. Paulette Brown

The Rev. Paulette Brown

The Rev. Paulette M. Brown, B.A., M.Div.
Born, baptized and raised in Jamaica, Paulette’s early faith formation was influenced by the church’s ongoing struggles to be relevant. It was a time when new generations were asking, why has the church chosen to align itself with injustice. During those fierce times of questioning, Paulette’s faith in Jesus Christ was nourished by prayer and the daring faith of pockets of Christians who refused to give up on hearing a new word from God.

Paulette emigrated to Canada in 1983, together with her three children and husband. University Church, Toronto, became their home church, providing opportunities for their practice of faith. She answered a call to ministry and graduated from Knox College in 1991. Called to serve University Church as pastor in 1992, where she spent eight years.

At University Church, Paulette developed the Created For Life youth ministry in response to violence and premature deaths among black youth in the community served by the church. For this mission, she received a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award.

From 2008–2014 Paulette served the Presbytery of East Toronto by developing a mission to newcomer families at Gateway Community Church, helping the church engage mission on its doorsteps. From 2014 to present, she has served St. Andrew’s Church, Humber Heights, Toronto. She has led the church in developing the Vision United Summer camp mission, responding to needs of families with children in Etobicoke. As the congregation seeks to re-envision its ministry, she brings her spiritual gifts of prayer, fasting and study to support the congregation’s new directions.

Paulette has served the church locally and internationally as keynote for the Presbyterian Women’s Gathering, gender consultant for the World Communion of Reformed Churches and member of the writing team for the Council for World Mission.

Paulette has a passion for preaching and reading scriptures with new eyes, especially when the church yearns to hear a new word from God. She has tasted firsthand, the pain and sufferings generated by the church’s failure to do justice, yet she possesses a spirit that refuses to give up on God.

Paulette is a Ph.D. candidate in biblical studies.

In these seasons of fear, when the church experiences different voices crying out for reconciliation and justice within its body, Paulette offers passionate leadership to help the church articulate its sense of God’s vision for justice and reconciliation in ways that invite others to hear a new word from God.

What are your earliest memories of church?

My earliest memories of church originate from the context of the expansion of the church’s missionary activities in Jamaica, where it encountered the vibrancy and diversity of the Jamaican culture. Church was what we did on Sundays and during the week, unless we were sick. Church was community.

Testimony times. These took place in worship services. Adults would testify openly about what God was doing in their lives. They’d take “everything to the Lord in prayer,” and ask God’s continued grace and mercy on their lives. As children, we loved the spontaneity of the services, the clapping, dancing and singing songs like “Let us have a little talk with Jesus” and “Tell it, tell it, where-ever you go.” To this day these simple, yet profound songs of faith call me back to the rightness of living in gratitude.

Visiting the sick after church. Many Sundays after church, my grandmother would take me along with her to visit sick people in the village. I remember visiting the home of classmate, whose mom was dying. I still remember the sounds and activities at that house. Women were singing, praying, cooking, washing clothes and combing the little girls’ hair. The interesting thing is that this woman did not attend our church at all. I learned in those formative years that denominational borders are insignificant when it comes to being Christ in communities.

Learning public speaking. Every year, my home church would hold a week of worship services and programs for church renewal. We had visiting preachers and visiting churches. Children and youth were a huge part of the programs. I remember my Sunday School teacher choosing me to recite the words of a long hymn. I was excited but very nervous about speaking before a crowd. My grade school teacher taught me a skill. She told me to go to the pulpit, bow, look above the heads of the people and say the title of the poem. I should fix my eyes on walls at back of church, not on the people and then begin to speak. Church was where I learned to build confidence in public speaking.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?

• The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; They are new every morning” Lamentation 3: 21–22

• And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

• Therefore do not worry…but strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…. Matthew 6:31, 33 (NRSV)

What book(s) do you wish everyone in the PCC had read or was reading?

• Mclaren, Brian D. The Great Spiritual migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is seeking a Better Way to be Christian. New York: Convergent Books, 2016

• Maynard, Robyn. Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to Present. Halifax; Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2017.

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?

The image that comes to mind is a “tree of life.” I borrow from Jesus’ story that likens the reign of God to a tree in which the birds of the air make their nests. (Matt 13:31–36) I also draw on my Jamaican experiences of trees providing shelter from the sun and rain, for travellers and animals. From these I imagine church as a tree of life that serves the whole creation. People, birds and animals come, nest, rest, sojourn and move on. Nothing is static. Its vibrancy rests on the rhythm of change. Its life-giving potential is performed over and over again, as place of refuge for all who come. Vision: To be home for sojourners seeking community and refuge, and a place of nurture and protection for all of God’s creation.

What would you say are the most important features of faithful discipleship?

In Jesus, I see a model of faithful discipleship that balances discernment with action. As a faithful disciple, I cannot be stuck on discerning. I must also be a “doer.” Therefore, for me, the most important features of faithful discipleship are:

• prayerfully discerning the meanings of the stories of our lives in all their complexities

• asking ourselves, “What do these mean in the larger story of God who is committed to doing transformation?”

• asking ourselves the critical question. “What then do I do?

What would you say is the core calling of the Church in Canada today?

I believe that the core calling is to “repair the breach” (Isaiah 58:1–13). For me, a breach exists when the covenantal relationship that God establishes with the earth and all of humanity is disrupted and violated. This produces a crisis of enormous proportions and God demands our faithful response. God’s attitude to breaches is clear: “loose the bonds of injustice and restore just and right relations.”(Isaiah 51:6)

The church is already engaged in repairing the breach with our Indigenous Peoples, through the Healing and Reconciliation work. The core call today is not to create something new. Rather it is to strengthen and broaden the ongoing work, by seeking to stand in other places of breach, to get a sense as to what repairing might look like. Specifically, this call is to stand , or renew our standing in places where the anguish of homophobia, the agony of racism, the violent, exclusionary practices against minoritized sexual groups and the groaning of the earth are calling out to God for justice

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in?

While our church is already involved in some of the areas that I am listing, I believe our church should be more involved with:

• Climate justice.

• The criminal justice system and its disproportionate incarceration of differently coloured bodies because of racism.

• Justice issues around sexual minorities LGBTQI

• Justice issues around people with disabilities.

• Justice issues around housing and medical care for people who are poor and aged.

What concern of the church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?

The two concerns of the church’s internal life and ministry that should be a greater part of our focus are:

• The youth as a specific population that is seeking a sense of relevance of church.

• Diversity—how might diversity be welcomed as a sign of God’s desire to do something new in the church?

Understanding that congregations are a key place where the continuing ministry of Christ is dynamically lived out, say a bit about what are, in your understanding, the most important features and principles of faithful congregational ministry?

For me the most important features and principles are: • Discerning what it means to live out Christ’s call to fullness for all • Actually doing it—getting involved in the contexts and communities in which the church exists as a witness to the transforming presence of God in the world.

One of the objectives of the PCC’s Strategic Plan is “Visionary Leadership.” What is visionary leadership to you?

I understand “Visionary Leadership” as a style of leadership with lens that are attuned to present realities, yet at the same time, fixed on the horizon. Visionary Leadership:

• mitigates risks.

• inspires change and brings others on board.

• contextualizes situations and initiates change relative to context.

For example, when the lake is calm, and we are in the canoe together, there’s time to say, “Let’s research some more, let’s call a new meeting of the committee, let’s give time to buy into change, let’s see how this works.” However, in the rapids, the canoe is going under. There are hidden dangers below the waves and rocks on both sides. Visionary Leadership says “Let’s put our oars down in the water. If we don’t do this we all will die. This is not the day we are going to die.”

Visionary leadership contextualizes, mitigates risks and leads by making tough decisions. (Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Faith and Leadership)

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation within congregations. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?

Spiritual renewal for me is about drinking from my own wells—wells that are part of my Christian formation. My Christian heritage is punctured with the contradictions of the Church’s embeddedness in colonial systems of slavery. Yet my Christian formation bears witness to the tenacity of hope in the midst of those contradictions. As an adult for whom Canada has become my “home-away-from-home,” Christian formation in this place testifies to a tenacity of hope in a foreign land. Spiritual renewal is first and foremost about realigning myself to drinking from my own wells. This means taking time out, singing songs of faith that are embedded in my wells, remembering stories of “how I got over,” recalling the sojourners along the way and being grateful to God. Spiritual renewal gets me ready to imagine my next step with God from a place of gratitude.

In imagining what it could look like for the denomination to pursue spiritual renewal, I call to memory the enormous diversity throughout the denomination and the richness of this gift. I wonder what it could look like, across the breadth of the church, if we Presbyterians are encouraged to recall and drink from our wells, trusting the spirit of God to orient us to places of profound gratitude. My feeling is that by recalling our common yet different journeys, and drinking the waters from our multiple wells, we may discover new ways of living faithfully out of gratitude in these times of change.

What do you understand the Moderator’s role to be during this time when the PCC is discerning the mind of Christ on the matter of sexuality?

I take it that the period of discernment regarding the matter of sexuality does not end with the adjournment of 2020 Assembly, but continues in the everyday life of the church across the land. From this perspective I see the role of the Moderator as:

• Encouraging prayerful commitment to the discerning process, trusting in the abiding presence of the Spirit.

• Encouraging faithful listening to the diverse truths and faith claims that are negotiated around the issues of human sexuality.

• Encouraging openness in love and respect as a helpful alternative to being silent and judgemental.

• Inspiring hope during these times of change, by evoking rich traditions such as the Resurrection in which the Risen Lord surprised the disciples with hope through his repeated appearances—on the road to Emmaus, on the beach, breaking through closed doors.

• Visiting congregations to listen, support, clarify and encourage ongoing discernment.

• Encouraging the Church to faithfully engage the decisions coming out of the Assembly.

• Encouraging continued prayerful discernment within the body of Christ.

• Serving the church ecumenically overseas and locally.

• Bringing the PCC to tables, in Canadian contexts that are outside the PCC, where God’s work for justice is hammered out daily.

Who are some of your most treasured and formative Christian thinkers and writers and why?

• Professor Dorcas Gordon, Past Principal of Knox College and Professor of New Testament, Knox College.

In the formative days of my enrollment in the doctoral program in Biblical studies, Dorcas was my mentor and one of my professors. Dorcas is a rigorous thinker and she writes with clarity. Under her mentorship, I learned skills of rigorous thinking and the value of pushing boundaries for clarity in writing. Dorcas places the bar high for essays and theological reflections. In her classroom, where I functioned as a Teacher’s Assistant, I was encouraged to bring my experiences as a Black woman to reflecting theologically. Those early years under her leadership sharpened my skills in courageous thinking and writing.

• Professor Bradley McLean, Professor in New Testament Hermeneutics, Knox College.

Bradley connected with my yearning and passion to discover new ways in which biblical texts might become meaningful to readers. My concern was how might the Bible be read in new and transforming ways, by readers for whom the Bible holds contradictory memories, yet functions as a guide for daily living. In his course, “Philosophical Hermeneutics,“ Bradley modelled meticulous thinking and introduced me to writings that questioned the key assumptions underlying the tradition of Western biblical interpretation. I find these practices particularly useful at this time in the life of our church when we seek to discern the mind of Christ on the matter of human sexuality.

• Professor Romney Moseley, a Caribbean mentor and professor who taught at Trinity College, Toronto for a brief time.

He taught the course “Suffering, Evil and the God of Love.” Romney’s profound and honest thinking about the hard paradoxes of faith provided a path for me to theologically engage my Christian heritage of colonialism and slavery. One question that Romney asked that has continued to inform my journey of faith is this, “In light of the hard paradoxes of faith encountered in situations where meanings in life must be affirmed in the face of pervasive meaninglessness, doubt, suffering and despair, what does transformation look like?”

• Professor Katie Canon, Professor of Christian Ethics and Womanist Theology, Union Theological College, PCUSA.

Katie’s life as a Christian was hammered out within a church tradition that upheld and practiced unjust theologies and oppressive doctrines. Yet she refused to give up on the Church as a place where the Spirit of God is actively involved in transformation. Katie served faithfully, and taught me through her writings and mentorship, that showing up and speaking prophetically about a future, which one might not be able to envision, is itself an act of justice. She still inspires me, even though she has joined the ancestors of the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12).

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the Church?

For me, the Church exists not separate from the world, but in the world. It exists in a covenanting relationship with God for a renewed world, with an economy of life that nourishes all of God’s creation. From this perspective, I see signs of hope in the courageous actions popping up across Canada and the globe. Despite widespread experiences of violence and reckless political leadership, peoples from the church, other religious traditions and community organizations are covenanting for economic and ecological economies of life that includes human life and all of God’s creation.

What is your prayer for the church?

My prayer is that the church may be strengthened by God to be home for sojourners seeking community and refuge, and a place of nurture and protection for all of God’s creation.

The Rev. Mary Fontaine

The Rev. Mary Fontaine

The Rev. Mary Fontaine, B.A. (Native Studies), M.Div.
Mary Fontaine (Cree), was born and raised at the Mistawasis Nehiywak in Saskatchewan, and grew up in Mistawasis Presbyterian Church. She graduated from the University of Alberta in 1995 and from the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) in 2003. She served as student minister at Mistawasis Presbyterian Church while enrolled at VST.

Mary’s mother taught her love for Jesus Christ, her people and their culture. Her father taught her about the injustice suffered by Indigenous people and urged her to get an education to help in some way. Her grandfather (a pipe carrier) modelled what it meant to be a follower of the Circle (Medicine Wheel). Her spiritual parents taught spiritual discernment through prayer and the word of God. Mary learned to facilitate circles through a program that combined Cree wisdom with psychology. She prays for peace and harmony among nations and for good stewardship of the earth and All Our Relations for future generations. She is encouraged by youth with a passion for a better future for humanity.

Mary is the founding Director of Hummingbird Ministries (2005), an Indigenous-led healing and reconciliation ministry. Through healing circles and the performing arts, Hummingbird strives to educate the public and raise a positive Indigenous identity. Mary writes the plays and narrated stories expressed through dance performances by Indigenous children. Hummingbird’s annual events provide opportunities for reconciliation, bringing many cultures, faiths and classes of people together with Indigenous people.

Mary preaches at Hummingbird Circles, local churches and other events (such as the 2019 General Assembly). She travelled to many parts of the world as a member of the Executive Committee of the World Communion of Reformed Churches from 2010–2017. She has chaired several committees including VST’s Indigenous Studies Program and the National Indigenous Ministries Council of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Mary loves theatre and musical performances. She has a married daughter and two grandchildren, one in first-year university. Mary keeps close ties with her family and community at Mistawasis.

What are your earliest memories of church?

My earliest memories of church are at the Mistawasis Presbyterian Church with my parents and our community. Our whole family went to church in a wagon drawn by horses. There were many community events such as Christmas, Easter, Lent, catechism, grave cleaning, funerals and weddings. I would listen carefully to the Sunday School teacher and collect all the papers and take them home. After our family lunch at home, I would sit my little brothers down for their “second” Sunday School lesson, which was not easy. Another memory I have is our minister’s love for the Holy Spirit. One is a funny story told by my oldest cousin. He said Rev. Moore always started his services by praying and saying, “Come Holy Spirit, Come.” One of those times, the people were shocked when he interrupted himself saying, “No, not you Rex!” (His dog Rex who had been sitting outside the open door entered upon his invitation.)

I remember a Sunday when I first felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was probably about 7, but I felt a strong presence. I whispered to my mom, “Who is the Holy Spirit?’ She said, “Shh, listen.” I turned to look at the image of Jesus on the stain glass window at the back of our little church. Again I asked my mom again, “Is Jesus the Holy Spirit?” Again she said, “Shh you have to be quiet in church, I’ll tell you after”. The Holy Spirit was there that day and every day of my life, even when I didn’t listen. In fact, when I reflect on the gifts of the Spirit reflected in my people’s language, culture and spirituality, the Great Spirit must have been there from the beginning.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?

  • Jeremiah 31:31–34
  • Psalm 23
  • Philippians 4:6–7
  • Luke 10:27

What book(s) do you wish everyone in the PCC had read or was reading?

James Treat, Around the Sacred Fire, Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era, A Narrative Map of the Indian Ecumenical Conference, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, NY, 2003

Alexander Morris, The Treaties of Canada with the Indians, Prospero Books, Toronto, 2000

Ella Cara Deloria, Waterlily, Nebraska Press, 1988

Charles A. Eastman, The Soul of the Indian, An Interpretation, University of Nebraska Press, USA, 1911, Reprinted 1980

Ernest Thompson Seton, The Gospel of the Red Man, An Indian Bible, Double Day Doran & Company Inc. New York, 1936, revised 2006

Darrel J. McLeod, Mamaskatch, A Cree Coming of Age, Douglas & McIntyre (2013) Ltd. Madeira Park, BC, 2018

Richard McCutcheon, Jarem Sawatasky, Valerie Smith, eds, Voices of Harmony and Dissent, How Peacebuilders are Transforming Their Worlds, CMU Press, Winnipeg, 2015

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?

The Church is welcoming and open to new people regardless of race, background or identity. Together we worship and honour God in ways that are meaningful to each of us. We learn to love and care for one another and demonstrate that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our minds, our souls and our neighbour as ourselves. The church is buzzing with life, including children and youth.

What would you say are the most important features of faithful discipleship?

To be a faithful disciple means we follow the greatest commandment to love God as Jesus loved us. He loved beyond his own race and class. He was not ashamed to mingle with prostitutes and “others’ rejected by “society”. To be a faithful servant means to know who our God is and what he has done and is doing. It’s to honor him by how we live and how we witness our faith to others, how we love through humility, compassion, grace, acceptance and respect.

What would you say is the core calling of the church in Canada today?

To listen to the cries of the world and be a friend, not judging or blaming but loving and caring about people, even those who are different. The church has to set the example of emotional and spiritual maturity by demonstrating that the Church is not about us but about our God.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?

When I was a student minister at the Mistawasis Presbyterian Church, one of my little sisters said, “Now don’t be like the other ministers and stick by yourself at the church, be part of our community. Come to the school, come to events, be with us.” There was great wisdom in that advice and I followed it. I helped the children and youth to fundraise for their summer camps and outings during the winter. We had fundraising barbeques outside the band office and did bottle drives. We got the women involved in making crafts to auction off at the school’s Christmas pageant. We had special winter events like sledding on Sunday afternoons, with an open fire roasting hot dogs, and sipping hot chocolate around the fire. This connection to the community motivated people to volunteer when we needed help for Church programs.

It’s good for the church to be involved with the people at the grassroots in creative ways. I’ve heard about evangelicals going to bars, not to get drunk but to be witnesses for Christ in that environment, to bring hope and promoting lasting joy. It does, of course, depend on how the Spirit moves a particular church but one thing that we all have in common is the concern about our dying Church. We have to be like Jesus and walk with people at the grassroots and love and accept them no matter what. We also have to love one another in a way that others will feel something they would want to be a part of. We need to overcome the negative history of the Church by listening and caring for each other and others on the fringes of society. One way to listen is to have regular circles. Listening is a synonym for love. We can learn from different cultures on how to reach people.

The PCC could learn valuable concepts and traditions from among its eight Indigenous ministries. The Circle is an Indigenous concept used at Hummingbird Ministries and the Saskatoon Sacred Circle. For Indigenous people, the Circle represents community, equality before the Creator and connection with all of God’s creation. Sitting together in a circle, face to face is conducive to communication and friendship. Another concept comes from the Salish people on the West Coast who build their canoes and boats with prayer. A young man who was drunk staggered to the beach and plopped himself into a canoe before the builders could stop him. The prayers with which the canoe was built were so strong that he started to sob and couldn’t stop. The elders took him under their wing and helped him to get sober and taught him how to build canoes. A woman from Sechelt did a weaving workshop for Hummingbird and described weaving as a prayer, and in fact anything we do with our hands is a prayer. There are also rich traditions among the Anishinabe, the Dakota, the Cowichan and the other Indigenous people represented in the ministries of the PCC. Taking the lead in borrowing traditions and concepts from Indigenous cultures would promote healing and reconciliation and set an example for other churches to follow.

The PCC should be more involved with its Indigenous ministries by attending their public events and programs. Presbyterians would learn more about our cultures, and promote reconciliation and friendship.

What concern of the church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?

The PCC needs to seek ways to address dwindling memberships and the lack of younger generations attending church.

Understanding that congregations are a key place where the continuing ministry of Christ is dynamically lived out, say a bit about what are, in your understanding, the most important features and principles of faithful congregational ministry?

How do we love one another? How do we become a community that is open to others? How can we witness the love of God to others outside our church? People are attracted to love, kindness and hospitality. People need to be reminded of their personal God-given gifts and to be given the freedom to use these to honour God by taking leadership according to these gifts. This is a way of loving and accepting people as they are. Some people are talented in music and the arts, some are business-minded, some are crafters, some are gifted in working with children and youth or some may want to start a bible study group in their neighbourhood based on topics that interest them. Another way is to have circle groups of like-minded people. Some may want to gather for music jams and sing sacred songs together and expand to singing Christmas carols in public places like malls or parks or transit stations. Perhaps a questionnaire would help to determine what gifts are present in the congregation and a follow up with a Circle sharing time would help to hear more about the visions of the people and to clarify what cannot be known through a written questionnaire. These kinds of social things are really attractive in our society because so often, these are the qualities that are lacking in our public lives. People are hungry for communities where they can find these things.

One of the objectives of the PCC’s Strategic Plan is “Visionary Leadership.” What is visionary leadership to you?

Visionary leadership has to be something that is not typically “Presbyterian”. One of the lessons I learned from being a minister at Mistawasis is “listening” and responding to the needs of the people. When three youth from one family were killed in a car accident on the same night as our Church Christmas pageant, we adapted to the situation. We cancelled our well-rehearsed plans and sent word out to the community to come and pray for the family. The church was packed until past midnight as people from every tradition in our community came together to pray. Many had not dealt with sudden death in their own families and it became a tradition to have a candlelight service every year during Christmas. It became an ecumenical service where people and family groups came to pray and to cry and to be prayed for as musicians played soft music for the healing of the people. The Presbyterian Church needs to be more flexible in order to be more loving and relevant to the needs of the people.

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation within congregations. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?

It’s about submission to the will of God. It seemed relatively easy to let go of my culture and my identity as an Indigenous person, when I was told that this was against God’s will. I wanted nothing more than to be true to the Lord because I loved him. In time though, the uneasiness within my spirit became too audible to ignore. Plus, I was receiving all the nudging and pushing by my family to return to the Presbyterian Church, by my home community to attend our cultural events, and by my VST community to embrace both my culture and my faith. When I finally accepted myself as an Indigenous woman and that this was God’s will for my life, I was born again and set free to be who God intended me to be. Gradually, I reclaimed my God-given identity with all its complications and challenges.

I imagine our church being in a place where it knows it has to grow but it only knows one way to love God. It hangs on to all its old ways of doing things from long ago. And it can’t let them go because it’s as if it’s letting God go. But if the church listens to what the Spirit is saying through many people from many sides, it will learn what God’s will is for its life. Yes, it will be complicated and challenging. It will grieve the loss of the comfort it has known, but then it will listen to the Spirit, who has great love for the church and shares the same vision for it to grow and to bring healing for many people.

What do you understand the Moderator’s role to be during this time when the PCC is discerning the mind of Christ on the matter of sexuality?

The Moderator listens to the will of the Spirit working through all the people, not just the vocally strong and influential voices of the Assembly. A majority vote does not reveal the whole truth, as it does not represent all the people. Borrowing from a tradition of the Cree and other Indigenous nations, a sharing Circle would be one way to demonstrate love for one another, through listening, a synonym for love and love, an antidote for fear. Voting for or against concerns without talking about our fears and concerns will break hearts and fragment our Church. We would open the Circle with praise and prayer invoking the will of the Holy Spirit Prior to the circle, there is an agreement to listen and respect one another, to speak one at a time, not to interrupt or judge others. Honesty and emotions are allowed but there is an agreement to be kind and to refrain from criticizing others. The Circle promotes connection and community and provides an opportunity to pray for one another as the need arises. The Spirit of God who inspires the Scriptures also inspires the hearts of his people who love him, revealing his will for the Church. Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to our Church.

Who are some of your most treasured and formative Christian thinkers and writers and why?

I like Walter Brueggemann for his way of thinking and that this is similar in several ways with Indigenous thought. He didn’t quarrel about doctrinal issues and Indigenous people don’t quarrel about religion. When he was asked if he thought it was useful to hold a joint meeting of Pentecostals and Wesleyans, he said anytime different traditions come in contact with each other they impact each other. We have gifts to give each other and learn from each other. This is the way most Indigenous people think as well.

Ulrich Zwingli, Swiss reformer, like his co-reformers administered his Reform from the pulpit as both preacher and theologian but he also became a politician to address the corruption of the mercenary system. He would consult with his political community to make decisions, similar in a way to how we listen to the needs of our community at Hummingbird Ministries Circles. Also in traditional Indigenous societies, there was an effort to acknowledge and honour the Creator in every area of life including governance.

With reference to his theology of the image of God, Zwingli notes from Gen. 2 that, “the Lord God formed man of the clay or dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of the air of life” thus giving humans a yearning for God and eternal life. For Zwingli the image of God is “imprinted” on the soul of humanity and enables the discernment of Scripture. He speaks of the law written on the hearts by the Holy Spirit with reference to the hearts of the Gentiles in Rom. 2:14-15. In his sermon on Matt. 7:12, Zwingli deals with the image of God in terms of the natural law in his attempt to reach the heathen and philosophers of who speak of the law of nature instead of the Will of God as Christians do. Natural law for him was seen as the Spirit of God and is found in what has been termed the “golden rule” which is “to do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and to love thy neighbour as thyself”. These are some of the ways I have been influenced by Zwingli but I imagine God planting the seed of his image in our minds and souls, not imprinting it.

Feminist theologians Rosemary Radford Reuther and Mary Jo Leddy have influenced my thoughts about women in the Church as well as about the care of the earth.

About Climate Change and the environment, I have much respect for Pope Francis and his Laudato Si and was part of a panel at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in 2017.

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the church?

That the PCC has repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, responded to the final report of the MMIWG, confessed to its part in the residential school system and supports eight Indigenous ministries in its denomination is hopeful because it demonstrates love and acceptance of Indigenous people. That Indigenous people can be Christian and Indigenous and express our faith in cultural ways is hopeful because it demonstrates an openness of the church to be guided by the Spirit in addition to traditional interpretations of Scripture. It is a hopeful sign that the Church is engaging in conversations about Climate Change because it shows that the Church is thinking about good stewardship of the earth instead of the end of the world.

Beyond this earth, we have hope for eternal life through the sacrificial love of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that the church is seeking new ways to reach the world with this hopeful message.

What is your prayer for the church?

My prayer is that our church will grow in Spirit and in numbers, that it will thrive in the midst of society. I pray that our church will be a place of healing and reconciliation, not only with Indigenous people but with God our Creator and the earth and all our relations.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Scott

The Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Scott

The Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Scott, B.A., M.C.S., M.Div., D.Min.
Dan Scott is the minister at St John’s, Bradford and an associate professor at Tyndale University College where he previously served as Vice President and Academic Dean. Dan’s faith journey started at a tender age and he’s been involved in the life of Christ’s church ever since.

Dan taught ESL to academics in the Peoples Republic of China and served on the leadership team at the Shanghai International Fellowship. He returned to Canada after the Tiananmen crisis and joined the pastoral staff at Knox (Spadina) Toronto.

In 1995, while at Knox College, Dan became the ‘student minister’ at St. John’s, Bradford and was called there in 1996. Under his leadership the congregation grew and built a new church facility in 2004, with plans for an 8,000 sq. ft. addition.

He secured funding for special-needs summer camps, a twinning project between local and First Nations schools and is a founder of the Bradford Ministerial.

In 2018, St. John’s partnered with The Elden of Bradford and opened a $54 million retirement home. There are plans to expand with a new memory-care building shortly.

Dan has served as moderator of the Presbytery of Oak Ridges, our denomination’s ecumenical observer to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Council of Presidents, the Presbyterian representative on the Bereavement Authority of Ontario’s Faith-based Advisory Committee and in various committee roles including the founding Stewards by Design Team.

At Tyndale, Dan introduced eight Honours B.A. majors and led the creation of a B.Ed. program certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. He was instrumental in developing new partnerships and assisted in the securing of the new facility. As Dean, Tyndale was ranked number one for student satisfaction in the University issue of Maclean’s magazine.

He was Managing Director of Save the Mothers, a maternal health charity offering a Master of Public Health Leadership degree at Uganda Christian University. Dan participated in the founding of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and secured funding for hospitals in East Africa.

Dan has published pieces in The Toronto Star, Missiology: An International Review, ORGAN Canada: The Journal of the Royal College of Organists, The Presbyterian Record, Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society and Presbyterian Connection.

What are your earliest memories of church?

I grew up in Ontario, with family roots in Nova Scotia. I also grew up in the church.

Our family sat in the fourth pew from the front on the left side of the church. My younger brother sat on the end next to my dad. My other two younger brothers sat in between my mom and dad. I sat next to my grandmother at the far end of the row. It was a great seat: my grandmother wore a Persian wool coat and it was great to cuddle next to her. And, when the sermon started, my grandmother would pass me a lifesaver or a mint! Outside of church, too, I watched her read her bible each morning and pray.

The second memory of church is associated with hockey. I played in a church hockey league on Saturday mornings and went to a kids’ club on Wednesday nights where we played floor hockey. Hockey was a door into the church for me—we need to find more doors like this today.

As a teenager, I was hired along with three other young people to run an eight-week day camp program for the church. All four of us are now in full-time Christian ministry. At St. John’s, Bradford we have been hiring young people each summer to provide support for children with special needs to attend church-based VBS and day camp programs in York Region and Simcoe County.

All of these experiences from my childhood led me as a minister to ensure that church is for the full family, intergenerational, active and with lots of opportunities for people of any age to get involved.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?

“Call unto me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” Jeremiah 33:3.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths”            Proverbs 3:5–6.

What book(s) do you wish everyone in the PCC had read or was reading?

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I read a review of it in the early 90s that said it was one of the best books on the nature of call and being the person God created you to be. I bought it and couldn’t put it down. Recently, I attended an evening with John Irving in Uxbridge, Ontario where he talked about the process he undergoes as he writes his (often bizarre) novels.

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. This helpful and accessible book provides an introduction to a number of spiritual disciplines (prayer, study, solitude, etc.). During advent 2019, about 40 of us at St. John’s, Bradford joined the Presbyterians Read program. Brueggemann’s Celebrating Abundance, reminds me of one of the disciplines that Foster, a Quaker, encourages—the discipline of celebration. We have much to celebrate.

Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) by Pope Francis. A couple of quotes caught my attention: “Let us listen once more to Jesus, with all the love and respect that the Master deserves. Let us allow his words to unsettle us, to challenge us and to demand a real change in the way we live. Otherwise, holiness will remain no more than an empty word.” And, “Needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.”

Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth is an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed as a series of lectures delivered in the semi-ruins of the stately Kurfursten Schloss in Bonn at the hour of 7 a.m. to theologians and other students. It’s an accessible and careful example of how to do theology in the midst of tough times.

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?

The images of “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” from the Sermon on the Mount resonate the most with me. These are two metaphors that have grounded my work in our church—from our attempts to reach out to the community through community meals, to our work creating a seniors’ housing community, to programming for young people.

As I walked into the church this cold January morning, the reassuring crunch of salt on the sidewalk reminded me of the power of each tiny crystal. Salt, though small, prevents me from falling but it also preserves and flavours. The Church brings this guidance to our world when it extends the love of Christ. We protect, enlarge and bring meaning to all that is in the world when we rightly demonstrate God’s love.

Likewise, the Church is a shining light in a darkened world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” but He also says “you are the light of the world.” As we reflect Christ’s light, the world will notice we are different and we offer something more meaningful. However, Jesus went further and said that we should “live such good lives…that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” This difference must always direct attention to God, not to us or to the church.

What would you say are the most important features of faithful discipleship?

A disciple is the pupil of a teacher or an adherent of a particular outlook or philosophy. In the New Testament, there were disciples of the Pharisees (Mark 2:18), the ancient Jews considered themselves as disciples of Moses (John 9:28), there were followers of John the Baptizer (Mark 2:15; John 1:35) and then the disciples of Jesus.

Although Jesus (like John) was not an officially recognized teacher, he was popularly known as a teacher or rabbi and his associates were known as disciples. That is, the disciples of Jesus referred to all who responded to his message and being a disciple was based on his call to follow. It involved personal allegiance to Jesus, expressed in following him and giving him exclusive loyalty. In at least some cases it meant literal abandonment of home, business ties and possessions, but in every case readiness to put the claims of Jesus first, whatever the cost demanded. Such an attitude went well beyond the normal pupil-teacher relationship and gave the word “disciple “a new sense. Faith in Jesus and allegiance to him are what determine the fate of humans at the last judgement (Luke 12:8f). Those who became disciples were taught by Jesus and appointed as his representatives to preach his message, cast out demons and heal the sick; although these responsibilities were primarily delegated to the Twelve, they were not confined to them. According to Luke, the members of the early church were known as disciples. This makes it clear that the earthly disciples of Jesus formed the nucleus of the church and that the pattern of the relationship between Jesus and his earthly disciples was constitutive for the relationship between the risen Lord and the members of the church. Indeed, as Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven, he urged his disciples to ‘make disciples of all nations’ by “baptizing” and “teaching.”

As a result, I would say the most important features of faithful discipleship are learning of and from Jesus, responding to his message and call, faith in and allegiance to him, and a commitment to teach and baptize others. And, like Jesus, a disciple makes disciples as one goes throughout life.

What would you say is the core calling of the Church in Canada today?

At St. John’s, Bradford we like to say our core calling is to “share the love of Christ.” As ones who are recipients of the love of God revealed in Jesus, we feel compelled to share that love and not keep it to ourselves. Recognizing we can’t do everything, we committed to share the love of Christ primarily through three means.

The first is worship. We decided to invest significant time and energy into our regular Sunday services of worship. As a minister, I am tasked with ensuring that the word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered. Someone said that worship is our most powerful evangel. I think there is truth in this. There is something quite winsome about a community called by God, hearing from God, responding to God and then returning to share the love of God in Christ in their homes and workplaces.

The second is education. Christian education is not just Sunday School but a necessary aspect of all followers of Christ at whatever age. And so this education can take place in a variety of ways (Children & Worship, Sunday School, Youth Groups, small group studies, special lectures, etc).

The third is service. In Bradford West Gwillimbury, St. John’s church has been serving the community for 200 years. We provided the first school in Simcoe County, founded the first daycare in the community, offer support to the food bank and community meals and recently responded to a pressing need for seniors’ housing and built a retirement home.

So, I would say the core calling of the church in Canada today is to share the love of Christ, through worship, education and service.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?

In preparing for our 200th anniversary at St. John’s in Bradford West Gwillimbury, we wanted to provide a series of lectures by various prominent Canadians on famous Presbyterians. There have been many notable Presbyterians involved in all areas of life—for example, politics, writing, education, relief and development, etc.

One area of public life I think the PCC could be more involved in than it currently is to provide means by which Canadian Presbyterians can live out their Christian life in whatever task they might be called to serve. We focus primarily on the call of ministers of word and sacrament but often forget that others are equally called of God to serve in their own way as doctors, lawyers, engineers, homemakers, first responders, teachers, human resource specialists, etc.

Sure, there have been many prominent Presbyterians throughout the history of Canada and some have kept the fact that they are Presbyterians quite quiet. However, it would be great to encourage Presbyterians today to follow Paul’s advice: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it to the glory of God.”

What concern of the church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?

Churches across the country are faithfully responding to Christ’s call to serve their communities. We’re good at organizing, good at programming, and good at preparing reports. Someone recently said, “you Presbyterians are so competent it seems that you might be in danger of thinking you don’t even need God.” And, so the concern of the church’s internal life and ministry that I think should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus is prayer. We can easily become bogged down by these reports, committees and to do lists and neglect our time with God in prayer. Prayer is the key—the glue that holds it all together not only the way to start a meeting or thing we do as a last resort.

In preparing a training session for new elders at St. John’s recently, a seasoned elder suggested a primer for new elders on prayer. That’s a good start. I think we, including me, could use that primer and encouragement—ministers, presbyters, members and adherents. Like James said, “the prayers of righteous ones are powerful and effective.”

Understanding that congregations are a key place where the continuing ministry of Christ is dynamically lived out, say a bit about what are, in your understanding, the most important features and principles of faithful congregational ministry?

Like in any sport,practice of basic skills is the key to success. In competitive swimming, as I did as a young man, that’s focusing on your strokes (fly, back, breast and freestyle), starts, turns and lane position. In ministry, there is no need to search for the novel way of doing things (though websites and social media are part of how churches operate). We should just practice and practice the same basic skills of study, preaching, praying, visiting, listening, organizing, and leading.

Years ago a professor told me you really don’t do any ministry until you’ve been in one place for twenty years. Now that I’ve been in one place for more than twenty years, I am beginning to understand a little bit about what that mentor meant. Long residency in one congregation means you need to be able to work with people through the good the bad and the ugly. It requires forgiveness, good communication and patience.

One of the objectives of the PCC’s Strategic Plan is “Visionary Leadership.” What is visionary leadership to you?

One of the things I learned from the best selling management book Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t by Jim Collins was the need for a BHAG—a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. Visionary leadership requires having that kind of thinking (“walking on the moon” kind of thinking).

I’ve been involved in a couple of BHAG projects.

The first was the construction of a new church building. In the fall of 2000, the Presbytery of Oak Ridges stepped off a yellow school bus into a cornfield and dedicated five acres of land to the glory of God and for the future home of St. John’s Presbyterian Church. A new church building was constructed in 2004 and a retirement home in 2017. A second phase extension construction project for the church building is underway and a new separate memory-care facility is awaiting site plan approval. No one thought it could be done and it was a big, hairy, audacious goal.

The second was the establishment of an Ontario College of Teachers accredited Bachelor of Education program while I worked as Academic Dean at Tyndale University College. Again, no one thought it was possible to have a teacher-training program at a faith-based university that would educate and equip faith full teachers to serve in public and separate schools. But we did it.

Visionary leadership requires a strategic plan to be sure. However, that’s not enough. The next step is to articulate a strategic operating plan with measurable goals, strategic drivers and timelines. And, the ability to hold people accountable for the completion of the goals—that’s not always easy in a church setting that relies so heavily on volunteers. In this context, I’ve been helped by the work on social entrepreneurship entitled Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed by Francis Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Patton. (The cover of the book says: “This book is for those who are not happy with the way things are and would like to make a difference. This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that will create extraordinary outcomes. This book is about making the impossible happen.”)

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation within congregations. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he talked a little about renewal. In the twelfth chapter, he urged the church to no longer “conform” to the world, but to be “transformed by the renewing of their minds.”

For me, then, spiritual renewal includes a dimension of renewing of my mind. I need to do this daily. If I look at the amount of screen time I have each day as recorded on my iPhone, I recognize, like most of us, that a lot of things are entering my mind each day (email, websites, texts, etc). Rather than trying to reduce the amount of technology, I’ve been trying to utilize it to help me in the renewing of my mind. For the past number of years, I’ve used a lectionary app to help me with my daily Bible reading. The app uses a different version of the Bible than I have been familiar with. As a result, I read and saw things differently. I’ve switched to another app this year to help me read through the Bible in a year. Plus, I have pre-selected podcasts that I will listen to while driving.

As a denomination corporately, it would be good to be able to share “life hacks” that people are finding effective in their hope to “renew their minds.”

What do you understand the Moderator’s role to be during this time when the PCC is discerning the mind of Christ on the matter of sexuality?

I’ve been moderating discussions on the matter of sexuality for more than 20 years in the church, at Tyndale University College and in my family.

In a course I taught at Tyndale in the early 2000s, I included a discussion of a variety of issues facing the church and the world, one of those issues was the church’s response to homosexuality. I encouraged the students to understand both a progressive and traditional approach. For the last two years, I’ve taught a fourth-year undergraduate capstone course entitled “Christian and Culture” in which I have included an Oxford-union style of debate on various subjects. Students debate issues related to human sexuality and I serve as moderator. As a professor, I understand the complex needs of my students when emotionally charged discussions like this arise and work to establish a safe environment where all are heard and dignity is upheld. We all come to this discussion with preconceived thoughts and judgements; the role of the professor, like that of a moderator, is to make space for all to be heard and valued.

As a moderator, I see the role—after opening a session with prayer—is to encourage lively discussion allowing individuals to speak of their lived experience and their conceptions of truth. Sometimes that discussion needs to be calmed down (moderated) when someone becomes too impassioned or moves into personal attacks, and other times that discussion may need to be turned up (moderated) to ensure more timid or reserved voices are heard. In the classroom, I do not force my opinion, rather I encourage students to hear and understand my and one another’s perspective and to reach their own conclusions.

I understand the role of the Moderator of the General Assembly to be similar. The moderator begins the sessions with prayer and moderates the discussion and calls for a decision. As a moderator, of course, I am located and have my perspectives regarding human sexuality, but my role is to help the court, guided by the Spirit, come to its collective understanding of God’s will. That collective understanding may be in accord with my own understanding or it may not be—the goal of the discussion is for it to be led by the Spirit of God, not by the moderator’s opinion. Indeed, the moderator’s personal opinion should not enter into the discussion in any way. And, as the court completes its deliberation, the moderator only conveys and communicates the collective decision.

Who are some of your most treasured and formative Christian thinkers and writers and why?

H. Bavinck was a missionary to Indonesia with the Dutch Reformed Church. ut of his experience there, he wrote a couple of books that have been influential in my thinking. The Church Between the Temple and the Mosque and An Introduction to the Science of Mission. He makes the case that there are five magnetic points in all religious systems and that ultimately the gospel of Jesus Christ is the means by which things are set right. In our Canadian context, where the church is often, quite literally, between the temple and the mosque, I think Bavinck’s insights are particularly germane.

As a child, my mother read to me, and my brothers, the Chronicles of Narnia. From there I read The Screwtape Letters on my own. While in grad school in British Columbia, I joined a Friday morning reading group that met in a professor’s home at 7am. Each week we read works by various members of the Inklings. As a result, I was introduced, not only to Lewis and Tolkien, but Dorothy Sayers and Charles Williams. The fictional worlds created by Lewis and Tolkien continue to fascinate people. The movies based on Narnia and the Lord of the Rings have, in our secular age, been able to introduce many to these great stories that speak of a “deeper magic.” As gospel communicators today, we might learn from Lewis, Tolkien—and even J. K. Rowlings (Harry Potter)—about the value of story to describe the death of one for many.

As an undergraduate student, I was introduced to Gustavo Gutiérrez and his Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation. Since that time, I have been intrigued by his emphasis on God’s preferential option, mission priority or bias for the poor and broken-hearted. More and more, as a church, we need to heed the words of Isaiah and echoed by Jesus “to preach good news to the poor and to set at liberty the captives.”

And, then, in a similar vein, I have been drawn to the Japanese theologian Kazoh Kitamori who wrote a Theology of the Pain of God. Drawing from the prophet Jeremiah, Kitamori reminds me that God suffers with God’s people. Within and without the church, there are many hurting and suffering people. They need to know that they are not alone.

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the church?

Christianity is going south: literally, and not as some think in a theological sense. Toward the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, the realization that the church of Christ has grown exponentially in the global south has become apparent. By some estimates, there are more Presbyterians in Ghana, West Africa than in Scotland, Canada, the United States and Australia—combined. It is not just West Africa though. Look at Korea too. Immigration from both Ghana and Korea has brought vibrancy to the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Demographers are suggesting that within a short period of time the People’s Republic of China might be the world’s most populous Christian nation. I’ve been to each of these countries and I’ve seen it. That suggests a sign of significant hope for the church.

And, when it comes to the world, there are also signs of hope. Diseases are being eradicated. Issues, such as maternal mortality (which I know about firsthand through my work as Managing Director of Save the Mothers as we expanded in North America and Africa), are being addressed.

What is your prayer for the church?


In Roman North Africa in the fourth century, the so-called Donatist controversy occurred. As a result of external pressures and persecution, the Donatists were concerned that some in the church handed over the sacred scriptures to be burned and they gave those who handed over the sacred scriptures a nickname that is similar to our English word “traitor.” In their pursuit of purity, the Donatists wanted to remove the “traitors” from their positions of leadership in the church. St Augustine was called in to address the situation. His recommendation: handing over the sacred scriptures was not right, but splitting the church was also wrong. He used the various parables in Matthew 13 (wheat and weeds, dragnet, mustard plant, yeast, etc) as a way of reminding the North African church, that in the Kingdom there exists wheat and weeds until the end. As a result, Augustine argued that the greater problem was the breaking up of the church. Unity was the priority. I like that.

So, my prayer for the church is the same as the prayer Jesus prayed, that the church be one.

Dr. Tori Smit

Dr. Tori Smit

Dr. Tori Smit, B.A., Dip.C.E., D.Ed.Min.
Tori Smit is a graduate of Ewart College and a diaconal minister presently serving as the Regional Minister for Faith Formation for the Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda (CNOB). She has been a professional Christian educator for over 35 years, serving congregations in Milton, Hamilton and Guelph, Ontario, as well as Orlando, Florida. She also served as the Associate Secretary of The Vine for The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

As an educator, Tori is passionate about our ministry with children, youth and their families and is a strong advocate for an intentional shift toward intergenerational ministry as the primary means through which our faith can be passed from one generation to the next.

She has keynoted at many Christian education events and led many workshops across Canada and the United States on behalf of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE), and LOGOS/GenOn Ministries. She has also written a broad variety of curriculum for the PCC, youth conference curriculum for Canada Youth and Montreat Conference Centre (PCUSA), and adult leaders guides on Amos and Hosea, and Matthew for Kerygma Bible Studies.

Tori holds a Doctor of Educational Ministry degree through Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, with her dissertation focus on Will Our Faith Have Children? Planting a Fruitful and Sustainable Ministry with Children in Congregations with Ten or Fewer Children. A chapter summarizing her research can be found in lntergenerate: Transforming Churches through Intergenerational Ministry edited by Holly Catterton Allen.

Throughout her ministry Tori has been active in the wider church, serving on the Assembly Council, the Life and Mission Agency Committee, the National Women’s Gathering planning team and as its event host, as a Guidance Conference counsellor and director, with our Teacher Leader Courses and on the design team of Presbyterian Youth Triennium. She has taught courses in Christian Education as an adjunct professor with Columbia Theological Seminary and Emmanuel College (University of Toronto).

Tori is married to the Rev. Dr. John-Peter Smit, Regional Minister for Congregational Health with the Synod of CNOB. Together they have two grown children and enjoy travel and DIY home renovation.

What are your earliest memories of church?

I was born into the Presbyterian Church as the second child of active and faithful Presbyterian parents. I am told I was baptized within a few days of being born and was then left to sleep in my bassinet on the minister’s desk during the worship service because the church had no nursery. While I don’t advocate leaving babies unattended, even in minister’s studies, it was one of the memories my parents spoke of often and with great fondness.

My own memories include our Easter sunrise services on the lawn of Hopedale Presbyterian Church in Oakville, ON. We all gathered regardless of weather for a family-focused service led by the Sunday school teachers. We then ran around the lawn for a bit before heading into church for the more ‘formal’ service and Sunday school. I cherish memories of Sunday school teachers who cared deeply for each of us, church families getting together ‘after hours’, church BBQs, and playing hide and go seek in the church basement. My fondest memory of all though is standing alone on the church lawn in the darkness of the night after the Christmas Eve service waiting for my parents to ‘finish up’ whatever it was they were doing in the church. I would stand in awe as the church lights would catch the falling snowflakes twinkling and dancing before settling onto the bed of snow that had only begun to fall while we were in worship. In the still of the night, I’d listen to the recorded church bells play out Christmas carols for their audience of one – me. The experience was always wonder-filled for me and an opportunity to stand in awe at the manger and welcome Jesus in the quiet of the night.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?

The first is Psalm 121. This text has a special meaning for me and my family. My husband is the child of Dutch immigrants and in the Dutch tradition you are given a passage of scripture at your wedding, not simply to be read at the service, but to carry you through the rest of your life together. Our passage, Psalm 121, has been read over and over again in our home, at our children’s baptisms, as well as every induction service we’ve experienced. It has been remembered during times of joy, day-to-day times, and at times of grief and loss. Over the years, I have discovered not just the comfort found in these words, but also the incredible way in which scripture is full and ripe with meaning and care during all of our days of our lives; that we can return over and over again and there will always be new and enlightening teaching for us there.

The second is Duet. 6:4-9. I could talk about this passage all day! As a person called to a ministry of Christian education and faith formation, this passage summarizes my calling. In the text we hear that we are called first and foremost to know and remember that the Lord is our God. This passage is not just about God’s relationship to us, but is also about our relationship with God; God being ‘our’ God is our primary identity and the basis of all that follows. Everything else matters because this one truth matters. In response we are to love God with every fibre of our being; heart, soul and might. In light of these two commands, we are to teach our children to know this very same God through every activity of our daily lives. With such love, we can do nothing else but.

Third, if I may, I would uphold all of the parables as one collective passage. I love stories and these stories in particular. Each of this ever-so-simple and equally complex stories pulls back the curtain and reveals new experiences of God each and every time we hear them. For me, my calling is to tell God’s living story, and the parables speak out with simplicity about this kingdom of God.

What book(s) do you wish everyone in the PCC had read or was reading?

Working on the assumption that reading scripture is the first and most consistent of our reading opportunities, I have a few more books that especially resonate with me and my area of ministry.

First, Will Our Children Have Faith? By John H. Westerhoff III. I remember reading this book for an assignment at Ewart College back in the 1980s. I must admit, I didn’t think much of it back then. Westerhoff advocated for an approach to faith formation that was the complete opposite of the approach the church was fully committed to at that time. Reading it again (and again, and again) in my later years I have come to realize how prophetic Westerhoff was foretelling of the losses we would experience when we tied our educational ministry so completely to the secular system of education. For churches who want to consider anew how they pass faith on from one generation to the next, this book is foundational.

Likewise, Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community by Scottie May, Beth Posterski, Catherine Stonehouse, and Linda Cannell builds on the work of Westerhoff. What Westerhoff advocates for, these women flesh out theologically, theoretically and practically. It’s a complete collection in one.

If I am allowed one more book, the conversation is then continued most recently by Holly Catterton Allen in Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship. Covering theology, theory and practice in this one volume Allen encourages us to re-embrace our earliest form of faith formation through intergenerational ministry.

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?

Our family has been involved in LOGOS (GenOn) ministries for decades. This midweek ministry for children and youth has one rule. “You are a Child of God and I will treat you that way.” This simple yet profound statement is one of my guiding stars. At its very best, the church is not about buildings or programs, it is knowing that we are all of us children of God and that we ought to strive to see each other through the eyes of God. If we believe that all people are created in the image of God, then it only makes sense that we make every effort to treat one another as God does; as Christ did. John 13:35 reminds us that the way we are identified as Christ’s disciples is by our love. In a time when love and kindness seem in very short supply, this seems a particularly important mandate.

What would you say are the most important features of faithful discipleship?

As I reflect on my life and ministry and especially on those lives that have touched me the most deeply I am struck that discipleship is much more about who we are than what we do. It is easy to imagine that discipleship is something we can put on or take off like a coat or even to learn like a skill. While we can certainly be intentional about discipleship, as followers of Jesus, we should reasonably expect that if we follow him that we will be like him, we will act like him and love like him and even look like him. The greatest disciples in my life did not learn to become disciples, instead, Christ’s love grew and blossomed within them until it became apparent not just who they were but whose they were.

What would you say is the core calling of the Church in Canada today?

I would begin by saying that at the centre of all things is our universal call to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds – with every aspect of our beings.

In response to God’s creative and abiding love, our first core activity is to worship our triune God. Our worship needs to be meaningful, vibrant and transformative. It should not only offer us the opportunity to offer praise and give thanks, but should also renew and replenish us all to serve our Lord in all that we do as we go out into the world, proclaiming and living into this amazing love.

Which would then lead to the second core activity of the church which is to be engaged and active in our world. To speak and demonstrate God’s love for all in every aspect of our lives. These two activities of worship and service go hand-in-hand. I once had a minister who would preface her benediction with the words, “Our time of worship is complete, and now our time of service begins.” I always loved the tightly knit juxtaposition of the two; worship and service in constant motion.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?

It will not be a surprise to hear that I believe the church needs to always stand on the side of children in our churches, our communities and our world. When we consider what is presently happening around the globe, whether it be the effects of war, poverty, the refugee crisis, indigenous concerns, global warming, abuse or any other of the many scandals of our age, children are always the most affected. There are more children displaced into refugee camps, more children living in poverty, more children suffering abuse at the hands of adults, more children living without clean water than any other generational group in our world. In addition to their being more greatly affected by all of these, children are also the least able to advocate for themselves. Therefore we, the church, must advocate for them and on their behalf.

I also believe that the children of our churches need to know and experience first-hand that all children are our greatest priority. Children need to be active participants when our churches consider our ministry priorities and need to be heard when they say what their own worries are. They need to be included meaningfully in the mission and social justice activities of our church as we seek to make our churches and our world a place of safety and love for all.

What concern of the Church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?

Sometimes it seems to me that we have forgotten whose we are; we have forgotten that we are the body of Christ. We are worried and perplexed in a time of change and decline and we begin to think that all of this is somehow only up to us. Clearly we have a role to play in the work of the kingdom but, at the end of the day, it is Christ’s church. It is Christ’s kingdom. This summer I was in England and heard a sermon in which the preacher said (paraphrased) “whom God calls is whom we get. If God calls few we are few. If God calls many, we are many.” He may have oversimplified it a bit, but it was a helpful reminder that at the end of the day we are called to be faithful and to remember that we belong to a God who loves us and the whole world more than we can imagine.

As I think about our day to day lives as the church the questions that occupy me are these. 1. How do we live into the promises of God as a people of hope and a people of joy? and, 2. How do we pass on our faith?

Understanding that congregations are a key place where the continuing ministry of Christ is dynamically lived out, say a bit about what are, in your understanding, the most important features and principles of faithful congregational ministry?

My good friend and teacher the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka reminds us that “our faith is communally constructed.” This is something we know to be true, but also often overlook as we consider how our congregations might function better. While we come into this world from the very beginning spiritually connected, we come to faith through those we rub shoulders with and interact with. Children and those new to the faith begin in their spiritual journey by adopting the faith of those they know and love and then begin to discover a faith of their own. In other words – relationships matter! In the church we must place a greater priority on these opportunities to build better and deeper relationships with others across all generations.

As we grow up in faith, the church must take seriously its call to move from discipleship to apostleship. As disciples, we are called to follow Jesus. We do this in worship and study and fellowship and prayer. There comes a point however when we need to understand that we are not simply called to follow but that we are sent. We are sent to each other. We are sent to our neighbours. We are sent to be a voice of love and justice. We are sent to the world. In my mind this sending mirrors the great commission of Luke 4:18,19

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

One of the objectives of the PCC’s Strategic Plan is “Visionary Leadership.” What is visionary leadership to you?

I was recently watching a TV show where the host said that the task of the leader is to take the people where they have never been before. We find ourselves in an unprecedented time for the church, not just in this nation but throughout most of the world. For many of us (and me too!) the world we live in is as different from the world we grew up in, just as Babylon was vastly different from Judah. As such, the task of leadership is to learn, as Psalm 137 teaches us, to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

As we consider the topography of this new place, we know a few things. First and foremost we know that God is already here. That does not change. However, we also know that what worked before may not work now. We lived for a time in Florida and in the south they say “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” We cannot keep trying to do what doesn’t work any longer. Likewise, we cannot just do nothing in the hope that if we wait long enough, things will get better. As I work with congregations in the area of faith formation we are realizing that even such cherished institutions as the Sunday School may no longer meet the needs of today’s church. Leadership is helping, guiding and walking with our people through this change.

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation within congregations. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?

My ministry has been dedicated to faith formation. When I started in ministry, we assumed that cognitive learning; learning the facts of the faith was all we needed to do. Over time we have realized that this was an empty hope. As I consider the implications of this realization, I am profoundly aware of the power of faithful Christians to plants seeds of faith and love. This cannot be ‘do as I say not as I do.’ If we want our children to pray, we must pray. If we want our children to read the bible, we must read the bible. If we want our children to grow up in faith hope and love, then we have to be people of faith hope and love.

As a parent and as an educator I know it is not always easy to be a good example. However, from my own life, I also know the significance of an authentic life of faith. I also know that attending to my own faith walk is sometimes harder than I would like to admit. In a busy world it is easy to set aside personal devotions and prayer and yet I strive to keep my life in balance for my own sake and for the sake of those dear to me. One of the greatest joys in my life is God’s word. Opening scripture, reading it devotionally or studying it for a sermon or a study is so nurturing and reminds me so profoundly of what a blessing God’s word is.

As I mentioned earlier, for a long time we thought that just teaching the facts of the faith was all we had to do. As we move into this new era, faith formation becomes paramount. We grew up asking the question ‘is it true?’ this generation asks the question ‘does it work?’ the only authentic answer we can give is ‘come and see.’ We teach prayer by praying. We teach forgiveness by forgiving. In many ways the demands of this day are for an apprenticeship model of faith formation; ‘let us learn and grow together.’

What do you understand the Moderator’s role to be during this time when the PCC is discerning the mind of Christ on the matter of sexuality?

First and foremost I understand the role of moderator at this General Assembly to be exactly that – to moderate. At times of conversation and debate on issues that we are passionate about and in this case disagree on, I believe the church looks to the moderator to be a calm and reassuring presence. I was so appreciative of the work of the moderator’s committee at our last General Assembly. They were able to provide a process and an environment that brought out the best in us. I similarly pray that I might be able to set a tone and create a space that brings out our best; our best conduct, our best thoughts and our best hopes.

In all things, I am reminded and reassured that we are a theocratic church and not a democratic church. In other words, our primary task is to discern God’s will in community.

I also believe that the moderator is there to remind the court of the whole ministry of the church. At times of tension and disagreement, it is easy to forget that we are a part of a story that goes back in time and is so much wider and bigger than any one issue or concern. Finally, the task of the moderator is to remind the church that in Christ there will always be more that binds us together than divides.

Who are some of your most treasured and formative Christian thinkers and writers and why?

There are so many, and many of them have never written a book or preached a sermon, or would be known by many beyond their own communities, and some are much younger than I. Many worship and serve in the congregations I have been honoured to serve as well as the synod in which I now serve.

However, when pressed to speak of theologians and educators I could listen to and never grow tired of reading I would have to begin with Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann who has written over 50 books primarily on the Hebrew Bible. I always find myself having to stop and reread an unassuming sentence that suddenly changes my deeply-held perspective with two or three simple but challenging words. He is the source of my desire to live differently today because of the promises that are yet to be.

Likewise, I treasure my reading and listening to Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence. As a professor of preaching, she teaches us to pay particular attention to the verbs in scripture. She says the nouns are contextual, but the verbs are timeless. When Anna preaches I find myself leaning in to catch her every word. She preaches with strength and loving care and takes us to a place we had no idea we would go, but are thankful she took us there. Come and hear Anna teach and preach at this spring’s National Women’s Gathering – you won’t regret it!

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the Church?

I don’t want to sound cliche, but my hope for the world and the church is primarily found in the people I get to interact with each and every day throughout the PCC. I come home from many meetings and workshops having met a teacher, a minister, an elder or young person who loves God deeply and wants to live out their calling in their church and local community. I see young people signing up for Youth in Mission, leaders of children’s ministries giving up time and gifting their talents so that children might delight in the Lord. Our ministers love their people and our elders strive to lead well.

There is an elder that every time we meet he tells me what he and his youth group are doing together. He cares for them as if they were his own, because they are God’s own. He always wants to do better and yet he is doing exactly what he should be doing and doing it so well.

I had a text from a minister yesterday telling me that one of her teachers had spent her time after church dumpster diving to rescue a cheap plastic ring that a young child had accidentally left behind from a church event the night before. The ring held no value, except to this young child who tied its worth to her experience with her church family as they played and celebrated Epiphany together. Her teacher risked being caked in food scraps to rescue the symbol of God’s gifts for this little one.

I am blessed to hear these stories over and over again. There are many wonderful people doing incredible things on the world stage, and I am always silenced by their generosity and willingness to serve, but it is the grassroots stories that give me the greatest hope and it is the grassroots I believe that transforms our world one tiny act by one tiny act.

What is your prayer for the Church?

That the world will know we are Christians by our love. At a time of turmoil and unrest we naturally turn to the people who think like us and believe like us. However, I believe that what marks us as the church is not how we agree but how we disagree. Getting along with people who are like us is no great challenge, but getting along with people not like us is what sets us apart as chosen and precious. We had a family friend who, when every other parent told their children to do their best at school, told her children to be kind to others. It is this kindness, it is the fruits of the spirit, it is treating others like children of God that shows who we are as Christians and tells the good news we have for our children and for the world.