I am pleased to announce that the following names will appear on the ballot for Moderator of the 2023 General Assembly.

The General Assembly authorized the facilitation of online voting for the nominee for Moderator of the 2023 General Assembly. Instructions for voting will be shared with presbyteries. The Committee to Advise with the Moderator will confirm the nomination of the Moderator on April 3, 2023. The 2023 General Assembly will commence on June 4, 2023, at a location within the bounds of the Presbytery of Halifax & Lunenburg in Nova Scotia.

—The Rev. Victor Kim,
Principal Clerk

Mr. John Barrett

Mr. John I.F. Barrett (B.Mus., Dip Arts Admin.)
Elder, Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Having joined the congregation of Zion Presbyterian Church, Charlottetown, while a university student in 1973, John has participated as an active member since that time including his ongoing involvement in the music ministry. He was ordained an elder in 1987 and for the past 15 years has served as clerk of session. On occasion he has provided pulpit supply in the absence of the lead minister.

A former moderator of the Presbytery of Prince Edward Island, he has also served as presbytery’s deputy clerk along with convening several initiatives such as the 200th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. For the past two years, John has been working with the presbytery and various First Nations organizations to develop a cross-cultural camp between First Nations and Presbyterian Youth.

A regular attendee at the Synod of the Atlantic Provinces, he was appointed by the Synod Council to lead a financial review and develop a forward plan regarding the ongoing funding formulas for the synod and presbytery camps within synod’s bounds. This led to a change in structure that was adopted favourably by the synod. In 2020, John created a publication entitled “Hear the Good News” that contained detailed descriptions of unique and highly successful church services and events from throughout the Atlantic Synod. This was shared with all synods across the denomination.

Nationally, John served six years on the Assembly Council and is now in his eleventh year on the Council’s Finance Committee. John has led seminars and consultations with numerous congregations in the region concerning the benefits and procedures surrounding the Presbyterian Church Consolidated Portfolio. Now in his second year on the Life and Mission Agency Committee, he recently participated on the search committee for the new Associate Secretary of Communications.

John has attended many General Assemblies as a commissioner, as a member of the Business Committee and as its convenor for the past two Assemblies. He was a member of the Committee to Advise with the Moderator in 2016. He has also aided other Moderators of the General Assembly during their visitations to Eastern Canada.

Professionally, John serves as the Director of Sales, Marketing & Development for a Canadian mail order gardening business, located on Prince Edward Island. He is married to Faye (Rogerson), who serves as Music Director at Zion Presbyterian Church. Together they have one son, Connor (Tracey), and two wonderful granddaughters. The Barrett’s reside in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?
I have always been fascinated by the book of Job. It’s not that I’ve been rewarded with great riches, nor have I experienced the painful tests that Job had endured, yet I derive tremendous strength from his initial reaction to his circumstance in Job 1:21 “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Further on in the book when Elihu could no longer tolerate the blame game that was being directed at Job, he states in Job 33:14 “God always answers, one way or another, even when people don’t recognize his presence.” What a wonderful reminder that God has a plan and is always with me.

Ever since a trip to the Caesarea Philippi and standing in the very spot referenced by these words, the passage in Matthew 16:18 is emblazoned in my heart and serves as a constant reminder that our church is in fact built on our rock of belief. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?
The church “at its best” is simply there for the taking! While we can, in our own small way, work to influence the necessary changes required to be relevant, inclusive and in peaceful harmony with our planet, the core of our belief and the Bible we hold so dear is already at its best.

As we move on from a difficult and divisive phase in our long history; as we have recognized and apologized for our sinful behavior; as we make amends to reconcile past transgressions to those we have harmed, it is now time for us to seek a path of joy and celebration of the Holy Spirit. A vision of a Christian body united in belief, congregations committed to their mutual trust and love for one another, and a heartfelt effort to spread the Good News unheard by so many would be an image and vision that I would hope we could all strive to achieve.

What would you say is the core calling of the Church in Canada today?
There are certainly many facets to the core calling of the Church in Canada or anywhere else for that matter. We are called to worship, to be holy, to be a loving community, to serve, to witness and to influence the world through our actions. Sometimes I feel that we stray from these core callings as we get distracted by what I call ‘busy work’. Presbyterians are famous for our endless number of committee obligations. We should ask ourselves before each of these countless meetings if we are working to the core calling of not only our denomination, but the calling placed on us by our Lord.

Are we slow to act? Are we forgetful of our responsibilities to witness and to make disciples? Are we so distracted by the ‘busy work’ of church life that we neglect our God given calling? The church, whether individually or nationally, cannot go astray when keeping our core callings at the forefront of our actions and prayers.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?
Obviously, our current work of reconciliation and inclusiveness must continue through funding, listening, understanding and action. Apologies and Confessions are hollow without the long-term effort and commitment that we have promised to those affected by our actions.

Having said that however I think we need an increased focus on poverty within our nation. We are experiencing post covid, inflationary and climatic changes that have had the most serious impact on those who were marginalized to begin with. There are more than 300 verses in the Bible that talk about “the poor”. God makes it clear in His Word that He cares about those living in need and wants us to care as well. As found in Proverbs 19:17 “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.”

Understandably, I feel the church at times wishes to focus on much larger, current hot button topics such as climate change, international conflicts, and political legislation. While these areas of world development are indeed important, we must realize the limitations of both our influence and our monetary capability. I believe it is time to extend a more concerted effort towards the public need, congregation by congregation.

What concern of the Church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?
I’ve long thought that there was a disconnect between the court of the General Assembly (and between assemblies the Assembly Council and the national office), and the Sessions that make up our denomination. For reasons of convenience, the range of communications from all major facets of the PCC tend to funnel through Synods and Presbyteries. In a perfect world all this information would make its way to individual Elders and their Sessions, but this is certainly not the case. With congregational health being such a grave concern currently, Sessions need to be hearing directly from the various arms of the church so that Elders can be better informed and better equipped to respond to the needs of their congregations and the church as a whole.

To simply imply that “everything is on the website”, is not helpful for the many who find it difficult to search the vast data base or even know what to search for. As the number of congregations dwindle, the technological abilities available today to communicate directly with Session Clerks should be a relatively simple goal to achieve. I have found that in church, in business and in non-profit groups, nothing strengthens an organization as well as frequent, open, and simple communication. Our Presbyterian Connection newspaper does an excellent job of this four times a year, but it alone is not the answer to a strengthened denomination.

One of the goals of the strategic plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation in the church. What does spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?
While spiritual renewal is shared (I hope), each week during Sunday worship, this 20 or 25 minutes out of a 10,000 minute week is by no means sufficient for true spiritual growth within a congregation. Interesting, well executed Bible Study should be the basis for the spiritual growth of our entire denomination. Not only does this prepare us to hear the Word preached each Sunday, but it also encourages us to explore the Bible and its teachings between sessions – resulting in our lives becoming enriched and our spiritual cognisance expanded. The quality of Bible Study leadership is key to its effectiveness and our collective spiritual growth. If such leadership is not readily available within a congregation, I would strongly suggest that existing, professionally developed video and written programs be obtained for this specific purpose.

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the church?
One needs to look no further than the most recent copy of the Presbyterian Connection to see a plethora of hope for our church. Stories highlighting milestone anniversaries at St. Andrew’s Innisfail, AB, St. David’s Toney River, NS and St. Andrew’s Islington, ON are all wonderful reminders of the faith and commitment that exists in our many long-established congregations across the country. In recent years we may have been perceiving our denomination as a glass half empty, but I would challenge that mindset and remind us that regardless of our differences, God’s work continues through his dedicated servants nationwide.

From a global perspective, the actions of PWS&D continue to provide hope for those affected by disaster, conflict, and famine. Project by project, individual by individual, this important work changes lives and provides the essential hope for those in need.

I have faith that Christian renewal and resurgence is in our church’s future. I believe the Good News of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ will be heard by those lost in today’s society. We must be patient, but we must not be idle. I think this is likely best expressed through Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

What is your prayer for the church?
My full prayer for the church could not easily fit in the confines of the 200-word limitation
imposed on these answers, but I do wish to highlight two areas that immediately come to mind as I ponder our collective future.

Firstly, I do pray that congregations considering graceful dismissal from our denomination look more inward to their history, their accomplishments and all they have provided their members during their rich Presbyterian history. Regardless of how they perceive the actions or approach of their sister congregation(s) ‘down the street’, I pray that they build on the teachings and principles that have established themselves as the spiritual bond between their members and our Lord Jesus Christ. As a denomination we are stronger together than apart; dealing with our differences in a mature and kind fashion is how we grow together in Christ. May we be led to discern our path to righteousness as a unified body with respect for divergent views and opinions.

Secondly, I would pray for multi charge churches within our bounds who are struggling with attendance and finances. May they seek the guidance of those who have reaped the rewards of amalgamation and be provided with a vision for the future.

The Rev. Mary Fontaine

The Rev. Mary Fontaine (B.A, M.Div.)
Director, Hummingbird Ministries in Vancouver, B.C.

Mary Fontaine is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Mistawasis Nehiywak, Saskatchewan, where she grew up attending the Mistawasis Presbyterian Church with her family.

Mary has a B.A. in Native Studies from the University of Alberta (1995) and an M.Div. from the Vancouver School of Theology (2003). She was on the Executive Committee of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (2010-2017). She convenes the National Indigenous Ministries Council of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and serves on the Special Committee re Listening, Confession and Associations.

Mary’s mother trusted in Jesus Christ and was grateful for the culture and language he gave to her people. Her father made her aware of the suffering of Indigenous people and urged her to get an education to seek healing for them. The revelation of Indigenous history in Canada through her Native Studies degree was heartbreaking but the truth brought understanding and healing. Mary’s grandfather (a pipe carrier) modelled what it meant to be a humble follower of the Circle. He taught that the main purpose of life was to learn how to love. Her spiritual parents taught Mary spiritual discernment, and spiritual and emotional healing through prayer and the Word of God. She learned to facilitate healing circles, through an integrated program developed by a team of Cree elders and psychologists.

Mary is the Founding Director of Hummingbird Ministries (2005), an Indigenous-led healing and reconciliation ministry. Through healing circles and the performing arts, Hummingbird educates the public and raises the profile of Indigenous people, especially for Indigenous children. Mary writes plays and narrated stories expressed through dance performances by the children. Hummingbird’s annual events provide opportunities for reconciliation, bringing many cultures, faiths and classes of people together with Indigenous people. Mary preaches at local churches and special occasions such as the 2019 General Assembly.

In spite of legislation which tried to extinguish Indigenous ways, Mary was given an honour song and her Indigenous name, Hummingbird. The Holy Spirit found a way to give her a drum song of thanksgiving, for the gifts of prayer, song and dance and the gifts of the hummingbird. The song and the name changed Mary’s life leading her to VST’s Native Ministries Program, and eventually to Hummingbird Ministries.

Mary discerns the Spirit at work in Indigenous wisdom and spirituality and sees how this can enhance the church she loves, in various ways including relationship-building and care of the earth. She hopes in the Indigenous vision (similar to Revelation), that one day, the nations will gather beneath the tree of peace and learn to love and live in harmony with one another.

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,
Matthew 7:16

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 worship everywhere in what we do, how we live and treat one another, not only in Sunday worship. We’ve learned to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our minds, our souls and our neighbour as ourselves, by caring for and helping one another. The church is buzzing with life everywhere, not only the Church, but it has also grown outside of its buildings. And it includes children and youth. Relationships are healthy and open between generations. Grandchildren are close with grandparents.

What would you say is the core calling of the church in Canada today?
The core calling of the Church is to set the example of emotional and spiritual maturity by demonstrating that WE are not all about material wealth but the spiritual abundance demonstrated by how closely we follow the path created by the One who died that we may live. To love justice by heeding the cries of the world and to be a friend, not judging or blaming but loving and caring for, even those who are different.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?
The Church needs to find ways of connecting with the people in its immediate vicinity and work ecumenically and with other faith groups where possible. When I was a student minister at the Mistawasis Presbyterian Church, one of my sisters said, “Now don’t stick by yourself at the church, be part of our community. Come to the school, come to community events, be with us.” I followed that advice by fundraising with the children and youth so they could attend summer camps and social outings during the winter. Fundraising barbeques outside the band office reached the staff who worked at the Band administration office. People got their bottles ready for our bottle drives. The women gathered at the church to make 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 and we reached youth through our summer and winter outings and many children attended Vacation Bible School.

The Church in the cities needs to find new ways of walking and talking our faith in Jesus Christ by connecting with the people in our neighbourhoods. An outreach community group could be organized to visit and invite people to special events at the church. And result in a sense of warmth and community towards the church.

Often people need a safe place to go to be and to meet new friends. The Church’s work in overcoming the saga of the residential school system may lead to the creation of a new image of the Church, and unanticipated benefits and growth.

One way to reimagine the church is to think of it as part of a larger circle of life. One that is inclusive yet with a unique and valued identity. One that helps to set a standard of listening and respecting the gifts that God has distributed among the nations of the world. The Circle represents Indigenous theological concepts like harmonious respectful relationships, strong community, multiple connections and equal value among the nations and lifeforms of God’s creation.

The PCC could draw on the wisdom of Indigenous elders available through its eight Indigenous ministries for a deeper understanding of Indigenous theology gained through seeing God’s wisdom reflected in his creation. There are also some valuable books written by non-Indigenous people who have lived and walked with Indigenous people in various ways. The concept of everything we do is a prayer was demonstrated in a course at VST, about prayer, delivered by West Coast Salish elders who demonstrated how they built their canoes with prayer. A Salish woman did a weaving workshop for Hummingbird and described how weaving was a prayer.
Individual Presbyterians could learn and set an example for other Presbyterians by attending public Indigenous events and programs.

What concern of the church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?
The PCC needs to finds ways to connect with the younger generations for the future life of the Church. And to reach other cultures, we need to change the language of church somehow.

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?

I think the Church and theological schools should do more work on the theology of the Holy Spirit. To practice discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in the Church through the Prayer Elders (male and female) and the minister. And to also listen to what the Spirit is saying through the men, the women, the children and youth. Where is the balance between the mind and the heart? The mind, body, soul and spirit are all important parts of the human being but in the Church, our custom is to rely on what is written in Scriptures. Sometimes we need wisdom, kindness, compassion and humour more that the “blue book” [i.e. The Book of Forms] in given situations, especially since the greatest commandment is to love others as ourselves. The Church could benefit by regular prayer Circles (groups). And the use of song, dance and drama are powerful ways of reaching hearts across differences. These gifts allow for joyful as well as solemn worship.

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the church?
That the PCC has taken many good steps towards healing and reconciliation with Indigenous people. It 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. This is hopeful because it demonstrates love and acceptance of Indigenous people and our languages and cultures. It demonstrates the church’s openness to be guided by the Spirit as well as 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. The Church continues to be a source of hope for eternal life through the sacrificial love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is your prayer for the church?
My prayer is that our church will grow in Spirit, in numbers and especially in love. That our Church will thrive in the midst of society as a place of healing and reconciliation, not only with Indigenous people but with God our Creator, with one another as human beings and with the Earth our Mother and her many gifts. I pray that as an entity of the human race, the Church nearing that time and place when we can gather beneath that great tree of peace, where we bury our weapons against each other, having finally learned how to love and live peacefully with one another.

The Rev. Paul Johnston

The Rev. Paul D. Johnston (B.Sc.; M.R.E.; M.Div.)
Minister, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Arnprior, Ont.

Paul Johnston is currently minister for St. Andrew’s Church in Arnprior, Ontario. He was born in Toronto, was baptized at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Whitby, and spent his early years in Scarborough.

After his family moved to the USA, Paul attended university and graduate school in Chicago. He received the following degrees: B.Sc. in Journalism, Radio/TV, M. Div. and M.R.E. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1989, and served congregations in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Hearing a call to “come home”, he transferred to The Presbyterian Church in Canada in 2004, serving in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. In 2015, he became the Associate Pastor for English Ministry at Markham Chinese Presbyterian Church. In 2021, he moved to Arnprior. Paul has served on and convened committees in the Presbyteries of Lindsay-Peterborough and Oak Ridges. He served two terms as moderator of the Presbytery of Lindsay-Peterborough and three terms as a member of the Committee on Church Doctrine. In the towns where he’s served, Paul has been committed to involvement in community worship and service groups, finding the powerful joy of sharing together the gift of new life in Jesus.

He is married to the Rev. Carey Jo Johnston, who works with Literacy and Evangelism, International. Their son, Andrew, is a student at Seneca College. In his spare time, Paul enjoys classic movies and baking – sourdough and other breads a particular favourite.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?
Many verses have been important in different seasons of my life, but over the years, these three have been continued to shape my perspective on things.
1 Peter 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” Peter wrote to Christians facing serious trials. When the power of death seems insurmountably strong, the reminder Jesus has overcome it is a living hope indeed.
Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” With so much in the world claiming some groups are better, wiser, more evolved, more valuable, than others, it’s important to remember every human being – young or old, weak or strong, western, northern, southern, whatever – is valuable because every human being bears the image of God.
Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Life is often confusing, and the way forward is sometimes unclear. But it’s comforting to know Jesus hasn’t left us alone to figure it out if we can. Jesus is with us moment by moment showing us the way to go and leading us to the place of promise.

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?
The church is at its best when it lives as the family of God, when it feels like Jesus is the firstborn of many siblings. Loneliness is a problem for many in our society. The social institutions where people used to build strong, deep relationships have badly atrophied. Advice that promised to help people live happily ever after too often leaves people discouraged and lonely.

But when the church has a deep family feeling, we can help people know they are not alone. There are people around them who can help them – and whom they can help. Jesus calls us to encourage one another, support one another, care for one another, bear the burdens of one another, build up one another, in love serve one another. And sometimes in humility and gentleness correct one another. When we do this, the church community becomes a living witness of the love of Jesus Christ.

What would you say is the core calling of the Church in Canada today?
As one of my teachers put it, the one thing the church has that society around us does not have is the skill to teach and proclaim, to interpret and apply the word of God to the questions and uncertainties of daily life. Our core calling is to help people hear, understand, and find ways to live in the light of that word. No matter how polished and professional our presentation might be, it’s ultimately empty if it doesn’t facilitate an encounter with the living word of God. This word gives an enduring promise of hope to the discouraged. This word gives us a vision of justice larger than the partisan interests of powerful groups. And this word is a challenge to the proud and self-confident.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?
The PCC has a history of thoughtful study and involvement in public issues. What we often lack, though, is a personal connection between people. For example, ministries like the Raw Carrot do an effective job offering opportunities for people facing barriers to the traditional workforce. The power of the ministry is in the personal stories of people who have the opportunity to find meaningful work as part of the team. The PCC can build on our history of thoughtful study to find more ways to make our ministry keep that human contact.

What concern of the Church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?
The Special Committee on Petitions 1 and 2 is just the latest effort to deal with relationships in the PCC. This has been an ongoing issue: what is the basis of our union? How can we build partnerships of affection and trust in the ministry we share? It’s relatively easy to embrace those who are like us, who agree with us and support us. What about those who are not “like us”? Can we embrace them and recognize we have things to learn from them – just as they have from us? We’ve had many efforts at reorganization and policy development, but haven’t quite made the relational connection. Finding ways to build and strengthen the personal relations among our members and congregations should be a greater part of our focus.

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation in the church. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?
Spiritual renewal answers to prayers like Paul’s for the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:17-18), asking God to give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” so they might know God better. He prayed they would be enlightened to know the hope of God’s call to them. Personally, renewal means practicing the presence of Jesus moment by moment, learning to see Jesus wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. In a congregation, it would mean realizing every task, every meeting, every activity is something we do in the presence of God. It just might change the way we talk about things if we realized Jesus is here beside us, hanging on our every word.

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the Church?
As the old hymn puts it, “not with the roll of stirring drums, but with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.” So, I see signs of hope when those deeds of love and mercy express the grace of Jesus for people. Simple deeds of kindness shine like lights in a time when too many are out for themselves. And it is encouraging to hear the stories of the faithful Christians in places where the church is persecuted. Their courage holding firmly to their faith in Christ is inspiring. The Spirit who strengthens them can help me – can help all of us.

What is your prayer for the Church?
Paul wrote to the Ephesians God called us so we could “be to the praise of his glory.” Somehow, our existence should point people to praise the God. The church’s standing in the larger Canadian society is a long way from that standard, so we have some work to do. But my prayer is we would be so profoundly renewed in the grace of Jesus that as we hold out the word of truth people would be moved to praise