Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’” 1 Samuel 3:9 (NKJV)
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8 (NKJV)
In November of 2013 we answered a call to the New Church Westville, in Durban, South Africa.
With just weeks left before our baby was due (and me walking around like a time bomb) it was a strange, stressful time to be considering a request we’d received from the General Church – that we think about moving from Dawson Creek to South Africa in order for Coleman to become the associate pastor at the Westville New Church.
After much reflection, many conversations, lots of questions and a great deal of prayer we decided to answer yes, we would go. This was not an easy decision (leaving never is) but it was especially difficult to make knowing that we would be leaving western Canada without a resident pastor for at least a year, as there was no one able to replace Coleman immediately.
Below is the letter that we composed to the Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie congregations, explaining our decision and our process in arriving at that decision.
As you have just read in the bishop’s letter, Anne and I have agreed to move to South Africa this coming July to serve at the New Church Westville, near Durban. The decision to accept that call was not an easy one, and it is very, very difficult to contemplate leaving Dawson Creek and the Peace Country now, just as we are starting to feel a new surge of energy around the church, with a new floor in the basement, paving finally done on the parking lot, a successful “Begin a New Life” program just finished, and more and more visitors stopping in for church on Sundays. I want to make it very clear: the fact that I am leaving does not mean that my three-year stint out here was a failure, and is not an indication that the church here is in decline. This is a move of necessity for the church as a whole, and not a reflection of the life and energy we feel in the Dawson Creek congregation, or the New Church in western Canada.
I expect many of you are wondering why, if that is the case, we agreed to move. As I said, it wasn’t an easy decision. When the bishop first approached me to ask if we’d be willing to move to South Africa, I said that it could theoretically be a possibility – since my agreed-to three-year term here was coming to an end – but that before I could answer, the clergy in Canada would have to come to a decision about whether or not it was possible to continue serving Dawson Creek with a resident pastor. After several discussions, the Canadian clergy did conclude that ideally we would continue to serve Dawson Creek with a resident pastor, and if at all possible I would like to stay here. I conveyed to the General Church administrators that I thought it would be very hard on the congregation if they were to lose their pastor at this time, and I passed along some of the concerns that were expressed at the semi-annual meeting.
The bishop and his advisory council did listen and hear this, and they took it to heart. They called special meetings to discuss possibilities, and they did everything they possibly could to find someone else to fill the role. Unfortunately, right now there is a shortage of ministers in the General Church, and there was not one other minister who they could find to fill this position. With no one graduating from the theological school this year, they reluctantly asked if I would be willing to fill the position, even knowing the harm it would do to the church in western Canada to lose their resident pastor.
I agreed to do so, because I trust their decision and the process that they used to come to it. I trust that they were sincerely seeking the Lord’s will, and that they genuinely considered the ramifications for the church in western Canada. As a pastor, I am called to care for my flock, and my flock includes the church in Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie. But as such, I have to trust the regional pastors and the bishop to look out for their flock, which is the church as a whole; and so I trust that they are in a better position than I am to see and weigh the needs of the church around the world.
And having talked to Rev. Malcolm Smith, who has been nominated to be the head pastor in Westville, I have been able to see the need there, and how my talents might be valuable there. I wondered at first – as I suspect many of you have – how it could make sense to take the only pastor from one congregation and send him to another congregation that already has a pastor. But in talking to the bishop and Malcolm I learned just how big a job it is down there. As Bishop Keith mentioned in his letter, the church school there is in the process of doubling in size, and there are other groups in the country that need visiting pastors. The job there, as it is now, would be impossible for one minister to handle.
And so I have agreed to move there and offer my services. As sad as I am to be leaving western Canada, I am excited about the uses I will be serving there. I am looking forward to getting to know the people there, and working alongside new friends at the school and at the church. But I will miss you all here. I will miss the Peace Country itself (maybe even the winters!). And I will miss having all the opportunities to be in your homes and in your lives, to witness births and deaths and weddings with you, to preach in this church here, which has become my church too. Thank you for the warm welcome you have given me and Anne. It has been amazing and humbling to be welcomed into your lives, as members of your families. It has been a privilege to serve as your minister. It is hard to leave, and the only reason I feel that I can leave is that I know you are in good hands. This church does not belong to me, and it does not belong to you – it belongs to the Lord, and He promises to watch over His people. As we read in Arcana Coelestia, “They who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means.” The Lord said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” As long as there are people gathering together to worship the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God and striving to live according to His commandments, the New Church is alive and well.
Finally, we’re not gone yet! We’re going to spend the next eight months doing everything we can to make sure the congregations and groups out here will continue to receive the best possible service they can get – whether that means a regular visiting minister, or maybe eventually a resident pastor again once more ministers have graduated from theological school. I look forward to spending the time with you that we still have. Our lives might become a bit of a whirlwind, considering the imminent arrival of our baby and the need now to start filling out immigration paperwork, but we’ll always have time for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Our doors are open to you, both at our home and at the church. And I know – because you have told us so often – that yours are open to us. So don’t be surprised if we stop by unannounced for a cup of coffee. It’s this, I think, that I’m going to miss most about the people we have served here – the way that you have always left your doors open for us. Thank you, and may the Lord bless you all.
Rev. Coleman Glenn and Anne Grace Glenn