Magazine article Anglican Journal

Transforming a Broken Church: Mennonite Mentor Helps Revitalize Anglican Ministry

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Transforming a Broken Church: Mennonite Mentor Helps Revitalize Anglican Ministry

Article excerpt

FOUR YEARS AGO, after a devastating church fire, the Rev. Canon Dr. Cathie Crawford Browning and the congregation of St. John the Evangelist in Thorold, Ont., were both headed in the wrong direction. Both rector and members were exhausted. Attendance was down. Financial giving was dwindling. Participation in ministries was on the wane.

"For the first time in my 20 years of ministry, I felt like giving up--and not just moving to a different parish but taking a new path," Crawford Browning said at an informal Vital Church Planting presentation.

All that began to change when she met Peter Warkentin, the past moderator of nearby Southridge Community Church, which began life as a small Mennonite Brethren congregation but became a large successful place of worship with an average Sunday attendance of more than 1,500. "I was well aware of this huge vibrant place that was alive with young people," said Crawford Browning.

Warkentin and his wife took the rector up on her invitation to visit St. John's, a visit that would eventually start the rector and the church on a new path. Crawford Browning thought Warkentin would be taken with the church's friendly attendants, simplified alternative service, $400,000 organ and brilliant organist. "I thought he'd be really impressed," she said. But when she asked him what he thought, he replied, "'Maybe we can have coffee sometime.'"

Kindly but frankly, Warkentin told her that he and his wife--both church goers since toddlerhood, were "lost and intimidated" by the Anglican liturgy. And he thought the people worshipping there were not engaged. He admitted that he never knew what book or what page he should be reading from, even with the help of kindly parishioners who saw their distress.

That summer, Crawford Browning attended a service at Southridge and was blown away. "The music was top-notch, upbeat and alive, and the sermon was one of the best I have ever heard," she said. "I started praying to God to show me what it would take to lead that many people in church."

Warkentin agreed to help Crawford Browning "with more grace than) can describe," and he outlined three principles of Southridge's success.

1. A determination to preach the word of God in relevant ways.

2. …

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