First Year In The Ministry

When I came in late 2019 as a licentiate to minister in Calgary, my constant prayer was Exodus 33:15, “And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.”

The Lord’s presence was something the congregation and I were granted, and was one of the various encouragements the Lord gave to accept the call, which He made through His people in December 2019. Even more encouraging was to see the Lord answering Moses’ prayer, and so mine, in the verse before: “And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Exodus 33:14). As a family, we were encouraged that the Lord would be with us, and would carry us over the sea to settle us in Canada, in the city of Calgary.

A few days after we arrived on March 9, the world went into Covid-shutdown. Indeed, we only had two Lord’s Days in the pulpit before our elders, following advice from the presbytery’s Executive Committee, closed the building for public worship. Four years of pastoral theology had prepared me for all sorts of situations, but not this. The preaching ministry now became the “Online Church Ministry” uploaded to SermonAudio and YouTube. But, we needed some extra hardware, some of which needed to be shipped, and promptly got lost in the mail. So, after many weeks, we could finally make live broadcasts, together with the faithful assistance of our media technician, Isaiah. Prayer meetings were broadcast live from my study, and the faithful joined in prayer via Skype.

The pastoral side of ministry was almost exclusively done by telephone and email. Weekly emails kept everyone up-to-date, and helped the congregants with a sense of belonging. In the third week of May we held an online gospel mission on Facebook, broadcasting live at 7 p.m. every weekday evening. My eldest children sang, and I preached a short gospel message. It was carried on Facebook, and then uploaded to YouTube and SermonAudio. We have been quite encouraged with the number of people watching in the weeks and months since then.

One of our congregants, Mr. Wayne Downey, was in a nursing home, and could no longer receive visitors, not even from his wife Heather. Initially, the only contact was via Skype, and I was also able to renew fellowship with Wayne again. Wayne was clearly weaker than he had been. Shortly after, the Lord called Wayne to Glory on June 4, 2020 in the middle of the night. Fortunately, Heather was allowed to be with him until his last moments; however, I was not permitted to visit, but could speak to him, read, and pray from the entrance porch via cell phone. On June 12, I led the graveside service attended by Heather and very few close family members.

At the beginning of June, the government of Alberta approved an unlimited number for church attendance, and so the session re- opened the doors. Since then, it has almost been business-as-usual, with obvious measures taken. Most congregants have now returned, with very few exceptions, owing to their personal circumstances or concerns.

The LTBS radio ministry also continued with Rev. Ian Goligher’s weekday programming, and passing the reins of the weekend programs to me in June. Unfamiliar software and new workflows yet again had to be mastered, as well as the very strict deadline to submit the finished programs weekly. This ministry was originally set up in Calgary in 1977, through a request of founding member Jim Warnock to Rev. Frank McClelland in Toronto. After a few years of broadcasting, there was enough interest in the stand and witness made by the Free Presbyterian Church for a congregation to be formed, and Rev. William Whiteside arrived in May 1980 to be the first minister of Calgary Free Presbyterian Church. Today, LTBS radio ministry still draws people in to hear the preaching of God’s Word, some of whom end up staying. Seven or more have recently stayed and become regular attendees.

This September was busy with my delayed installation taking place on Friday, September 18, the 40th Anniversary celebration taking place on the Saturday, and a special Missions Report service on the Lord’s Day evening. This fall, we have had the joy of accepting three people into communicant membership and a couple have also inquired into being baptized.

Thankfully, we have not had any cases of Covid-19. We are grateful that the Lord has carried us up hence, and has carried His people through these recent trials. We know that underneath are His everlasting arms.

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By Paul Backhurst

Rev. Paul Backhurst is the minister of Calgary FPC, Calgary, AB.