'In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of the Spirit, Lord we come. Our God saves. Our God saves. There is hope in Your name.'
'I believe in the Son, I believe in the Risen One, I believe I overcome by the power of His blood. Let my song join the one that never ends. Because He lives.'
Fr James Mallon (FJM): God our Father, we thank You and bless You for these days together. Lord we thank You for the life You give us, the life You pour into us each day. Lord we pray that we may continue to experience the resurrected life of Jesus this night. We pray through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 'I am alive because He lives' and that's something we've been witnessing these days, especially in our testimonies. People have said, you know, the talks have been good and all that, but those testimonies are…. – and I absolutely 100% agree. It's absolutely amazing, and I'd like to invite Mike to come up. Let's give Mike a welcome. (clapping)
FJM: So Mike, tell us, where were you spiritually 4 years ago?
Mike: 4 years ago I wouldn't be anywhere close to a conference like this. Just to back up a bit, I was raised in the United Church, we went to church maybe an hour a week, but that was it, like church meant nothing besides that. So as I grew up, I maybe left the church a bit, until I was a little older and I met this nice Catholic girl. And eventually, not only did I marry a very beautiful girl, I married into a very Catholic family, very Catholic. So I was around it, but it didn't mean anything to me.
FJM: So what happened?
M: Well I can remember. I think I was sitting right out there probably about 3 years ago, and you mentioned this Alpha course, and I'm thinking, 'O yeah, there's no way I'm doing that. Like, no way.
FJM: Ok, ok, so even before that, how did you end up in a pew of a church to begin with?
M: Well, when I became married, my wife, it was very important for her to take the kids to church, and her and my daughter used to go all the time. But it wasn't until my daughter was just a little girl, big curls and all that, and I can remember her saying to me, 'Daddy, I really wish you would go to church with us.' I'm hooked. So you got me in the pew. Mind you, when I was here I was probably looking at the watch to see when the hour was up. So that was basically it. But then, as I said, I was over there, I heard about Alpha and I never thought I would take it, but my lovely wife was nice enough to sign me up. So, like a coup was like hitting. So when I went to Alpha, at first it was great, the people were nice, the talks were good, food was good, but that's all it was. And then the big weekend away, great. And I can remember being a little freaked out, and all these people were praying over each other, and I'm thinking, you know, 'I could probably use the prayers, but there's no way I'm going up there. I'm not putting myself out there'. So I can remember leaving and I can remember driving home with my wife saying, 'You know, I don’t think I'm ever going to have a relationship with God.' But that week I just had this feeling like I needed to be prayed with, and I was kind of, I was almost beating myself up because I didn't go, but lo and behold Alpha comes around that week and they're doing the prayer ministry again. And I decide, I'm sitting there, 'Do I go up? Do I not?' And after what seemed like a while I said, 'Yes, I'm going to do up', and you know, I had a lot of pain and hurt inside, and I went up, and I just felt this, like immense, just peace flow right through me, as if God's love was just flowing right through me. And it was at that moment I knew that I was going to have a relationship with Jesus.
FJM: What difference has Jesus made in your life?
M: Well let me see, ah, after taking Alpha I've been on team I think 5 times. I'm in a connect group. I'm involved in the youth ministry. I'm speaking here, which honestly I would never… I would have bet the firm that this would have never happened to me. So I really thank God because I think I was at a time in my life where I really did need His love, and I just feel blessed.
FJM: Chris, come on up. I'm going to ask Chris to come up. Where were you spiritually 7 months ago?
Christopher: Not very far. I went to church for the first time in 30 years last summer. I had a lot of questions and absolutely no answers. A good friend answered every question I'd asked her with 'You have to go to Alpha' and finally – I didn't even tell her – I just went. The first face I saw was Mike's wife, ironically. I started out a skeptic and kind of grew from there.
FJM: So what happened on Alpha?
C: The big point for me was the weekend. A few weeks in I was still skeptical and growing and I started feeling something, I didn't really know what it was. And on the weekend away I heard about all these people having these amazing experiences and the leader said to me, right before the big moment, 'Have a good snack, you're going to need your strength'. And I looked at her like she was crazy and then I realised, I wanted to have an experience, and I was really scared that I wasn't going to.
FJM: So you're on the Holy Spirit weekend, and what was it that happens?
C: So we got to the moment we were calling the Holy Spirit to fill people up, and I just started shaking. I was, I didn't know what I was feeling. I can't even explain it, and the girl beside me from my group kept elbowing me, 'You have to go and get prayed over', ''Give me a minute'.
FM: That's not in the Alpha training, to elbow the guests. You'll have to take note of that name Ron.
C: I'm not giving names. And I get ready to go up and I was walking up and I only saw one face I recognised, and it was Mike. I didn't really know him well, but I just made a beeline.
FJM: This guy was doing the prayer? (pointing back to Mike)
C: Scary thought, but yeah.
FJM: So tell us what happened? Obviously I knew that, right? I knew that. Do you know what I didn't know? I found out 2 days ago, that his prayer partner was Alan, Laurie's boyfriend, from this morning. He was the other prayer partner that prayed over Chris. So what happened?
C: It's interesting. I got up there and I was a mess. I was a mess and I'm surprised Mike hasn't mentioned it yet. I was leaned over and there was a puddle of tears on the floor underneath my face. And it's funny, they asked me if I wanted to be prayed over, and I thought I knew and I said it, and then all of a sudden Mike started to pray for something else entirely – which is how I knew there was something going on because he had no idea what I needed, but He knew what I needed.
FJM: What difference has Jesus made in your life?
C: I'm still working on that. It's early for me, but it's more this parish and this family and these people. I think I needed that, that feeling, that community, that open arms. I really needed that.
FJM: We're going to have another testimony, a different kind of testimony. Where's Lee? Come on up. This is pastor Lee Kricher, and he is from a particular city in the US that is the envy of many Canadians these days. The Sidney that now lights Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
LK: I'm pastor of Amplify Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I would like to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for Sidney Crosby. Thank you for sharing Sidney Crosby. (a professional ice hockey player).
FJM: So tell us Lee, what has brought you here from Pittsburgh to a conference here in a Catholic church in Halifax?
LK: Well, I mean, 6 months ago we had Matt Maher at our church. He wrote the song we just sang. In our church we have 600 evangelicals lifting our hands singing, 'Because He Lives I'm alive' and here 600 evangelical Catholics with their hands up in the air doing the same. And so the idea of us worshipping together makes so much sense but also because of our goal of changed lives. As we've been seeing all week long here, and making a difference in our community for Jesus Christ. Learning together and learning from one another makes all the sense in the world. So I found out about the conference. Our church in 2003 was on its last legs. We were under 200 people. The average age was well over 50, and we were one of the fastest dying churches in the city. And we had to make a decision whether we were going to close our doors or to try and do something we had lost the ability to do, and that was re-connect with the next generation. And so because of our commitment to not lose our faith to our children and our grandchildren, we made a lot of changes that are so similar to what you heard about in Divine Renovation.
FJM: And the incredible thing for me is when we start to get some feedback from evangelical pastors about the book. I thought this was a Catholic problem only, and I've found out it's not. It's really a human problem, isn't it?
LK: Yes, very much so. We made some dramatic changes. Some people stayed; some people left. But this many years later, our average attendance – we have 3 campuses – we have about 1800 people. And what's most exciting (clapping), what's most exciting is that every generation is well represented again in our church. So I'm very blessed about that and having been called upon by other pastors saying, 'We need to re-connect with the next generation'. And so I was recently with a Catholic collaborative in Pittsburgh, 5 different parishes. I'll be with Parish Catalyst in September in Los Angeles, and I thought one reason to come is I need to understand better the context of church revitalisation and renewal, from a great place to learn it from, but I also found… I just talked to our board of directors and to my associate senior pastor, I said, there's some things we're going to be working on learning here at the conference. So it's been absolutely amazing.
I think of when we started our journey, one inspiration was in a story from Exodus, of when Moses sent out the 12 scouts, and all of them saw the exact same opportunities and the exact same obstacles, but 10 of them came back saying, 'We can't do this', 'We can't'. And we had a bunch of 'we can't' people in our church. And they were saying, well, we're not in the bible belt where people just roll out of bed and there's a 1000 people in the church automatically. We're in the North East U.S., churches are dying. We're not even in the fast growing part of town in the northern suburbs. We're in the eastern suburbs where there's no growth, and you know, we don’t have a great music band like this – so we don't have that to attract people. We're not like a Catholic church where people automatically come because there's… I say that because every reason is as crazy as the next, and you can pile them all up as to why we can't do it. But there is a man named Caleb. Joshua had the same attitude. And Caleb said, 'We can', 'We can enter', and you know what? What's funny is the 10 never entered. Caleb and Joshua did. So the ones who said 'We can' and the ones who said 'We can't' both ended up being right. So I would just say, don't be quick to say 'We can't', and the main reason we came is I'm attracted to Caleb types, and that's also who you are Fr Mallon. (clapping)
FJM: Lee has a book being published by Harper Collins on 2 August called 'For a New Generation: a practical guide for revitalising your church' and I was privileged to read it a few months ago and it's a fantastic book. I highly recommend it. But as you were talking Lee, especially with your work in working with other pastors in different churches and helping… And thank you, by the way, for desiring to impart wisdom into Catholic parishes and to helping us, thank you so much. And I just had a sense that we should pray for this man. So Let's stand together for a moment. Let's just extend a hand of prayer.
Lord God, we praise You and we thank You Lord. We thank You for the many manifestations of the life that You wish to give us. And Lord how You move in our midst through the hearts of leaders to lead renewal of Your churches to reach the next generation. Lord, I thank You for Lee. I thank You for his family. Lord we ask that You continue to pour Your Spirit upon him, to continue to anoint him in his ministry. Lord we thank You that You have given him a heart to help other pastors. We thank You for the work that he is doing and we ask that You go before him Lord, and to prepare the way for that work for Your kingdom. And Lee, I'm going to give you a good Catholic blessing here, ok? And we ask that You bless him in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (hugs and clapping)
FJM: You notice how I snuck that one in? (laughter). We have our ways, you know. I want to take a few minutes, before we launch in tonight, to give you a little update on where we are. The reason we had this conference was because we were simply overwhelmed by incoming stuff. Honest to goodness, we never imagined we…., we had no clue. We just thought we'd write a book and let the book do the work. We didn't realise it would cause us even more work. (laughter) And at first it was really cool, it was like, great, we said Yes to everyone and all of this, and then we realised very quickly that wasn't going to work. We actually talked among our staff team. We found out about a year ago, that adding up everyone's time in any given week, responding to other churches was the equivalent of between 1 and 2 full-time jobs. It was almost a half-time job to say No to people. And in a sense if you've got a plate of French fries and one person wants one French fry, it's no big deal, yeah, no problem. But when 200 people want just one French fry, we've got a bit of a problem unless we've got a steady flow of French fries coming through. So I talked this morning about sustainability. And you know I've been down that path. We've been down the path of working out of models of ministry that are unsustainable, and it's not life giving. It will never, as God is my witness, and as I am free to do so, I will never consciously lead like that again.
And so we really do believe that God is calling us to help other churches – not entirely sure what that means. We know that this conference this year was a part of it. We're thinking there might be…People are saying, is there going to be a DR17? No, there's not! If there were, we're already 6 months behind. But there might be a DR18, we're not sure. But we have a website, we have podcasts that we do that are very, very helpful to people, we have videos, we are looking to build other resources. We have launched a Divine Renovation Coaching Network where we invest heavily in other churches and other pastors. We have an interning program. We've got vacancies for that. We are looking at ways to do this. But, the one thing is that in a sense we are launching a ministry in answer to what we believe is God's call.
And tonight we debated whether we should do this or not, but I decided to model for you here what I do with my own parishioners when it comes to making an 'Ask'. And it is simply to give people the freedom to respond to God's call, but not to any other human motive. We know that many of you have invested tremendously to come here, tremendously, you've already made great sacrifices and your presence here is already an enormous support of our ministry, and we thank you for that. And we know that you are praying for us. But we also believe that there may be some people here tonight who might say, you know, we might want to help you, give you a leg up, to launch this ministry so that you can continue to help other churches like us, so that you might be able to provide some staffing and resources behind this so you can get it going. And for that reason we did put envelopes in the pews. Some of you probably already spotted them. And we're just going to take a few minutes and please, please, please hear me say this: we know you have sacrificed greatly to be here, and I fully hope that if it's not the time for that, that you have complete freedom to do so. And if you do feel that you would like to support us in anyway whatsoever, there are envelopes there. We can issue a tax receipt for donations from the U.S. and Canada, as it says on the envelopes. U.S. donations are to be made out to Renewal Ministries, they are able to pass that through so that you can get your tax receipt and it's all legitimate. Canadian donations to John Paul II Media – it's on the envelope. And if you think that you might be able to partner with us beyond a one time offering, we're just going to ask that you give us your email address and we'll be in touch to talk about that. So again, please, no obligation, we know that every single person has made sacrifices to be here and that you are supporting us in that way and with your prayers. But we're going to take a few minutes just for some music, and in about 2 minutes from now some of the ushers will just pass the basket. Ok? Thank you so much.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these testimonies for me is the reminder of just how difficult it is for a person (particularly blokes) to get the courage to ask someone else to pray over them for the first time. The next biggest takeaway is the importance of the loving friendly environment that Alpha provides to give people the gentle pace, enough time and space for God's grace to begin to open their hearts sufficiently to let Him in.
And the biggest action point? Particularly in the light of the recent graffiti attack (Halifax Easter 2018), a reminder that we need to pray for ministries like this because spiritual attack and spiritual obstacles are intense for those at the leading edge of what God is doing. I am reminded of the spiritual insight of the desert fathers, and the image of a single demon stationed outside a city, and a whole legion of demons besieging a monastery.
P.S. The exchange of wisdom and experience and support between the churches, within and without denominational lines, is something we all need to open our hearts wider to.