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INSIDE STORY: ‘O Canada!’: Blessings north of the border

HAMILTON, Ontario — I first met Art Ford back in April when we both stayed at Chuck and Ruth Ann Gibbs’ house in Vienna, W.Va., during the Ohio Valley University Lectureship.
Each night, we ate Ruth Ann’s homemade pie and talked about life and ministry.
A native Canadian, Art preaches for the Fennell Avenue church in Hamilton, a city of 500,000 about 40 miles southwest of Toronto. He’s the former president of Great Lakes Christian College, a residential high school in nearby Beamsville.
Now, I am relatively familiar with Churches of Christ south of the U.S. border, having made eight or nine mission trips to Mexico.
But north of the border is a different story.
I peppered Art with questions about Canada and the church. He invited me to stay with him and his wife, Ruby, if I ever made it up their way.
(Warning: Be careful about making such an offer to a Christian Chronicle writer!)
Before traveling to Detroit to cover the recent Unity Events for Christ, I noticed that Hamilton is about 190 miles away. I decided to go see Art, meet a few Canadian church leaders and learn about the Lord’s work in Ontario.
I left Detroit bright and early that Monday and cruised through the border with no trouble.
I made it to Hamilton in time to meet Art at the Fennell Avenue church, where an awning sign with bold white letters let me know I was at the right place: “ONE LORD. ONE FAITH. ONE BAPTISM. Eph 4:5.”
Art and I then drove to Kelsey’s restaurant for a lunch that he had arranged with a handful of Ontario church leaders:
• David Knutson, academic dean at Great Lakes Bible College in Waterloo, a minister training school west of Hamilton.
• Geoffrey Ellis, chairman of the Canadian Churches of Christ Historical Society.
• Walter Straker, elder and part-time minister at the Bramalea church, west of Toronto.
• Don Rose, president of both Great Lakes Christian College and Great Lakes Bible College.
• Max Craddock, minister of the Strathmore Boulevard church in Toronto. He’s co-editor of the Gospel Herald, a news and teaching publication in Canada, and the speaker for the “Key to the Kingdom” television ministry.
A nation of about 33 million souls, Canada has about 150 Churches of Christ. Their combined membership totals about 7,000.
The U.S. population is about nine times as large as Canada, but its Church of Christ membership — at roughly 1.3 million — is about 185 times as large.
“For 150 years, if not longer, the Canadian culture has been very much opposed to evangelical or sectarian movements,” Ellis said. “Consequently, our growth rate is perhaps one-tenth of your growth, and we have tended to assume that this has been a failure.”
But it just may be, he said, that the Canadian church needs to reassess itself in terms of its own culture.
Approaches that work in the U.S. may not necessarily translate into success north of the border.
Straker said the congregation where he once served in Bozeman, Mont., baptized 600 people in 12 years — about one a week. With no less evangelistic fervor in Bramalea, he said, “The best we could do was about one a month.”
Over a single meal — a cheeseburger, french fries and Diet Pepsi — there was no way I could get a full picture of the Canadian church. But I enjoyed my brief introduction, not to mention the fellowship with brothers who share a common faith in Jesus Christ.
With the blessing and encouragement of Editor Lynn McMillon, my Chronicle colleagues and I want to do a better job telling the story of our Canadian brothers and sisters. In the near future, we intend — God willing — to publish a series of reports on ministry in Canada.
That Monday night, Art and Ruby opened their home to me as promised, and what gracious hosts they were.
If I hadn’t already told you what I ate for lunch, I’d mention the roast, potatoes, green beans and corn on the cob that Ruby made for dinner. Oh, and the cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, Art and Ruby drove me to Niagara Falls, Ontario, about half an hour away, to show me the massive waterfalls that straddle the border with New York.
I got soaking wet, but I loved it — and the hot chocolate afterward.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Inside Story

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