BELLS was the highlight of synod

Shawn Branch & Rob Pitman

Shawn Branch listens while Rob Pitman tells the story of St. Luke’s and its ministry in the old north end in Saint John.  ~Dorothy Shephard photos

By Gisele McKnight

The best part of the 136th Diocesan Synod, according to many participant surveys, was the BELLS program presented by six speakers through the main part of the day.

Diocesan Synod was held Nov. 4 at Christ Church (Parish) Church.

Threshold Ministries’ national director Shawn Branch facilitated BELLS, introducing videos and interviewing five parishioners whose mission illustrated points from the book Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People, by Michael Frost. Each member of synod was given a copy of the book to take home and share with their parish.

The acronym BELLS forms the crux of the book and the five habits: Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent. Between each of the five parts, synod members sang a verse of the hymn Lift High The Cross.

Shawn Branch interviews Dawn Mary Baker

Shawn Branch interviews Dawn Mary Baker.



B for BLESS: Frost explained the value of blessing, and suggested a prayer to ask God which three people to bless each week. An act of kindness, like mowing someone’s lawn; a gift of food, cash or something else; and words of affirmation, like identifying something in someone you value or want to encourage comprise the B is blessing.

“Every Monday morning, get on your knees and ask God ‘who do you want me to bless’ — people from church, non-Christians from work and anyone from either category,” said Frost in the video.

“I can’t tell you the impact this will have. It binds you to the people you are blessing.”

Dawn Mary Baker, a member of the Parish of Madawaska, discussed her mission to illustrate blessing. A retired nurse, she shares her experience, skills and compassion with the women of the Edmundston region, a city with its share of drug abuse, alcoholism and family violence.

“The church leadership gives me the opportunity to speak to other women, to women in the community,” said Dawn Mary.

Her ministry is Wellness Women, which brings women together to hear guest speakers on topics of interest, and allows them to express themselves and form bonds.

“It’s fulfilling a purpose in me that I can still grow,” she told synod. “I’m getting to know my church community, my community and it’s growing.

“Can non-nurses do this? Absolutely! Nursing is really just caring about people.”

E for EAT: “When sharing food and drink at the table, the conversation flows more freely,” said Frost in the video. “It’s a unique missional habit.”

He suggests eating with one member of the church, one non-Christian and one more person each week — three of 21 meals we usually eat.

Surprise the World

Surprise the World formed the basis of the BELLS presentation at Diocesan Synod.

Rob Pitman, Threshold Ministries’ parish evangelist and outreach pastor at St. Luke’s in the Parish of Portland, was the interviewee. He runs a food ministry out of St. Luke’s serves more than 5,000 meals a year.

St. Luke’s is in a priority neighbourhood in Saint John’s old north end, one of the poorest in the city. In addition, Saint John has the highest rate of child poverty in the country.

“We forge relationships with people as part of St. Luke’s family. Even if they don’t worship at St. Luke’s, they are part of St. Luke’s,” said Rob. “And some come because they are lonely. They have the means to support themselves but they’re looking for a place to call home.”

Volunteers used to stay in the kitchen, but they’ve learned that the real mission is with the diners, and they continue to nurture the St. Luke’s family with an open and accepting welcome.

Long ago, said Rob, a man came in during a church service asking for money. He was quickly sent on his way. Much has changed at St. Luke’s since then.

Just recently, a sex trade worker attended church, dressed in leather pants and a tank top, pumping her fist to the Christian music, “and no one batted an eye,” he said.

“We went from a suit and tie kind of place to jeans and t-shirt,” he said. “It’s more like we changed for them than they changed for us. The church that sought to bless the community is now being blessed by the community.”

Shawn Branch and Anna Caines

Shawn Branch and Anna Caines during the “Listen” portion of the BELLS presentation.

L for LISTEN: Frost, in the video, discussed the importance of creating space to listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Missional people must be in tune with the outside world, yet remain different from the world, he said.

“How do you navigate that? Listen to the spirit,” he said.

Listening to the Holy Spirit has changed her life, said Anna Caines, the third of five speakers.

After growing up in a Christian family, she became very sick in her 20s. That led to all sorts of questions: Does God really owe me anything? Does he owe me my health? An easy life? She remembered the words of retired Bishop Bill Hockin concerning three truths: Life is hard, God is good, heaven is sure.

“He doesn’t owe me my health, and I don’t need my health to serve people,” she decided, adding she decided to start a quiet meditation, “sitting in God’s love.”

“Sick as I was, I knew I could do this. But it turns out I wasn’t very good at it,” she said, blaming an overactive mind that just wouldn’t shut off.

But she persisted, setting aside one hour a day to sit in God’s love, adding she still needs time to settle down at the beginning and focus.

“I praise God for my physical healing, but he had in mind a much bigger healing,” she said. “I find if I’m not anchoring myself in God’s love every day, it’s not long until I’m flailing.”

Quiet meditation might not be the right style for everyone. She knows a jogger who worships and prays during the run.

“You have to start with desire,” she said.

Shawn Branch and Eric Sample

Shawn Branch and Eric Sample discuss LEARN.

L for LEARN: “It’s amazing how little people know about Jesus,” said Frost in the video. “If you’re reading the gospels over and over, you’ll be continually shaped by Jesus.”

He suggested finding at least one time a week solely for immersing yourself in the example of Jesus — reading aloud, using study materials and entering into the story. From that learning, you can then insert the words, experiences and teachings of Jesus into conversations.

Eric Sample was the next guest. He and his wife, Nicole, are house parents at the Bishop’s Court community, overseeing and mentoring several young people.

“We have a really cool opportunity to be immersed in community — in a community of people who want to know Jesus. We read the bible together, eat together. There is a good opportunity for growth,” he said.

Eric holds up St. Francis of Assisi as a role model. The saint said we have to constantly go back and forth from the gospel to our lives in order to shape us.

“Marinating on the gospels — it’s changed my life,” he said. “It motivates you to live a life that’s different. If we follow his example, it’s going to look different.”

He said as a musician, he could probably quote a few famous drummers, but not so much Jesus.

“Quoting Jesus? That’s one of the most convicting things I’ve heard,” he said.

S for SENT: The word mission means to be sent, said Frost in the video. We mistakenly think that only priests and archbishops are sent, he said.

“When you teach, serve… I want you to see yourself as sent,” he said. “Realize you’ve already been sent.”

Klaudia Ross

Klaudia Ross explains the SENT portion of BELLS.

Klaudia Ross was the fifth BELLS presenter. She used to be a cancer researcher, but through the calling of the Holy Spirit, over time and rather persistently, she is now the Parish Outreach Coordinator at St. George’s in Moncton.

“I was always a Christian, but this was a more intense calling,” she said. “It took two and a half years to actually do it (quit her job). God withdrew me more and more away from what I was doing. He was filling my mind with scripture, with the Holy Spirit. In the end it wasn’t that frightening.”

A month later she began her new position. Her job is to follow up with every person baptized at the church in the last 10 years. She goes to their last known address, church newsletter in hand. Sometimes she meets new people at the address, which is an opportunity to connect.

She talked about knocking on doors and the fear of rejection.

“They cannot go through life without knowing about Jesus. If we’re not nurtured, helped to learn about him, we might never get to know him, so the fear of knocking on doors is less than that,” she said.

After listening to God, her life is completely different.

“I feel that everything in my life has led me to this point. All of my skills are slowly coming in to place. It’s extremely fulfilling. It’s worth all the risk.”

Shawn prayed for each of the five presenters after their interview.

Hockey Ministries International
After his charge to Synod and the five BELLS presenters, Bishop David introduced Bruce Smith of Hockey Ministries International. Bruce’s invitation to Diocesan Synod came about after a question put repeatedly to the bishop in various forms as he travelled around the diocese in the past year: What are you going to do about Sunday morning hockey?

He asked what they wanted him to do about it, and one of the responses was, ‘You need to write to the premier and tell him to ban it.’

“That might have worked in Archbishop O’Neill’s time, but it won’t work now,” the bishop told Diocesan Synod.

Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith works extensively with hockey leagues in the Maritimes, offering chapel services in arenas.

“Jesus saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd, a harassed and helpless people and had compassion on them,” said Bruce. “How do we connect with these people?”

There has always been a conflict between Sunday morning church and Sunday morning hockey, and his approach has been to stop waiting for people to choose church, and instead, take God to them, where they are.

“I decided I’d had enough of the conflict and I was going to use it as a ministry,” he said.

His first approach to his child’s coach led to a parents’ meeting, and from there, 13 yes responses to Bruce’s question ‘do you want a chapel service at the rink?’

Now he speaks to many Maritime hockey leagues, including the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Very recently, he spoke to a Maritime junior team saying, “I’m not here to jam [the gospel] down your throats, but would you like to take 15 minutes of your life to come and check it out?’

“I go down the hall and 19 of 21 guys come down the hall for chapel!” he said. “Everything you read about that age group (17-19), that they have no interest in the bible or the gospel, it’s wrong.”

He recalls the QMJHL president being shocked when Bruce told him that 56 of his players had requested a French-English bible.

“He couldn’t believe it. He kept repeating it over and over,” said Bruce. “It’s a work of God. I’ve discovered we can go into arenas.”

On the flip side, “I’ve been thrown out. I’ve been told to clear off, but I’ve discovered there are lot of people out there, harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. Then they’re asked to come to chapel at a rink.”

It doesn’t have to be a rink, he said. A gym, a soccer field, a boathouse all work.

“Be a little bit bold and simply extend an invitation,” he said. “I’ve discovered when you extend an invitation, stand back!”

Bishop David Edwards

Bishop David Edwards prayed for Bruce Smith and Hockey Ministries International after Bruce’s presentation

At the end of the presentation, Bishop David prayed for Bruce and the hockey ministry.

Synod delegates left with the book; practical tips to become more missional; inspiration from Bruce Smith’s story and the other five presenters; and a motion that the diocese will become a missional people, starting with each parish studying Frost’s work during the Easter season.

After Easter, the archdeacon, cleric and lay member of Diocesan Council will report back to council on the missional actions taken by their parishes or groups of parishes in their Greater Chapter.

NOTE: This BELLS presentation was organized by the Mission Program Planning Committee, which included Bishop David Edwards, the Ven. Cathy Laskey, Erin Hodge, the Rev. David Peer, the Rev. Paul Ranson and Klaudia Ross.