In ReInvention: Stories from an Urban Church, Mark Whittall shares the insights and wisdom he and a small-but-dedicated team gained as they worked to establish a new congregation in St. Albans Church, the second oldest Anglican parish in Ottawa.
The challenges the team faced were not small: the renovation of the original building, negative reaction from the community to the placement of a day program for the homeless, creating new liturgies and a new kind of church experience, and learning how best to reach out to and involve people with little or no prior church involvement. The result of all these efforts, however, has been the transformation of St. Albans into a vibrant centre for worship, a beautiful venue for the arts, and place of shelter and safety for many of the city’s most vulnerable inhabitants.
The Rev. Mark Whittall is the pastor of St. Albans Church and a priest of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. He is an engineer by training, and obtained graduate degrees in Theoretical Physics and in Development Economics from Oxford University. His first career was as an engineer and executive in the high-tech sector, rising to the position of CEO and earning recognition as Ottawa’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. Soon afterwards he left his business career and turned to the study of theology. He served as Professor, History of Science at Augustine College in Ottawa from 2002 to 2007 and was ordained as an Anglican Priest in 2008. After a brief stay in a rural parish, he was tasked with building a new congregation at St. Albans Church in downtown Ottawa in 2011, where he currently serves as pastor.
"This book is a gutsy look at denominational life, leadership and vision, and offers new paradigms for the local church, middle judicatories and national denominational life. A must-read for anyone interested in bringing renewal to the local church and our denomination. Clearly, Borden has hit the bull's-eye with regard not only to our denomination's needs but also how renewal begins in the local church." - ABE News
Foreword to Hit the Bullseye by Leith Anderson
"Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?"
-- George Bernard Shaw
There are approximately 400,000 churches in the United States and the vast majority of them belong to denominations. Some are healthy, vibrant, and growing. Most are tired, struggling, not growing, and don’t know what to do.
Plenty of critics and cynics take surveys, analyze data, and write books about what is wrong with the churches of America. As if following the theology of
Chicken Little they are convinced that the sky is falling and there is little we can do except seek cover. Proposals for renewal often are offered by theorists who tell practitioners what to do but have never actually done it themselves.
What if there was a way to help declining churches to grow? What if we could teach pastors how to lead their congregations to spiritual renewal? What if thousands of churches changed from maintenance to mission? What if a movement began with 200 churches that grew to 200,000 churches? What if millions of unchurched people came into lasting relationships with Jesus Christ and the church? What if the denominations of America with all of their people, property, and potential became the epicenter of this spiritual earthquake that became known as the Great Awakening of the 21st Century?
Maybe all this sounds too good to be true. Well, it has already begun. Centered in the earthquake zone of northern California, the American Baptist Churches of the West have demonstrated that a plateaued and declining region of mainline congregations can become a model of healthy and growing congregations. They have overcome the usual excuses that “our churches are too small,” “we have too many older people and congregations,” and “property here is too expensive.” They followed a powerful formula of biblical strategies, courageous leadership, and much hard work. What is most amazing is that the turnaround took less than five years.
Here is the dream. Denominational leaders, executive ministers, bishops, district superintendents, regional directors, seminary teachers, pastors, and lay leaders will discover what God has done in northern California and say, “Why not here?” “With a few creative adaptations we can do the same thing in our denomination and in our churches.”
They will start small and multiply. They will risk their traditions, finances, staff, and jobs. They will respond to misunderstanding with teaching and take criticism with grace. Then there will be one successful church transformation—new vision, new faith, new people, and new excitement. One will become ten and ten will become one hundred. Church by church, region by region, denomination by denomination—a true reformation will bring a great new era to the people and churches of our generation. It can be done. It has been done. This is a dream of the way things can be. Be among those who say, “Why not? Let’s do it!”
A transgender re-naming. Residential schools for indigenous children. Same-sex marriage. A pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. At first glance, the stories may have little in common, and yet, when put into conversation with the ancient stories of our faith, their shared lot is to give birth to sacred meaning and an experience of the divine. To preach out of the stuff of our lives is to speak in what we may call the wisdom tradition, a way of speaking that relies on the conviction that God is present and active, here and now. We look for meaning in the unexpected encounter between an ancient story and the present life of the community. Then, we speak.
Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, this true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.
Meet Denver, raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana until he escaped the “Man” – in the 1960’s – by hopping a train. Non-trusting, uneducated, and violent, he spent another 18 years on the streets of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Meet Ron Hall, a self-made millionaire in the world of high priced art deals -- concerned with fast cars, beautiful women, and fancy clothes.
And the woman who changed their lives -- Miss Debbie: “The skinniest, nosiest, pushiest, woman I ever met, black or white.” She helped the homeless and gave of herself to all of “God’s People,” and had a way of knowing how to listen and helping others talk and be found – until cancer strikes.
Same Kind of Different as Me is a tale told in two unique voices – Ron Hall & Denver Moore – weaving two completely different life experiences into one common journey where both men learn “whether we is rich or poor or something in between this earth ain’t no final restin’ place. So in a way, we is all homeless-just workin’ our way toward home.”
The story takes a devastating twist when Deborah discovers she has cancer. Will Deborah live or die? Will Denver learn to trust a white man? Will Ron embrace his dying wife's vision to rescue Denver? Or will Denver be the one rescuing Ron? There's pain and laughter, doubt and tears, and in the end a triumphal story that readers will never forget.
Continue this story of friendship in What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing, available now. Same Kind of Different as Me also is available in Spanish.
Appropriate for Christians from varied backgrounds and for various denominations, this book will bring a vital perspective to what readers think they understand about praising God.