Pastor brings fresh vision to boost church’s flock
Determined parishioners from a Marda Loop church decided they weren’t going down without a fight.
The numbers of worshippers at the Calgary Community Reformed Church had been slowly shrinking for years and the future looked bleak, so they decided a new vision was needed, otherwise the doors would close forever.
They began the hunt for a church planter — someone who could inject new vigour and vision into the 65-year-old institution at 1638 30th Ave S.W.
Pastor John Van Sloten was looking as well. Having taken a break from preaching a few years earlier, he was missing that connection to a church community. That’s when he came across an advertisement from the Marda Loop church. It seemed to be a match made in heaven.
“I wanted to get re-engaged with a church community and that’s when I found an ad for a small church in Marda Loop, which was a couple of years away from shutting its doors, but then decided it didn’t want to do that. So, (it) was looking for a church planter,” said the 58-year-old preacher, author and lecturer.
“A planter, in church-ese, is basically someone who comes in to start a new church.… They wanted someone to build a new church in their old church,” he said.
“It is sort of like putting the paddles on the chest and giving the whole system a shock by bringing in someone with a new vision. So, I’m that guy for this community,” added Van Sloten.
The interim name of Marda Loop Church has been chosen — it may yet become its permanent moniker — and Van Sloten, who was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church is attached to the same theological chain as the Marda Loop’s Reformed Church of America.
Still, he believes there will be significant differences for the parishioners.
“It will be a huge change,” Van Sloten said. “I have always had a big view of God’s revelation. Few people have taken as seriously as I do the belief that God reveals himself through creation in so many ways.
“This is going to be about building a community of people who learn how to experience God’s presence and engage God’s presence in all forms of life. That has been my trajectory for the last 20 years and now this new church that’s springing from an old church is saying, ‘Let’s do that,’ ” he added.
Van Sloten spent two decades with the New Hope Christian Reformed Church in northwest Calgary during which he became known for his writing and lecturing.
His first book, The Day Metallica Came to Church, was a surprise hit, being based on how God’s word can be heard even through the lyrics of heavy metal music.
That unusual approach features in many of Van Sloten’s sermons and writings. He explores how all forms of popular culture can carry the word of God. He went further with his second book, Every Job a Parable, expanding such ideas into the workplace, where what we do each day for employment can actually be a conduit to faith.
He is close to finishing a third book, one based on how God’s word can be heard through science; he even once preached a sermon on the biomechanics of the human knee.
Fittingly, he plans his first sermon on Sunday, Feb. 2, to be based upon the theology of soil.
“I’m doing some soil science research to be able to compare it to a parable on Jesus,” he said.
After two years away from preaching Van Sloten is anxious to be back behind the pulpit. He hopes this fresh vision will attract newcomers to the church, whose regular congregation was down to less than 30 people.
“The hope is we will be able to connect with our community and the city in general, those who maybe haven’t been to church for a while or, more specifically, people who already believe there is something sacred about their work or their art or family.
“I’m hopeful there may be many people out there who have a general belief in God and see his fingerprints everywhere. Yes, this is a good marriage,” he said.
Pastor John Van Sloten hopes to connect with the community as he starts his new church.