Pas­tor brings fresh vi­sion to boost church’s flock

Calgary Herald - - FEATURES - CHRIS NEL­SON

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.

AZIN GHAFFARI

Pas­tor John Van Sloten hopes to con­nect with the com­mu­nity as he starts his new church.

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