Tuesday, November 03, 2015

NaBloPoMo -- Ministry in a Resource Town

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to take part in the annual newcomers event for clergy in Alberta Northwest Conference.  This is part of the request:
Thank you for agreeing to be one of our “Hinterland Who’s Who participants for our upcoming Newcomer’s Orientation to Alberta and Northwest Conference.

We are connecting with you to talk about ministry in a  resource-based community setting.

The questions we would ask you to ponder are as follows:

2.       How is the mission and ministry of your Pastoral Charge unique
a.       What particular social, political, physical dynamics influence the life and work of your Pastoral Charge?
Which was an interesting challenge.  Because while this is at heart a resource-based community it has also developed a wider economic base due to the fact that it is a regional center.  This means a larger amount of government and retail activity in addition to agriculture, forestry and petroleum.  It also provides a degree of insulation from the vagaries of being a community that almost solely relies on resource-based industry (especially those that rely on one particular resource and/or company).

The interesting thing for me was to compare the 2 resource-based communities where I have served.  One has been dwindling since the mine closed over 30 years ago, sort of propped up by a coal-fired power plant and some forestry -- until the forestry industry went off a cliff a few years back.  The other, where I am now, is actively growing -- the last municipal census showed an increase of almost 40 000 since 1994, which is a more than doubling of the population -- buoyed by the petroleum industry (mainly natural gas rather than crude oil). One has a greying population and under-subscribed schools, the other is one of the youngest cities in the country (majority of the population under age 39) with schools that are full or overfull. One where property values are, at best, stagnating (or outright falling), another where vacancy rates last year were maybe 1% and rents were soaring (our house has gained almost $20 0000 in civic-assessed value in 5 years--which may or may not show up in actual market value)  Resource-based can mean different things, depending on where in the lifespan of the resource one is.

But there are definite similarities.  Ministry with families with absent parents.  Maybe because the local industry is defunct and one parent (often father) is working "away" for weeks at a time and then home for a week (which can have interesting effects on family life).  Or maybe because the industry is hopping and one or both parents are working long hours and lots of overtime.  For the church this may mean having to re-think what we expect (or more accurately hope to expect) from working people in terms of time available for church work.

ANd then there is the balancing act between eco-theology and economics.  I mean I know that in the end everybody had to walk that line (though some show more awareness of this fact than others) but when you are living and working with people whose jobs are on the line it hits a bit closer.  As mentioned above, my previous ministry setting relied heavily on a coal-fired power station.  Then the provincial government announced they were closing all the coal-fired power stations. Which I agreed with in theory (I had issues with some of the logic used) but was going to be potentially crippling to the town. (I wrote a bit about this when I first started this blog 10 years ago). Or living in a petro-province when your denomination comes out against pipelines, or when the national body decides (in the middle of a strong downturn) to divest of stocks in oil and gas companies.  Again decisions I largely supported in theory and philosophy but had poor optics in some parts of the community.  Fine line to walk indeed.

And of course it is the church.  When times are good and when times are bad we worry about numbers (people and dollars).  We wonder why there are so many people who are on our mailing list but not in the pews.  We worry about how we can fund what we feel called to do, whether that is maintaining the status quo because we are shrinking or plateauing or reaching out to a growing community and trying to find new ways to be the church in their midst.  Maybe the question is "can we still afford full-time ministry?" or maybe it is "can we increase to 1.5 or 2 positions?" but the problem is the same.  How can we be the church God is calling us to be?

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