An Interview with Pastor Gary Rush,
Stanley Park Baptist Church, Kitchener, ON
Fast food. Instant meals. On-the-go snacks. In our culture, if you have a steady income, you never need to feel hungry—never. You can go from gas bar to grocery store, break open a package and erase even the merest hint of discomfort. But if we live like that, we will end up unhealthy and uncomfortable.
It’s the same with our souls. We can passively entertain away boredom with endless “reality” tv shows. We can attempt to simulate personal connection through social media, sharing images of the life we wished was real. We can even regularly sit in church without diving deep into Scripture or community, but all these things alone won’t nourish our souls or deepen our character.
Just as our bodies need nutritious food, our souls hunger and thirst for righteousness, the superfood for our souls. Longing for God and following his call are the things that fill us, enrich us and bring life into us, which is exactly what Stanley Park Baptist Church, Kitchener, discovered when they launched their Alpha program.
Stanley Park’s leaders decided it was time to go back to the basics—a review for those who are already within the fold, and an introduction for newcomers. Church members were asked to extend an invitation to their neighbours and friends, to welcome them to the church for a meal and the chance to learn about the Gospel, sharing questions and discussion time together. While they were hopeful that it would make an impact on their community; they weren’t expecting how it would influence their church. I spoke with Pastor Gary Rush about this church’s experience with running the Alpha course. His answers were encouraging and heart-warming.
“A pleasant surprise [of running Alpha] was the unity that was built among our people coming together to run it and volunteer. It was a team effort. We hadn’t done anything on that scale as a church for a long time, so to come together to reach out… It’s such a basic course—12 weeks—but we can do this. You don’t have to go out and preach to your neighbours. You invite whoever it is to a meal, and an opportunity to get together around tables and enter into a discussion about the bigger questions of life.”
By meeting a basic need in the community—providing dinner on an otherwise hectic weeknight—they made it possible for families to join them to eat and take advantage of the childcare the church provided. “It was an opportunity to get to know one another… it was community building. We didn’t realise how much we were hungering for community and reaching out until we actually did it. We realized we needed it… We weren’t aware of those things when we started,” says Pastor Gary.
And people came! The church welcomed 80-100 people each week from a variety of backgrounds, gathering around tables and delving in to the big questions of life. “For those of us in leadership, it was eye-opening… Some of us felt like we’re finally being the Church. We’re realizing that as we’re reaching out and telling people about the Church. So often we scratch the surface of what it means to be the Body of Christ… but it’s a privilege to be a member of the family of God. It’s when you’re doing it and when you’re being obedient… we’re reaching out with the Gospel. We’re being the Body of Christ. We’re talking about it. It was weirdly radical and yet so simple.”
While not everyone who attended Alpha is now attending the church, some did make commitments to Christ and are now preparing for baptism. But even for those who don’t continue to attend, the good seed has been planted, and each person who came knows that Stanley Park Baptist Church is a community that loves God and their neighbours. They are living out their church’s call in their community, and the experience brought them closer together.
“We learned a few things, but the joy of serving the Lord together as his people here, and seeing the buy in and response from our own people was as rewarding as those who made decisions or recommitments to Christ. It was exhausting and it taxed us, but it was a blessed fatigue,” concludes Pastor Gary.
And so it is after a feast. When we have surfeited on good food, it is time to sit back and digest for a while before heading back for more. After some repose and recovery, Stanley Park is planning their next opportunity to welcome people to the table of Jesus.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
Song of Songs 2:4