On Friday August 26, Mary Queen of the World agreed to sell their building to Calvary Baptist Church. Steve Bray, the pastor of Calvary and TGC Canada Council Member, chronicles how Calvary Baptist had sought to find a building for years and how, in an unexpected turn of Providence, a Roman Catholic church handed over their building to a Baptist Congregation.
As we transition from the covid pandemic and the fallout it has provided, I thought it might be a blessing to share how God’s timing and ways are not ours.
As Pastors and Christians, we often use Christian language like “God is in control” or “God knows everything.” Yet when we are in the thick of struggle and it seems like that struggle will go on for days or weeks but turns into months and years, what do we do and how do we act or react?
1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I memorized this verse when I was quite young. I grew up in a Christian home, attended a good church, went to Sunday School, Christian School, and youth group.
My Dad is still an active Pastor at 77 years of age, and I’ve been raised on this verse. It was hung in our home, it was on coffee mugs, and simply one of those verses I heard prayed and quoted regularly in my life. Yet, to be honest, I saw it as a verse for death, some sort of anthem to cling to when dying was on the mind.
Little did I know that this verse would become the principle I cling to every day in my everyday life.
Pastoring in St. John’s, Newfoundland
I pastor in one of the most beautiful places in all of Canada, St. John’s, Newfoundland. Yet, it is also one of the most isolated places in Canada, where religion reigned for over 500 years, but where little gospel has been clearly preached, much less lived and applied. Tragically, the religious culture is giving way to a form of secular survival. There is an apathy and an anger here in St. John’s towards organized religion and anything attached to it. There have been too many scandals, too much hypocrisy and too much legalism weaponized to both control and produce fear. The outcome of which is a tepid, weak form of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
So, when I moved back to the province and city I love so much, to assume the role of Lead Elder in a small faithful congregation, given to expository preaching and a big view of the great commission, I knew it would be challenging, even hard at times. But I didn’t expect that it would be life crushingly lonely, extraordinarily slow and heart searchingly hard!
Church life and planting churches in St. John’s is the very epitome of doing church in a hard place.
Church life and planting churches in St. John’s is the very epitome of doing church in a hard place. I’ve prayed, cried, yelled, and stared at those words of Paul to a Corinthian church struggling to hope in the gospel and that God’s plans, timing and outcomes are all His and His alone!
I moved back to St. John’s in January of 2015 and have seen God faithfully add to our church. We quickly outgrew our little house that had been converted into a church. Then in 2018 we took a massive step of faith and sold our church building to buy 2 acres of land, strategically located so we could become a hub church. We had started a church planting ministry called Mile One Mission, with a calling to plant ten Churches across our city, in neighbourhoods where the congregation was made up of people living in those neighbourhoods. Where we could go back to the cultural context of our city and province and be churches made up of people who live in the same area and do life together.
It was glorious and scary all at the same time. In the interim we rented a Seventh Day Adventist Church, which was a miracle of grace from God. We saw the ministry grow, got plans underway for our new property and even started our first church plant, all as we finished up 2019! I was quoting verses from Acts, about God adding to the church daily, from Psalms about the mercies of the Lord being new every morning and of course Romans 8 that we were more than conquerors! Maybe, just maybe life in St. John’s and on an island wouldn’t be so hard after all.
Then 2020 came, we started the year with snowmagedden, almost 4 feet of snow in back-to-back storms over 36 hours. I faced ministry challenges, family crisis and external hurt all at the same time. And just as we thought we had navigated this, covid came and then stayed! March of 2020 to January of 2022 was a series of ups and downs. We kept strong, did some amazing new things, but I Corinthians 15:58 started to come to mind more and more. Would I be steadfast, unmovable, would I excel serving God, clinging to the joy of the Lord as my strength?
Our building project ballooned with soaring construction prices, we seemed to take one step forward and two back every quarter of each passing year. What was supposed to be a two-year transition was now four. Another building became available, and we thought perhaps this could be the location! But then, the reality of costs, and trying to find partners in the ministry is time consuming and body draining. Plus, Mile One Mission itself was growing and that meant we needed more funds and time for the people and the mission itself.
Early in 2022 I found myself staring at 1 Corinthians 15:58 and thinking, “I can’t do it, I don’t know how to do it.” I had life fatigue, ministry fatigue, building fatigue and mission fatigue. I felt like I was always running and yet getting nowhere, putting on a strong face, but secretly, inside, hopeless and waiting for it all to crash around me. But I was drawn to those words of 1 Corinthians 15:58, but this time, instead of the first half of the verse I kept reading the second half, “always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
It was the Lord’s work I was called to excel in, not mine, not the expectations of others, it was His work, and everything we do, everything done for Him, is never wasted, never in vain! God’s Work, however mundane is never random, all the days and nights, all the planning and praying, all the thinking this was going to the be the way, but nope, it’s this direction, nope, now it’s that direction. God in His grace was filling my heart and mind with a bigger and better view of Him, which was changing my heart and mind towards my calling and ministry.
God Opened the door
God then opened a door that I never would have thought about let alone possible in the form of a text from my sister-in-law to my wife about a Roman Catholic Church that was for sale. This lead my wife to send me the link. The building is beautiful, well built, large and it sits on more land than we ever dreamed about with an asking price about a third of its value!
“How?” you might ask, and you’d be well to ask it. A sexual abuse scandal from decades ago that has rocked our province was ruled on last year. In that ruling, the Roman Catholic Dioceses was required to pay 50 million dollars to the victims. This led to the Church putting all their properties up for sale. It’s been in the news for a number of years, but this this got lots of attention. There was hurt and anger everywhere. But it did mean that facilities would be up for sale.
To be honest, I didn’t give the possibility of buying the building much attention. I wondered and dreamed, but there was no way this would be an option for us. Plus, we had land, and we had a plan and how could I possibly bring another plan to my church and to our many partners who help and pray for us?
I was at a loss as to whether we should we even go look at this property. How would the Church respond? How would the Roman Catholic folks receive us? How would our many ministry partners view us as we ran after, yet again, another possible plan? Then, 1 Corinthians 15:58 came to mind yet again. Would I excel in God’s work, would I trust that God’s ways are not my ways, that all those little things and even big attempts that seemed to fail are never in vain if done for Christ?
We made some inquiries and went over with a sizeable group to see the church building and then went back a second time. I met with the Priest and others who worked at the church and was able to meet with several parishioners who attended. God just seemed to open doors and give us favour with everyone we met, and every conversation we had. We sought to be respectful to those hurting, those who were losing their church home. We sought to be compassionate to those who had been robbed of their innocence as children in the horrible abuses of the past. We went looking for a building but did everything we could to reflect Christ and live out 1 Corinthians 15:58.
We submitted an offer and found out another had been submitted as well. We prayerfully sought God’s face and submitted a second offer. We then waited and prayed. We sought to care more for the people than ourselves and looked for ways to make this about people and not buildings. We challenged ourselves that this property was simply a means, not the ends of our calling. We waited and waited and then waited some more. But I kept 1 Corinthians 15:58 before me with each passing hour and day.
We now have an accepted offer for a church building on almost four acres of land, with two buildings bigger than anything we had hoped for or planned to build.
Then, on Friday, August 26 we got word! The church, the lawyers for the victims, and the Diocese had accepted our bid! We now have an accepted offer for a church building on almost four acres of land, with two buildings bigger than anything we had hoped for or planned to build. We have been able to establish new relationships, will partner with an existing food bank that operates already in the Church and have been able to so respect and humility towards those who are hurting at all the changes they face.
1 Corinthians 15:58 is not just a verse, it’s the Living Word of God, and it is true. After almost eight years of serving and praying, over four years of renting, moving searching and wondering, and God has been faithful and our service to Him for Him in His name is not in vain! God has provided for Calvary Baptist Church and for Mile One Mission. God has given us a place to settle into and put down some roots of ministry.
But 1 Corinthians 15:58 hasn’t stopped! Our ministry and calling is not over. 1 Corinthians 15:58 is not for death but rather for life! It is a calling to serve God for God and then trust God with the outcomes, the timing and the process of learning.
St. John’s is still a church in a hard place and the vision and mission of starting eight more church plants is still daunting and overwhelming, but I pray and ask you to pray with me that we will indeed be steadfast, immovable and that we will excel in the working of the Lord, knowing that our labour and yours is never in vain!
Let us believe that God will send revival to Canada! Maybe not in the way we’d draw it up, in spectacular fashion, but rather, in the slow, steadfast immovable excelling work of His Church! May I and we be found faithful to Him today and trust Him for the outcome of tomorrow!