Then came the first of two thought-provoking convention messages by Jim Westgate, associate professor of practical theology at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. Westgate suggested that under the influence of pressures from society, the church is in danger of accepting a "virtual spiritual reality" which is self-centred, fuzzy on sin, materialistic and secular in the sense that it seeks technological and medical solutions to sin. From Daniel 1, he then described the Babylonians' attempts to change Daniel by indoctrination (the first battle is for the mind, because the mind controls the body), by changing his name (just as modern society calls sin by such names as "adult entertainment", "alternative lifestyles" and "pro-choice") and by pushing Daniel to compromise with the food and customs of the land. Westgate warned, "If Satan can get you to live like a Babylonian, you will become a Babylonian." He urged his listeners to be like Daniel, bringing everything into captivity to God's Word and resolving to trust God with heart, soul and mind.
The evening continued with evidence of the good and bad news that make up the life of the church. Hanging over the convention was the awareness that two members of the Conference had died the previous Sunday in a scuba diving accident; memorial services for both men had been held earlier in the day. Uneasy references were also made to the minor earthquake that had been felt in the area on May 2.
The good news included the fact that the Conference membership had increased from 13,607 at the end of 1994 to 14,176 at the end of 1995; the number of baptisms increased from 538 to 655. Also good news was a moving testimony by Tracy Newton of Peace Arch Fellowship, describing how God had led him into having regular devotions.
The good news concluded with the acceptance of three congregations into the Conference. Garden Valley Community Church is a year-old daughter of Willow Park Church in Kelowna and is already self-supporting. West Vancouver Bible Church was started three years ago in a wealthy, multicultural area by businessman and former pastor Ken Dyck and his family; Rhome Dyck briefly described how the church has attracted surprising interest among its Buddhist neighbours. In contrast, Bakerview Hispanic Church started in 1989 as an outreach to refugees from Latin America and has until now been part of Bakerview MB Church in Abbotsford; accompanied only by a guitar, church member Balmore Velasquez sang moving songs of faith from his homeland.
The second recommendation amended the constitution regarding the Board of Camp Ministries. Previously the Board consisted of three members elected by the Conference and two members from each of the three camp advisory boards. Now the Board will consist of six members elected by the Conference and one member from each of the camp advisory boards. The three camp directors will continue to sit as ex-officio members on the Board. The advisory boards for Gardom Lake Bible Camp and The Pines Bible Camp will continue to be elected from their local supporting MB churches. However, the advisory board of Columbia Bible Camp will now be directly elected by the Conference in convention; it is the largest of the camps and is located in the Lower Fraser Valley where most of the MB churches are also located. It is felt that the changes will strengthen the relationship between the camps and the Conference.
The third recommendation was to continue the annual subsidy of $25,000 to the B.C. Centre of MB Biblical Seminary; the subsidy had been given originally on a provisional basis for only the first two years.
The fourth recommendation was to hire a full-time conference administrator. John Wiebe had been hired three years ago as full-time stewardship director for the Conference, but there had not been enough stewardship work for a full-time director and his job had unofficially evolved to include administration. A year ago, the Conference had decided to cut the position to a one-fifth-time stewardship and administration position, with Wiebe also working four-fifths-time as comptroller of Columbia Bible College. Now both the College and the Conference have decided to hire full-time administrators. The Conference position will include a stewardship component.
All four recommendations passed with some discussion but without discernible opposition.
Board member Ken B. Dyck closed the breakfast with a moving two-fold appeal: pastors and congregations should renew their vision for evangelism and church planting, not as a way to fill church buildings but as a way to develop people; attenders at the breakfast should give generously to church planting out of abundance, sacrifice or faith. Dyck was taking the place of BOCE chair Bob Wick, who is recovering from a heart attack suffered a couple of weeks earlier.
The rest of the morning was spent in workshops, with delegates able to choose two of nine workshops offered by seven Conference boards and two affiliated agencies. The discussion in the workshops seemed to be good and productive. For instance, the Board of Pastoral Ministries received response on two initiatives: an "instrument" for churches to use when evaluating pastoral staff (it received much affirmation) and a procedure by which pastoral candidates from outside the MB conference would be examined theologically by the Board of Pastoral Ministries before or at the same time as they are candidating in a church (the consensus was that this practice not only be encouraged but required). The Board of Management got feedback on three issues: Would guidelines for pastors' salaries be helpful? (Yes.) Should there be a different formula for determining the per-member "norm" that churches are asked to pay to the Conference? (Alternatives should be investigated.) How can the Conference best be insured against earthquakes and liablility for misconduct such as sexual abuse by a pastor? (The Conference churches may self-fund some of this insurance.)
The elections were also conducted in the afternoon session. The Conference Executive remained the same (moderator Bob Friesen, assistant moderator Mark Burch and secretary John Lenzmann), as none of their terms had expired. However, nine vacancies remained unfilled due to a lack of nominees.
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