“Sentimentality alone does not lead a family into its desired future.”
I stood recently on Pier 21 in Halifax, N.S., where my bedstefar (grandfather), Jakob Thomsen Dam, landed on May 5, 1928. He came aboard the SS United States of the Scandinavian America Line at the end of its voyage from Copenhagen, Sweden and Norway. From Halifax he headed west by train, along with his future wife—my bedstemor (grandmother), whom I never met—and other members of her family to begin their new life in Canada. They each had 25 dollars in their pocket to finance their dream.
As I stood on Pier 21, my daughter and her family in B.C. were hosting three members of our Danish family who were on a month-long trip visiting family in Canada. Their visit marked 90 years of seamless relationship between our family in Denmark and those of us who live in Canada. Such a meaningful and emotional bond creates a deep sense of identity and belonging.
My Danish-Canadian family connection brought to mind a survey that our strategic vision group conducted with our PAOC family regarding their response to our Fellowship’s stated values. Two primary themes were evident in the responses they received. First, people placed a high value on being a fellowship, on having the DNA of a family rather than that of an institution. Closely aligned to that was the desire to converse as a family, to dialogue about matters that are important to us. We don’t want to be “seen and not heard.”
Our use of the term “Pentecostal family” is intentional and, most of the time, accurate. Ten years ago I wrote a gift book titled What I See. In it I envisioned us as a “relationally based mission family.” In developing that vision, particularly as part of the 2020 Initiative, we have determined to be interactive. We’ve established working groups to engage the spiritual, theological and missional vitality components of the initiative, and we’ve held countless conversations all across the country with our credential holders, churches and ministries.
Family gatherings are an opportunity to reinforce the identity and values of a family. For the Danish side of my family, Christmas Eve has always been hugely important. When we were younger, the Thomsens and Nielsens did whatever it took to rendezvous with our bedstefar, aunts, uncles and cousins. To this day, Christmas vacation involves a trip to Alberta to see family as part of the holidays.
The PAOC also holds family gatherings, nationally and regionally, to reinforce our identity and values as a relationally based mission family. Even at General Conference (GC), where we convene close to 1,200 people, review financials that run in the tens of millions of dollars, and do business according to Robert’s Rules of Order and our General Constitution and Bylaws, our desire is to relate to one another as family.
At our recent 2018 General Conference in Victoria, B.C., we kicked off our 100th birthday as The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. To sustain a family, its members must remember and honour those who faithfully laid the foundation for its existence. General Conference 2018 included some meaningful “Pier 21” moments of remembering and honouring.
But families evolve as their members evolve. The way we live out family life today is radically different from the way our ancestors did two, three or four generations ago. We need to engage where we are today as a family in order to determine our ongoing purpose and future vision. Sentimentality alone does not lead a family into its desired future.
If you look at our PAOC family today, you will see an amazing and challenging amount of diversity. All you have to do is read the surveys we received from those who attended GC 2018. I’ve reviewed all the comments. Overall, there was strong affirmation of the conference’s direction, spirit, program, worship and administration. There were also valid, constructive criticisms and some good suggestions for the future. These will all be taken into consideration as we move toward GC 2020 in Halifax. The overarching sentiment expressed in the responses we received was the high value we place on friendships and the opportunity to interact with one another.
Clearly, we cannot meet all the expectations of such a diverse family, whether for an individual event or in the ongoing affairs of our local, regional, national and international family life. What we can do is genuinely value each member of the family and continue to provide opportunities to build family relationships and carry on meaningful conversations. These ongoing conversations need to focus on the primary values we hold as a Pentecostal family. We need to be talking about what it means, both individually and corporately, to be Spirit-empowered, truth-based and grace-filled witnesses of Jesus Christ. We must stay passionately focused on being a Fellowship of healthy and multiplying churches marked by love, unity, justice, mercy and humility.
I promise you, there will be more opportunities to be at the table. We will carry on the conversation regarding our Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths. We will talk about the vitality of our disciple-making communities and about their multiplication. There will be conversations focused on empowering young leaders, both female and male, on reaching un-reached peoples, on societal issues within our country, and on a range of other themes.
Is our family diverse? Yes, but not divided. Unity does not demand uniformity except in essential matters of truth, values and practice. Join me as we continue to gather and have the conversations and experiences that make a family great.
Our Father—yes, our Father—please continue to parent Your sons and daughters with truth, grace and loving correction. Transform and lead us as a Canadian Pentecostal family to be what You call us to be within Your great global family. Thank You for the security of Your love and grace. In the name of Jesus. Amen.