Bruce Smith, national director of Threshold Ministries, was one of the attendees at a recent Vital Church Planting conference in Toronto. Photo: Diana Swift
The recent Vital Church Planting conference in Toronto furnished opportunities for those on the front lines of the mission-shaped church to rededicate themselves to the cause. “Very inspiring-not only the keynote speakers and the workshops but also, and especially, the one-on-one conversations with people involved in mission.” That’s how attendee Bruce Smith, national director of Threshold Ministries, described the VCP experience.
Established in Toronto in 1929 by Wilson Carlyle as the Church Army, and relocated to Saint John, N.B., several years ago, the Anglican Threshold ministries have about 65 members scattered across the country as far away as the Arctic.
Threshold has a three-pronged mandate. First, to train evangelists to work alongside the clergy in the established church. Second, to develop communities for those who are, for whatever reason unchurched. “In our situation that means working for marginalized people who’ve had a rough go of life and might not know that they are welcome and wanted in church,” said Smith, who has served with Threshold for 37 years. “We really enjoy the opportunity to develop church for them-whatever that might look like.”
A third aspect is street hope. “We have six street hope projects across the country, and these basically convey the message that there is hope on the street and life doesn’t have to be like this,” he said. The project’s slogan is “Tomorrow doesn’t have to be like today.”
Church venues vary and function in an informal cafe style. Communities might meet in a coffee shop, a church hall, a church basement or a prison. “We have good communities in prison,” said Smith. “You have to plan the church according to the people you’re working with. One size does not fit all.” (The latter was a theme elaborated by keynote speaker Rev. Beth Fellinger.)
Sensitivity, flexibility, compassion and respect are essential in making churches for the marginalized work. “You have to meet people where they are,” said Smith. “You walk a long way with them-as much as they will permit you.”
Some of the turnarounds he’s seen have been dramatic. “A few sound like fairy tales. Examples are people who had already gone over the edge into drug addiction and prostitution. They were in that space and now they are well and employed.” He recalls one woman who was a prostitute in B.C. but who today is happily married and involved in ministry. “Her eyes sparkle. I wish everyone could see her,” he said, adding that the less dramatic turnarounds he’s seen are no less authentic. “We shouldn’t measure the success of the experience by the degree of contrast.”
Threshold’s goal is to keep expanding its army of people who want to share the good news of Christ’s Gospel with all. “We don’t want anyone to feel they’re on the outside looking in,” said Smith.