Mont. & Alberta partnership eyes 'connecting points'

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Monday, September 23, 2019 (27 days ago)

BILLINGS, Mont. (BP) -- A seven-year partnership between Southern Baptist churches in Montana and Canadian Baptist churches in Alberta is on track to begin Jan. 1.

Messengers to the Montana Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting will consider the measure Oct. 3-4 that was unanimously approved during the MTSBC executive board's August meeting.

Gerry Taillon, national ministry leader for the Canadian National Baptist Convention, noted their readiness for the partnership, which had been casually discussed over the years.

"Montana and Alberta share many connecting points in cultural transitions and occupations," Taillon said. "The proximity and similar size organizations will make this partnership naturally reciprocal."

Montana has 130 churches, the largest of which has at least 1,000 in Sunday morning worship, most of which run 50 to 70 and the smallest see fewer than a dozen each week. Alberta has 81 churches, the largest of which has at least 350 in Sunday morning worship, most of which run 50 to 70 and the smallest see fewer than 35 each week.

Barrett Duke, who became MTSBC executive director in 2017, said steps toward the partnership began earlier this year. "It grew out of this burden I had that while many of our churches may be small, they can make a difference. I started looking at Alberta. That would be an easy way for our churches to be involved in what essentially is international missions.

"We're going to be working with our counterpart churches anywhere and everywhere in Alberta that we can," Duke said.

Duke named Lee Merck as coordinator of the partnership. Merck is the church planting pastor of Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge, Mont.

"Lee has a burden for Canada," Duke said. "He's already made several trips there, so I know he really does want to reach people in Canada, and he's doing a great job at the church in Red Lodge. He's got the energy and the aggressive ministry style that will be required to coordinate a statewide effort like this."

Members from Church of the Rockies drove north in August and hosted ribeye steak dinners in Calgary and in Edmonton for Alberta pastors and wives. "He's already on it," said Dwight Huffman, the Canadian convention's regional ministry leader for Alberta, about Merck. "He's getting it done."

While no churches in either Alberta or Montana have an official partnership, "Montana has been coming up and helping in Edmonton and Calgary for a couple years," Huffman said. "This partnership will allow the Montana Southern Baptist Convention [MTSBC] and CNBC [Canadian National Baptist Convention] to advance the Kingdom all across the province."

The majority of communities south of Calgary, Alberta, and north of Great Falls, Mont., are between 500 and 2,500 residents, Huffman said. That's outside of the focus of the Send Cities effort of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. Send Cities bring Gospel attention to major metropolitan areas such as Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, whereas Montana has none. NAMB funds church plants outside the Send Cities through church planting funds it provides to state conventions and the Canadian National Baptist Convention.

The Montana-Alberta partnership, Huffman said, "is going to allow us to give attention to all the towns outside the Send City partnership. One of our first objectives is to link some specific churches in Alberta with some specific churches in Montana."

The Alberta/Montana partnership is one aspect of Go Montana, Duke said of a new emphasis this year for the state's Southern Baptist churches to "look at themselves, what they have, what they can do, and find ways to put their own skills and abilities to use to reach their communities and the world for Christ."

"We've had partnerships but the partnerships have been aimed at us," Merck said about Montana. "The goal is for our churches to be active in Alberta. We want to get our churches involved in going and helping.

"Geographically Alberta and Montana are close," Merck continued. "Travel time and resources to get there and help are minimal, compared to what mission trips can cost. There are many similarities that we think contextually will benefit this partnership."

In Alberta, an email has been sent to all pastors inviting requests for partnership.

In meeting with Alberta and Canadian National Baptist Convention leaders, Duke said, "They were very excited about the opportunity, not just for our folks to come to Alberta but for their folks to come to Montana."

Why a seven-year partnership? "I felt like seven years was long enough for our churches and churches in Alberta to embrace the idea, find a partner and spend a few years working together, and short enough to evaluate if it's working," Duke said. "Seven years hit that sweet spot for me. It's long enough to see real benefit -- both in Montana and in Alberta -- and yet it isn't so long that the energy would dissipate."

Excitement for the partnership is building, Taillon of the CNBC said.

"Both Alberta and Montana have large territories and significant mission fields that bring with them incredible challenges," he said. "These challenges are better faced together. I am convinced we will be able to be a valuable help and encouragement to each other as we follow God and His plan to reach both our areas.

"Partnership is what Southern Baptists are all about," Taillon continued. "We are at our best when we mobilize to give ourselves away for the Kingdom of God."

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.
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