My latest column in ChristianWeek

I always thought of Halifax as quaint, like a big small town. I had a hard time believing that Halifax faces urban issues like crime, homelessness, and poverty. On a Thursday in May, I drove down Gottingen Street (nicknamed Got-a-gun Street) in the north end and turned onto Cunard Street. There, beside a transmission shop, is the Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, dedicated to rescuing “people from poverty, addiction and despair by offering emergency help, such as food, clothing and shelter, life-changing recovery programs, and the Gospel Message.” Downstairs I found Brad Somers talking and working in the crowd of men who had gathered from the community.

Brad used be a youth pastor in a large suburban church in Cambridge, Ontario. Five years ago, he planted PAXnorth, a church that meets on the main floor of Souls Harbour. PAX means peace; north means that they’re committed to the gritty part of the city. I was in Halifax to speak to our denomination’s regional conference, a small gathering of pastors and church members from the Atlantic region. I came to teach; I left having learned.

I learned, for instance, from a member of PAXnorth who had lived on the street. He spoke of the difference that the gospel had made in his life. “PAX means I don’t have to go back to the streets and the gang, drugs, violence, and addictions,” he says. “PAX means I’m with Christ. This is where God sent me to meet his Son, and his Son was here waiting for me.”

I learned from the Glenn Goode, who serves as the only part-time Regional Director in our denomination. He travels through Atlantic Canada encouraging pastors and helping churches on top of his day job.

I learned from the pastors who gathered at the conference. Many of them had taken hard assignments in relative obscurity. As a pastor, I find myself tempted sometimes by the desire to make something big out of myself. That’s clearly the opposite of Jesus’ way, but I’m still tempted. I was encouraged that I met pastors committed to serving joyfully in small places with no expectation of making it big.

I was encouraged as we broke bread and drank the cup together, sensing the very real presence of Jesus Christ who was active in the gritty side of a city in the smallest of our denomination’s regions.

If you read the statistics, things are in rough shape in Canada. The culture is in decline, and churches are losing. It’s not hard to find the stories, or believe them. Some of them are true.

But it’s a little too soon to give up hope. Across this country are hundreds of churches where God is at work, making a difference in lives and communities. It doesn’t get much attention, but God seems to often choose the places we tend to overlook. I keep discovering God at work in the gritty, quiet places.