2016-03-06 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
*poor audio quality, see sermon manuscript below*
Title: “Rev. Ryan’s Pastoral Story and FBC’s Let Us Be’s”
Not everyone knows pertinent details of my life and pastoral story…I don’t want to bore you, but some of the story needs to be told in order to understand who I’m becoming and who I long to be…
I was born and raised in Lethbridge, Alberta. The youngest child in a family of 6 (3 sisters, 2 brothers). My Dad was an ever-struggling-trying-to-do-his-best entrepreneur…he married my mom in 1947 after being relocated to the sugar beet farms in southern alberta during the WWII Japanese Canadian evacuation. We were one of the first Japanese families to move back into Lethbridge after the war and in 1951 my Dad and his brother-in-law started a carpentry business in Lethbridge. He did this until the late 60’s but after I was born in 1968 he had to stop carpentry because of arthritis and sought out work that was less toilsome on his body. So he tried sales…he was a furniture salesman, a coffee machine salesman and for most of my childhood, his claim to fame was growing the family “amway” business. It was a family business in the sense that amway was all I knew as a kid…sitting in the corner playing with my toys at amway meetings, helping put products on the shelf in our little home amway supplies room and being inundated with the use of amway products in our family life.
My mom was the saint of the family. Baptized in Marpole Baptist Church Vancouver in the 1930’s she was a devoted Christian (had her name changed from Yayeko to Faith on the day of her baptism). One of her main priorities when moving to Lethbridge was to live within walking distance of a Baptist Church and thus we all (except for Dad) went to FBC Lethbridge for various programs and church services. I was in the womb when I first attended FBC Lethbridge and naturally I grew up in the church, a part of Sunday school programs, youth groups and dutifully attending Sunday morning services. I was baptized by Rev. Cal Malena in 1982 (my Senior Minister at the time was Rev. Keith Churchill) and I continued to serve and participate in the life of the church.
During my high school years, after my mom passed away (in April of 1984), I seldom attended church. Life was busy with friends, a girlfriend, part-time job and coping with my “I’m the only kid still at home and my Dad found a girlfriend in Fort Macleod” life.
Near the end of my first year of university God was significantly meddling in my life, drawing me back to church and the faith of my youth. My brother returned from missionary work in Japan and was zealous for God, FBC Lethbridge hired a new and creative Associate Youth Minister (Rev. Fred Napora) and I was convinced by some university friends to start attending IVCF (charismatic, speaking-in-tongues) prayer meetings! And thus the trajectory of my life would never be the same. I joined church council. I started volunteering as a Youth Group leader. I was part of the U of L IVCF leadership team. I served as a camp counselor at Mill Creek Baptist Camp. I worked as a summer intern at FBC Lethbridge. I changed majors from pre-dentistry to education. I also wondered if God was calling me to fulltime vocational ministry.
In the spring of 1990 I graduated from the U of L with a Bachelor of Education degree in Sciences. I started teaching at Picture Butte High School (Math and Physics) in the Fall of 1990 and finished 2 years of teaching (and eligibility for my permanent teaching certificate) in June of 1992. By that time, I had decided that I would try to get a seminary education in youth ministry and follow the dream of becoming a youth pastor in the CBWC. In the summer of 1992 I co-directed Mill Creek Baptist Camp, then packed up all my worldy possessions and moved to La Mirada, California to attend Talbot Seminary on the campus of Biola Christian University.
In the 2nd week of September, 1992, while going through a whirlwind of new experiences, I met Sandy Potter. Again…my life trajectory would never be the same! We met and married in 9 months. Sandy graduated with her Bachelor in Science and Nursing degree on May 29, 1993 and we were married a week later.
During my 2nd year of seminary (January 1994) I needed a church ministry placement. I got my first paid youth ministry job and worked at Sandy’s church (Grace Evangelical Free Church) for 10 hours/week. It was a humble beginning but the church and the youth group were kind and gracious!
By the early part of 1998 my pastoral position had grown into a fulltime position where I was the Associate Pastor of Youth and Worship Ministries. My ministerial ventures were going well but I began to yearn for a return to Canada and the CBWC church culture that I had grown up in and been a part of for so many years. It was at this time that I learned that being a Canadian Baptist didn’t always jibe with being an American conservative Christian. I recognized that my destiny as a long-term pastor in the Evangelical Free Church of America was not a realistic one. Thus, with Sandy’s blessing, I started to seek out ways to find a pastoral position in the CBWC.
And lo and behold, in the spring of 1998, Sandy and I were hired (by Rev. Dr. Brian Stelck) as the Residential Deans of Students at Carey Hall/Carey Theological College. Chris was 3 months old and we packed up all our worldy goods and drove a 30-foot moving van from La Mirada to Vancouver. Life in Vancouver was a good place for us to transition to Canadian life and culture. The Carey Faculty (which included Rev. Cam Yates) were kind to us and we had an enriching time of serving the students at Carey. To our surprise, in the early part of 2000, I was invited to candidate for the Youth Minister’s job at FBC Lethbridge, an opportunity to create a full circle in my life! I was called to be the Associate Minister of Youth and Young Adults in May of 2000 (with Chris in tote and Daniel in the womb!) we began a 5-year season of ministry at FBC Lethbridge. It was a wonderful and glorious return to the church that had nurtured me and supported me for so many years! My time at FBC Lethbridge also allowed me to pursue my Doctorate of Ministry degree which I completed through Carey Theological College.
In the early part of 2005 I went out on a limb and applied for the CBWC Youth Director position and was hired to serve our denomination in the area of youth ministry. Again, it was a fantastic privilege to serve and give back to the denomination that had supported me for many years and I was blessed as I served our denomination’s youth pastors and volunteer workers and attempted to “unite the clans” of the younger generation in the CBWC.
But there were a few interesting revelations that were happening in my life and my vocational calling. In my Christian journey I was longing to find ways to be more connected to the deeper traditions and contemplative practices of my faith. In my vocational journey I was looking at the landscape of our denomination and seeing that those of us pastors who were in our mid to late 30’s were needing to be open to the call to serve our churches as lead/senior ministers. In this season of learning and seeking I learned about FBC Edmonton and their lengthy search for a Senior Minister. Despite my short term of service in Youth Director position I chose to put my name forward as a potential candidate for the Senior Minister’s position. And as the saying goes, “the rest is history!”
I started serving as Senior Minister at FBC Edmonton in September of 2008. The church had been through some challenging times since Rev. Gary Nelson moved on in 2000 and the leadership team and the congregation were ready for a new season of unity and well-being.
Now, eight years later, we have gone through a time of renewal, healing and hope-building. We have continued our unique identity as one of the few traditional, liturgical Baptist churches in the CBWC and surprisingly, the cultural openness to churches like us is growing instead of waning! As a church that honours Christian tradition and stays deeply committed to themes of the Christian year, symbol-filled worship and the power of the ordinances of communion and baptism we are finding ourselves uniquely equipped to reach out to people who are in search of a community that is thoughtful, generous and robustly Christian.
>>>As for me, as I return as the Senior Minister of FBC, I am very optimistic about our future. And as we move forward, here are some themes/ideas that have been rejuvenated and refined through the sabbatical journey over the last 6 months…I trust and hope they will resonate with you and the church we’re building together…
[ I’m calling these FBC’s “Let us Be’s”]
1. LET US BE…A community of faith who practice the ways of Christ.
Now…every church wants this kind of community feel slogan to its ethos right?…but it’s amazing how the traits of Christian community elude many a church.
What does community look like? It’s not just us church people having nice social relationships…there’s more to it…
Ie. Christian practices
•Eucharist is central to this journey
•Other rituals: baptism, blessing, ordination, commissioning, dedication
•Prayer (centering prayer changed my life!) and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration is vital (how do we listen to the Spirit?)
•Corporate worship — not just ME, but WE…we engage together in song, creeds, prayer, gathering around word & table
•Christ-like practices: radical (rooted) welcome, radical generosity, radical reverence/reciprocity
•And being a people of peace…my mom raised me on one prayer, the prayer of St. Francis…and it’s shaped my life and my ministry efforts… “Lord, make us instruments of Thy Peace.”
2. LET US BE… “benevolent, strong Christians.” I’ve borrowed this phrase from Brian Mclaren (see his book “Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World”). *Dr. Brian Mclaren, Carey grad!
We are called to be radically generous to people of all faiths and all walks of life.
We not going to ram our Christian faith down people’s throats but we will joyfully and fervently share our stories of Christian devotion and the good news/hope that in Christ, God is making all things new.
3. LET US BE…More Jesus-y, Less Pharisee.
More inclusive, less judgmental. Jesus says, “Come to me, ALL of you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” His invitation is given to ALL!….without pre-judgment, shame or the good ol’ fashioned Christian bait & switch
– – it’s given to all people, at all times, and all we/they have to do is accept the invitation and come.
4. LET US BE….a reflection of the DNA of the past and a fulfilling of the present “who we are-ness” that God has provided for such a time as this.
I’ve recognized that the gift/DNA of our church is that there has always been a pattern of “forward thinking, broad thinking, caring for the stranger” as part of our ethos and historically we haven’t (for the most part) found ourselves in big disagreements over social and theological issues. In moving forward, I hope we unapologetically and confidently take stands that are a reflection of who we are — we will not be so desperate to be “all things to all people” that we lose our sense of identity, conviction and unique congregational composition.
5. LET US BE…Baptist!
Being Baptist might be one of our greatest assets as we continue into the 21st century! Though we are sometimes thought of as being right-wing conservative bible-thumpers and fundamentalists, we must keep in mind that globally there is a huge spectrum of Baptists [conservative, free, liturgical, liberal]. Thus the great part of being a Baptist is that we try to keep the “tent” large as we hold to the primary tenets of faith, such as: Jesus as Lord, soul liberty, and the autonomy of the local church. That means that on any given Sunday, Baptists of all stripes and theological bents, sit side by side, locally and globally, worshipping Jesus as Lord.
6. LET US BE….that traditional, liturgical, “go back in time” church on 109 Street & Jasper Avenue that is not Catholic, Lutheran, or Anglican and thus not bound by Bishop rules and Vatican decrees! Do you know that we are the only non-mainline church in Edmonton that intentionally pays attention to Christian tradition, the church calendar and liturgical forms of worship? As far as I know…we have no desire to pursue the way of modern, “relevant”, drummer-centric, power-point-driven worship & 3-easy step formula’s to make your church bigger & flashier.
We value the old prayers, the hymns of our faith, beautiful, time-tested music and the creeds and prayers of the saints.
7. LET US BE….in a “long obedience in the same direction” (thanks Eugene Peterson!) We believe in the slow work of spiritual formation. There are no quick fixes when you join up with the “people of the way.” Jesus is not in a hurry but that does not mean that he is indifferent.
Yes, it’s a long obedience but not necessarily a dull one. Jesus IS alive…
Jesus meddles. Jesus interferes. Jesus befuddles!
We serve and follow a living Saviour….so in this long obedience let us get used to being surprised by a Jesus who is on the loose and on the move inviting us to do strange and unusual things in the name of love, mercy and grace.
8. LET US BE…those who Listen to the heart of God, are Moved by the story of God, are Seeking the Peace & Well-being of the City.”
I believe that the previous 7 “let us be’s” still get done nicely by our present vision/mission statement. [see bulletin cover]
Oh God, keep on turning our hard hearts into hearts of love (Jer. 24:7).
May our lives be inspired, motivated, and animated by the story of God’s redeeming love.
And let us love this city, let us love its people, let us seek their peace and well-being, for in Jeremiah 29 there’s that promise for us… “For as we seek the peace and well-being of the city, there we shall find our peace and well-being.” (Jer. 29:7)
I’m back….and I can’t imagine any other motley crue of Jesus-followers that I would rather do this journey of faith with…it’s going to be messy, it’s going to be challenging, it will be filled with laughter and tears, mountain top experiences and heartache…but isn’t it awesome that we get to do this together?
[Pause and ask yourself the question too]
For the glory of God, for the joy of Jesus and all of us, together, empowered by the loving presence of the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, let thy kingdom and dream come,
let thy will be done in Edmonton (in our congregation) as it is in heaven.
God continue to make us the church you desire us to be,
Spirit of Living God…fall afresh on us…
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, Fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, Mold me, fill me,
Spirit of the living God, Fall afresh on me.
** LET US BE…Silent **