The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Friday, May 29, 2009

My talk May 24 honoring Dr. Allen Churchill

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. What a privilege to honor Dr. Allen Churchill and help mark his 50 years of Christian ministry, including ten years of Good News in the Morning on CFRA radio.

I have been asked to speak about Christian Communication in a Secular World. Well, I can’t think of a much better example than Allen Churchill.

I don’t remember exactly when I first met Allen, but I first heard about him in the 1990s when I was a CBC television producer. The United Church was going through the crisis that would soon hit the Anglican Church and other denominations and he was in the thick of it.

The news media have misnamed this as a crisis about homosexuality and same sex blessings and gays and lesbians in ministry. But that’s just tip of the iceberg. It is really a crisis over the authority of Scripture and the true identity of Jesus.

Do we believe in a therapeutic Jesus who loves everyone they way we are? A kind of Dr. Phil with long hair and a beard who helps us with our self-esteem issues? Or do we believe in the Jesus of the New Testament, who is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament?

This Jesus is God the Son, who became man and died on the Cross to save sinners so we can live forever with Him as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.

I needn’t tell you which Jesus Allen Churchill has consistently proclaimed throughout his ministry.

He has been steadfast in preaching the real Gospel and that hasn’t always made him popular among the powers that be.

I recall that when he was invited to pray at the Swissair memorial but asked to please leave Jesus out and don’t mention that pesky Trinity. In that gracious but firm way of his, he told them in no uncertain terms that either Jesus was in the prayers, or Allen Churchill was not going to be onstage at the ceremony.

That firmness about the faith as handed down from the Apostles is the essence of Christian communication in a secular age.

For how can we know the real Jesus if no one tells us about Him? In Romans 10:13-14 Paul writes: 13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

Allen Churchill is a preacher, and he reminds us that we must not water down our message for reasons of political correctness or fear of a hostile reaction.

His role as chair of the Billy Graham Mission marked a big milestone in my spiritual development, because as you can imagine being an evangelical Christian at the CBC had the potential of being, well, career limiting. So I tended to keep my light under a bushel when at work.

During the Mission’s planning stages, I was attending Kanata Baptist Church which was a focal point for preparation. I signed on to be a counsellor to talk to help those who came forward after the altar call at the Corel Centre. We had to take the six week course on how to share the Good News. On week five, we were given homework. Any of you remember that? We were given a tract and told to share it with someone.

A tract!!!! Excuse me, but I am not that kind of Christian! The assignment embarrassed me. Only weirdoes and street corner nuts hand out tracts. But then I experienced a terrible realization. I was ashamed of the Gospel. Ashamed of the Gospel. I was more worried about what people might think of me than I was about telling a hurting world that there is a Savior and His Name is Jesus. That was a humbling and sobering experience, let me tell you. So, in fear and trembling, I launched out to do my Billy Graham homework. I asked my office mate, another CBC producer, if I could do my Billy Graham homework with her. She laughed and said, well, okay if you can’t find someone else to do it. But try to find someone else first, okay?

Hmmm. I got laughed at, but I survived. Later I met a friend for coffee and told her about my homework and what had happened. She was a former CBC producer who had retired after a bout with breast cancer. “Well, do it with me,” she said. So I started reading the tract to her. “Stop! She said. You are reading too fast.” So I slowed down.

At the end, when the tract asked if she wanted to do the Sinner’s Prayer, she said yes, and right there in Starbuck’s she asked Jesus into her heart. I was flabbergasted.
God was doing all the work, I just had to show up and do a little tiny tentative step in His direction.

How can people hear about Jesus if we don’t tell them?

Isn’t it wonderful that we have people like Allen Churchill who have consistently done this for 50 years?

Then remember when Billy Graham was here?

I’ll never forget Allen’s welcome to the packed Corel Centre. What a beautiful, authoritative voice he has. And Billy Graham. My goodness. Talk about politically incorrect. Imagine, hearing an old-fashioned preacher talking about Adam and Eve and a Serpent in the Garden; the fall of man, our need for salvation and how Jesus came to pay the price for our souls on the Cross.

But how Billy Graham touched hearts. Thousands of people went forward to publicly profess their faith in Jesus, or to ask Him into their hearts for the first time.

It was a time of miracles, big and small.

And Allen Churchill was right at the centre of all this. The Billy Graham Mission also marked an important milestone in a real ecumenism here in Ottawa, an ecumenism founded in a love for Jesus Christ that transcends denominational divides.

Billy Graham had said he would not come to Ottawa unless the Roman Catholics were on board. Allen played a key role along with the former Archbishop of Ottawa Marcel Gervais in making that happen. It’s also good to mention that the new Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, supported the Franklin Graham Mission when he was Archbishop of Halifax.

I now write primarily for Roman Catholic newspapers and there is a refreshing openness and willingness to cooperate across denominational lines and very little of the kinds of anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant prejudices that I have encountered elsewhere. Allen Churchill helped create that wonderful sense of cooperation and fellowship.

The other big factor in building up believers in the true Jesus and transcending denominational divides is the Alpha Course. Well, who has been at the forefront in Alpha’s spread to so many congregations and settings throughout the region? Allen Churchill.

Allen has also played a more direct role as a mentor and advisor to me in my foray into novel writing. Years ago, because I’d learned he had been in the RCMP and was RCMP chaplain, I told him I was writing a novel about a female Mountie. He asked to read the manuscript.

So I delivered an early draft, held together in a three ring binder, to his home. I was thrilled that someone of his stature would take a look at not only how well I had portrayed the life of an RCMP member, but also my theology, because I wanted to ensure that my novel—The Defilers—proclaimed the real Jesus.

His comments, constructive criticism and above all, his encouragement, spurred me on through many, many rewrites. The Defilers manuscript won the Best New Canadian Christian Authors Award in 2005. The prize included publication in 2006.

Allen went through the final draft before publication and endorsed the book, which was my contribution to trying to change the popular entertainment culture.

It was such a joy to see Allen and Alma at my book launch in June of 2006.

Thanks to the steadfast witness of Allen Churchill and others who refused buckle to public pressure, things are better now for Christian voices in the media than they were back at the time of the Swissair memorial or that painful gathering on Parliament Hill after 9/11 where no mention of God was allowed, even though spiritual leaders were present. Ten years ago, there was much more secularist pressure to remove Christian faith expression from the public square.

Now religions are allowed, but they are all viewed as irrational, as cute little multicultural expressions that are fine as long as they do not make absolute claims. Relativism has trumped secularism.

Relativism means you’ve got your narrative and I’ve got mine. Relativists say we can all get along as long as no one insists on making absolute claims. Anyone who does risks getting marginalized as an extremist.

But as Allen Churchill would tell you, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by me.”

That leaves us no option, if we are not ashamed of the Gospel.

We can say this gently, we can say it with love, we can profess absolute truth without being disagreeable and absolutist, but profess it we must.

I thank God that over the years, Allen Churchill has provided a beautiful example of how this is done—with grace, with keen intelligence, with love, and with respect for those with whom he disagrees.

Allen Churchill is a Christian communicator par excellence and Ottawa has been very blessed to have him in our midst all these years.

Thank you and God bless you, Allen and Alma. May we continue to have many more years of your joyful service to us in the Name of Jesus.

For more about this event, see my blog here.