Forestburg Pastoral Charge

(Bethel United Church, Forestburg, and Alliance United Church)
Interview with Jope Langejans

Since coming to Forestburg a year and a half ago, the number of people involved in the congregations has doubled. We asked Jope what factors he felt were playing a part in that increase.

One of the major things that has happened here is that I have a leadership style that risks failure. It is a matter of making space for other people to act. When I came into Forestburg, I made it plain: "What you see is what you get", and "What I see is what I get." We work together to find the common purpose of who and what we are together. That has worked well because it has given them an opportunity to do what they need to do - to believe and hope again, and to go forward.

There are no wrong questions or wrong answers - or no right questions or right answers - we just deal with it together.

Making space for people to act works for me. I have a leadership role, but I'm not the leader. I see the committees working very well together in terms of them hoping and dreaming and working for the things that are important for them. Of course I have input.

Being my age, too, has helped a lot. At 55 I am in the middle between those who have grey hair and those who are in their 30s. I can really associate with both groups.

I also have a complete love for children, and that really helps. I'm not seen as a god-figure - I'm seen as Jope. The children's story is not something that is just for children. It is for all. Of course the focus is on children, but it becomes part of the message for the day.

Leadership

Good leadership consists of floating ideas out there, and other people floating ideas, so that one or two are grabbed onto - never pushing issues or pushing my ideas. That is leadership - leadership by doing. Faith is a verb - I've always believed that. Faith is not something that is in your head, but is something that flows through you. If it sits in your head too long, it becomes a faith that is stagnant. The two congregations I serve here are always acting, doing and being. That is really important.

For example, one church wants to have a look at new banners. All of a sudden the community is working together and there is excitement about making banners. They have been looking at web sites and coming up with ideas. We men are going to be the ones who cook the meal. It becomes a community effort.

Involvement in the Community

When I arrived here, I followed someone who was somewhat introverted. That has its own power and place in a church. Of course I'm not an introvert, I'm an extrovert, with a different style of ministry. I think they were ready for someone who was an extrovert to come in and do some different things.

I have a love of music and am not afraid to introduce new songs from Voices United that have never been tried before. I give leadership in singing and bring my drum along. All the people are looking forward to the new Voices United coming out, and are ready to dive into it. That is helpful.

I am involved a lot with the community. Ministry is not just a matter of being in my office or with my congregation. It's being out on the golf course so I know the men there. I am in Walter John's Choir, and also in the Alliance-Castor Choir. My contacts extend further. I don't stay home very often. I believe in being with the community, and that is my ministry here. It is not a big community - only about 800 to 850 here in Forestburg and less than 200 in Alliance. But there are a lot of people out in the country. There could be three to four thousand people, looking at the whole area.

I have been here a year and a half, and the honeymoon does not seem to be over yet. It is still exciting. There are lots of things that could happen still.

Being Fed

I really enjoy cooking. That is my grounding time, where I take myself away from everything else I am doing.

In terms of church things, I like to experiment with music and with different modes of worship. One day we will be using blessings from the Iona community, It is never the same. We follow the same bulletin pattern to a point, because that is helpful for a lot of folk - but I do like changing that too. We have a solid Worship Committee and discuss everything and how it is going to look.

I have a good solid Sunday School group in each location. We don't follow any of the curriculum. We put together a theme list for the month. This month the theme is poetry. Next month it is "new beginnings." We are creating a picture of "the New Jerusalem". They are building a model on a 4' by 8' sheet of plywood of what Jerusalem looked like in Jesus' time. It has the temple, the poorer part of town, all the walls. The adults as well as the children are involved in the building - a small scale Jerusalem. It will be a lot of fun as well as being educational. The children know what the gates are called and what each means. I'm just sorry I can't be downstairs during Sunday School time, but that is the way it works.

It has been a wonderful journey so far. We had a confirmation Class of 8 people, which has not happened for many years. Baptisms are coming on strong, and membership has gone up.

With the Confirmation Class I was very fortunate in that it had just started when the "Song of Faith" came out. We dissected that evening by evening, because the "Song of Faith" will be their new creed and their idea of what the church is. The kids are excited about it too.

Music

We are blessed to have four or five pianists at Forestburg and three at Alliance. There is not the problem of one person being there for 70 or 80 years. Whether music is led by the piano or organ changes from Sunday to Sunday. There is a lot of solo work, people doing songs. I'm doing some work with the kids here in terms of liturgical dance.

What part of ministry is the most fun? It may be a strange thing to say, but I really quite enjoy doing funerals. Because of being with the family before after, and during, and helping with the saying goodbye process. I dig deep down for those, and I get fulfillment out of that.

As far relating to young people is concerned, we need to push our people to go on the web site for the Wonder Café and hear what kinds of questions young people are asking. What I have been doing is putting different saying on the sign in front of the church. Things like, "Love is like bread - it should be made daily." A catchy sign may get one or two people to look at it and wonder what that is about. It is a sign we can use that is hopefully a drawing card.

I am a heart person and I take things to heart. When someone is in pain, I am in pain with them. We have to journey with the people.

Keeping open to people is a matter of balance. For example, I'm coming down with a cold today and that tells me that I've been pushing the edges too far out, and I need to find balance again. So when Sunday is past, I am going to take a few days off so I can recoup my energy. We have to have balance or we are useless in the pulpit or in our ministry. I am looking forward to golf season again, but that is my own personal thing.

You also have to have a vision. Karen and I are planning on going to Peru next year, which is something we can look forward to, and have fun around planning the different options. I have always wanted to see Machu Picchu, the hidden city in the mountain. I have heard that when you come over the crest of the mountain you almost drop to your knees, it is that stunning. I'm looking forward that that stunning moment.

Final Advice

As soon as you can, get involved in the community that is there, so that you can get a feel for the pulse of the whole community. And always be open to any possibilities that are there.

February 2007

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