Growing a Church Through Diversity


On Friday evening, February 22, 2013, Calvary Baptist Church (Spryfield, NS) held its first ever community Diversity Coffee House.

To explain how we got to this point we have to go back in time a few years.  Under the capable leadership of interim pastor, Rev. John Beers, from 2007 to 2010, Calvary Baptist began to slowly heal from a bitter church split.  In May 2010, the church called Rev. Dennis Nickerson to full time pastoral ministry.  Small in numbers and struggling financially we applied for and received a pastoral ministry grant from our Convention’s Atlantic Baptist Mission Board and our Halifax Region United Baptist Association.

Pastor Dennis was completing a master’s thesis on understanding the theology of charity in the Christian and Muslim faiths with a proposed way the two faiths can work together to help advocate for and alleviate poverty within our communities.  Pastor Dennis is a strong advocate for embracing and working with diversity within his community.  He also recognized that the community of Spryfield had the most newcomers to Canada per capita than any other area in Nova Scotia.  He saw an opportunity for Calvary Baptist to have a unique ministry within their community and began to volunteer as an English tutor for newcomers and attend workshops on diversity with Immigration Settlement and Integration Services (ISIS) in Halifax.

At the same time Pastor Dennis worked together with a dedicated team of volunteers from the members of Calvary Baptist to develop a mission and vision for the church.  The process took about a year and was adopted by the members.  Our adopted mission statement is: Building community where everyone experiences a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Out of that our vision statement was created: Calvary Baptist will become a loving, welcoming, culturally diverse church of like-minded believers in Jesus Christ through life-transforming relationships with God, one another, and our local and global community as taught through God’s Word.  In our vision path we outlined a concrete plan on how we can consciously become that culturally diverse church.

In August 2012 ISIS contacted Pastor Dennis with a request from an Ethiopian group who had recently incorporated as the “Oromo Gospel Church of Halifax” looking for space to worship.  They had outgrown their house church, which happened to be across the street from where the pastor lived.  Pastor Dennis had established close ties with them and taught one of their newcomers as an English tutor.  On October 30, 2012, Calvary Baptist welcomed the Oromo group into our building.  They carry on a worship service on Sunday afternoons.  On Christmas Eve we shared a service together and the Oromo community wore traditional cultural dress and sang for us in their language.

Pastor Dennis began dialoguing with their spiritual leader, Ejigu Haille, about how we can move more towards integrating our communities in joint projects.  Together they met with a refugee sponsorship officer at ISIS and talked about a particular Ethiopian Oromo woman refugee identified as a priority by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Canada.  It was agreed that Pastor Dennis and Ejigu would approach the members of their churches to see if they would help fundraise the money to sponsor this refugee.  Because Ejigu was planning a trip to Ethiopia, the bulk of the planning was left to Pastor Dennis and Calvary Baptist members who agreed to go forward with a Community Diversity Coffee House.  With the support of ISIS and his connections as an ESL tutor, Pastor Dennis was able to line up performers and on February 22, thirty five people attended and we raised a total of $200.  This was such a great success that right away we began planning for another Diversity Coffee House on April 26 with a goal of doubling our attendance and fundraising.  What was even more wonderful was the celebration of diversity within our community.

God has been blessing in other ways as well since we have carried our mission and vision into our community.  Only a month after the Oromo Gospel Church settled into our building we were approached by another community organization called “Second Chances Community Band” about renting our space since they were asked to leave the building they were currently in.  Realizing a need to help our community partners, we opened our doors to them and now have 65 band members practicing in our church on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  The neighborhood has certainly noticed the activity in our church!

Shortly after, concerned parents and Master Doug Large of Chimo Taekwondo asked if we would consider renting space to them in our church to them since they were given notice that the retail space they had been renting was being given to new tenants.  Once again we saw this as a great opportunity to partner with our community and show them we care.

Now our building, which was used only once on Sunday, will be used every day of the week and become an asset to our community, helping us to expand our outreach and hopefully growing our membership as God blesses.

Submitted by Rev. Dennis Nickerson, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Spryfield, NS