Alberta Church Draws Protesters

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Rev. John Van Sloten preached on February 13, using the new mayor of Calgary, Alberta, as part of his “text.”

Van Sloten is the pastor of New Hope Christian Reformed Church in Calgary, and has a reputation for incorporating new media into his services and finding God in contemporary culture. The service where he used the music of Metallica eventually became a book, The Day Metallica Came to Church.

This Sunday, he focused on how the church can become a better citizen, using as an example the God-like qualities he sees in Calgary’s new mayor, Naheed Nenshi.

Due mostly to the fact that the local newspaper “pre-preached” the sermon, as Van Sloten said, a few protesters who do not like Nenshi showed up at the church Sunday morning. There are some Calgarians who attack Nenshi for his religion and ethnicity and make claims about him controlling the press

The Gospel According to Naheed Nenshi” began as a response to the mayor’s unusual leadership, Van Sloten said.

In October 2010, Nenshi became the first Muslim mayor of Calgary, or of any Canadian city. With a population of 1.2 million, Calgary is a city known for its Stampede, its proximity to the Canadian Rockies, and its friendly cowboy nature.

Yet Nenshi, who does not necessarily embody any of these traits, got more votes than the total votes cast in the previous election. Besides Nenshi’s proficiency in social networking, Van Sloten believes “it’s a God-thing.”

“God built into you and me as citizens…an insatiable yearning for wise, humble, real, authentic leadership,” he said, “a deep desire for somebody who has that powerful position but is selfless, who cares more about us, the city collectively, than he does about himself.”

In his sermon, Van Sloten talked about what it means to be a better citizen, how God uses those in leadership and God is truly a democratic God.

By seeing Nenshi as an image bearing leader we “learn more about God’s heart and nature,” he said.

Church members were very positive about the service, Van Sloten said. Some spoke to the protesters.

Barb Bronson said protesters were “comparing [Nenshi] to Hitler and Saddam Hussein. “I didn’t take what they were saying about Nenshi too seriously,” she said, “But I was glad we’re a city that people can peacefully protest in and say what is on our minds.”

Nenshi was not at the service but said afterward, “”It was certainly interesting to be the topic of such a presentation. What’s very satisfying for me is to find that the messages of civic engagement and making Calgary an even better city resonate across all faiths and communities.”

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