Blessed For Nassau

Last night was an extremely special evening for the MacPhails. Friends of ours hosted a wonderful dinner for a small gathering as an opportunity for us to say farewell before our June 3 departure for ministry in the Bahamas. The table was suitably decorated with shells and sand. Lobster was served. Good conversation was shared. Photographs were taken. Friendship was celebrated.

But, for me, the most special aspect of the evening was the prayer our host offered before the meal. This was no mere “saying grace”. Our host invited the gathered to come and lay hands on us to bless us as he prayed. I remembered that the first disciples did this in Samaria so that the believers there would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). I remembered the apostle Paul’s reference to the time the elders (the Presbytery) laid hands on Timothy. I remembered when the ministers of Oak Ridges Presbytery laid hands on me at my ordination in January of 1998.

Moving to Nassau Bahamas feels like a new start, and so this personal re-commissioning seemed quite appropriate. It was most meaningful for us to have such close friends extend this special blessing.

One couple arrived later on in the evening and I was sorry that they missed this aspect of the evening. As we said good-bye at the door, my friend who arrived late handed me a gift and we went on our way. As soon as I got home, I opened the gift. It was a small 2nd edition book written by 19th Century theologian, Horatius Bonar, and on the inside cover my friend had written out the Aaronic blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26:

The Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.

This was the same blessing sung at my final service at St. Giles Kingsway on May 16. On that emotional day, we felt blessed as we said good-bye to our congregation here. On May 16, the blessing was connected to our leaving. What we experienced last night, felt slightly different. It felt as though we were being blessed in our going. It felt like we were being blessed, not for what we had done in the past, but for what we had yet to do.

With 12 days left before we move, I am so grateful to be able to say that I am not merely ready for Nassau, I am not merely excited for Nassau, but I am blessed for Nassau.

For everyone who has prayed for us in this transition, I sincerely thank you.

Overwhelmed.

Today I said “good-bye” to a congregation I love dearly. I’m still struggling to process the myriad of emotions I’m experiencing. One thing, however, is clear: I am overwhelmed.

I am, in part, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the move from Toronto to Nassau, Bahamas, and all of the details which go with that.

I’m also overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity shown by so many. The last time I opened a stack of cards this big was on my wedding day. I am sincerely touched and humbled by the kind sentiments contained within these cards. I was also hugely moved by the tributes and generous gifts given, not only to me, but also to Allie and Anya as well.

I am overwhelmed by the love demonstrated to my family today. Allie and I have shed many tears in anticipation of our move to Nassau. This morning we witnessed a reciprocal response of profound emotion. The people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well are my friends, but what I experienced today transcended even friendship. What I witnessed today was a massive expression of gratitude from a group of people who have progressed in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The Gospel has made a difference in the lives of many here. I feel so blessed to have played a role in that.

I will remember May 16, 2010 as long as I live. It was a painful day (saying good-bye), but it was also a day filled with encouragement. More importantly, I believe God was glorified. Both services were absolutely packed. The people appeared attentive to the Word and sang songs of praises with great enthusiasm. It was a delightful and inspiring gathering to be a part of.

I expect that I will remain overwhelmed for quite some time. I am truly humbled by what happened here today. And I am so grateful—grateful for the gifts, the kind words, and the wonderful people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well.

I will remember my 8 years of ministry here with much fondness. I will remember the people of this congregation with much affection. And I will always give thanks to God for giving me the privilege of serving this fine community of believers.

This morning I closed out a 5 message series (“Parting Words From Your Pastor”) with the message “Contend Earnestly For The Faith” (Jude 3). I hope it was a fitting final word.  In the event you would like to hear my final message at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, the audio is provided below.

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My Blogging Wife

My dear wife, Allie, never ceases to surprise and amaze me. Just this week she created her own blog, entitled, “Uprooted To Paradise“. Her opening posts have been heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. I am delighted that Allie has chosen to share her story with the rest of us, as I realize that my version of our transition to Nassau, Bahamas fails to hit all of the notes. Allie’s blog nicely fills the gap with clever analogies, her winsome spirit, and some earnest reflection.

While Allie and I are headed to the same destination, on so many levels, I am reminded that our respective journeys are vastly different. I’m encouraged by what I’ve read in her blog thus far, but more so, I’m encouraged that Allie is trusting in the Lord, and in the wisdom of His providence. The journey is sometimes unnerving, but our destination is sure.

As we wait upon the Lord, we are reminded,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

Top 10 Things I Will Miss Not Living In Canada

It’s now official. We move to Nassau, Bahamas on June 3, and I will be inducted as the minister of St. Andrew’s Kirk on June 6. Thinking a lot about what we’re leaving behind, here are the 10 things I’ll miss the most:

 

10. My hockey cards

Yes, I know—I’m not six years old anymore, but collecting hockey cards is not something I ever outgrew. I fondly remember my father buying me cards after each of my hockey games. I blame eBay for taking my borderline obsession to the next level. My Gretzky, Lemieux, Sittler, etc, rookie cards will have a new home in a Royal Bank safety deposit box.

 

9. Tim Horton’s coffee

I’m not a sophisticated guy. Starbucks just doesn’t do it for me. I actually crave Tim Horton’s coffee. And how cool is it that my favourite coffee is named after a former Toronto Maple Leafs player?

 

8. Miss Vickies Potato Chips

This 5 star potato chip has its origins in Alliston, Ontario (very close to my first pastoral charge). Pepsi eventually figured out what I already knew, and bought Miss Vickies. Dear Pepsi: How about selling these chips wherever you sell your pop! Multiple Miss Vickies bags will be a prerequisite gift for any Canadian friend seeking to stay at chez MacPhails.

 

7. St. Louis B&G chicken wings

What will I do without the ‘Monday Special’? I can picture it now: I’m sitting down to a freshly prepared conch salad, but all I can think about is……chicken wings!

 

6.  Attending Alistair Begg’s Pastors Conference

Yes, I do realize that this conference is in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Only a four and a half hour drive away, I have journeyed to this conference for 8 straight years. Unless there is a seat sale on a flight from Nassau to Cleveland, it appears that I’m looking to conferences in Orlando or Atlanta in order to charge my spiritual batteries.

 

5. Playing Facebook Scrabble

Someone explain this to me. When I’m in the Bahamas, and I attempt to access facebook Scrabble, the application tells me that I’m in a “invalid country”. Thankfully, the $5 I spent on the Scrabble app for my iPhone appears to be a decent workaround.

 

4. Attending Toronto Maple Leafs & Toronto Blue Jays games

I realize that it has been a while since the Leafs and Jays have had competitive teams, but I can’t stop cheering for them. Thank you Duncan Macgregor for furnishing me with so many opportunities to watch my favourite clubs. I know this is something Anya will miss also. And if you are wondering if I plan to come back for the Stanley Cup parade…you bet! I’ll be at Front & Bay St, painted blue & white!

 

3. My cottage

Also known as the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, our cottage has been the perfect getaway spot for Allie and I. Many outlines for my Sunday messages were born here as I sat by the fireplace in the winter, and by the lake in the summer, with my note pad and my Bible. I’ll also miss those lazy days when my biggest project was completing a 1,000 piece LOST puzzle.

 

2. Playing hockey

I realize that the days of competitive hockey have passed me by. I’m 37 years old. But for 32 of those years I played hockey. I’ve circled May 13 in my calendar as possibly the last game of ice hockey I ever get to play. Those who know me well get that this is a huge sacrifice for me. I do, however, look forward to joining the Nassau Ball Hockey League in October and taking a run at the Stanley Conch (real name of the championship!).

 

1. Friends & Family

This is the runaway winner within this Top 10. Allie and I have shed many tears anticipating saying good-bye to those we love. One of the great things about Nassau though, is that many people want to visit there. I suspect that many of our friends and family will want to visit. I hope they do. We need them to. Friends: Come often. And bring some Canada with you!

Preaching In Paradise – Part 2

I have never lived more than a 3 hour drive from where I was born.

Niagara Falls. St. Catharines. London. Thornhill. Toronto. Beeton. Toronto……and now, Nassau, Bahamas.

Just yesterday I announced to the people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well that I had accepted a call to another congregation. Beginning in June, I will be the Pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas. This charge also includes having oversight with the Presbyterian Church in Abaco—an island I have yet to visit.

We did not come by this decision easily. Allie and I have been wrestling with God, and one another, on this. Through many tears we have sought to be responsive to the call of God. From those who heard our news yesterday, a few described it as “a bombshell”. We recognize that this move isn’t simply a big change for us, but we also realize that our transition profoundly affects the lives of those closest to us. And we humbly recognize the affect this move will have on the people of St. Giles Kingsway and The Well.

For those who might be curious about how this thoroughly Canadian preacher came to accept this call to Nassau, the following details may be of interest to you.

The MacPhails are not strangers to the Bahamas. While I had been to Nassau a couple of times in my youth, I hadn’t returned to the Bahamas until 5 years ago when a friend from my Ridley College years invited Allie and I down for a visit to Freeport, Grand Bahama. Through a variety of circumstances, I became connected to the Presbyterian Church in Freeport and had the opportunity to do some pulpit supply there in 2007 and 2009. In my latter visit, a few members from St. Andrew’s Kirk in Nassau flew over, having heard that the Canadian filling the pulpit in Freeport might be a suitable person to fill their pulpit vacancy.

I was asked by one of the visitors from Nassau why I would want to leave my current charge. I immediately responded, “I’m not sure that I do want to leave!”

My 8 years of ministering in Toronto have been good years.  New ministry initiatives have been born. Lives have been impacted and transformed by the Gospel. I was in no hurry to transition out. But I was curious about this inquiry. I didn’t want to dismiss it, in case it was from God, and so I submitted my profile late in 2009 for their inspection.

I was told that there were over 40 applicants, and so I began to imagine that a transition to Nassau might be unlikely. Not long after that, I was informed that I made a short list of 4 candidates and that I needed to schedule a flight to Nassau in late January for a series of interviews.

In early February, I was informed that the Search Committee, and the Session—independently of one another—had unanimously identified me as the preferred candidate. Our sense was that this might indeed be God ordained, and so I accepted an invitation to “preach for a call” on Sunday March 14, 2010. On the Saturday evening, I was asked by the interim moderator what I needed the congregational vote to be in order for me to say yes to the call. I responded by saying that I needed it to be very close to unanimous in order to have confidence that this was indeed “a God thing”.

When the congregation voted unanimously on Sunday to call me, I felt compelled (in the best sense of the word) to say yes. Allie and I believe this is from God, and so we go with eager and willing hearts. We are also experiencing an acute sense of grief with this decision. Our transition requires that we move away from people we love dearly. Our transition ends the pastoral relationship I have with the members here.  My sincere hope, however, is that our friendships will carry on.

We have been treated so well by the people of St. Giles Kingsway. We are so grateful.

As our future trajectory began to come into clearer focus, Allie emailed me this verse:

You will not leave in haste or go in flight;

for the Lord will go before you,

the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 52:12)

We depend upon that, and we rejoice in that!