The Sovereign Grace Fellowship…A Brief History
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s a number of churches pastored by sovereign grace men enjoyed fellowship together. Conferences were organized for pastors as well as for families and these would be attended by people from quite a large number of churches, some of whom were independent while others were involved in different denominations. Some, of course, were not Baptist churches, and we rejoiced to have fellowship with those of other persuasions. However William (Bill) Payne, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Burlington, felt a need for a more formal fellowship of Reformed Baptist churches, and so it was in 1983 that the Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Baptist Churches came into being. There were 6 founding churches included in the SGF which was established as a loose-knit organization that permitted membership of churches with ties to existing denominations, as long as they were not affiliated with the World Council of Churches. The number of churches grew to 10 over the next few years. Bill Payne was the human instrument behind the movement and the guiding force while he was alive.
In 1998 the SGF pastors felt the need to be a little more formally organized, but not just for the sake of organization. There was a strong feeling that it would enable churches to co-operate better in such things as missions and church planting. To allow the group to be registered, so as to issue tax receipts, a constitution was required. That occupied the men for about two years, the process being completed early in 2001.
The first meeting of delegates from the churches was on Feb.10. By then the constitution had been accepted by seven churches, and these formally joined together as the Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Canada. Within a few weeks three more churches accepted the constitution and the ten became the founding member churches. On Apr. 21 an executive board was elected together with a treasurer and co-ordinator:
The charter member churches were:
Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Geary, NB. Pastor Perry Edwards
Westboro Baptist Church, Ottawa. Pastor William Oosterman
Faith Baptist Church, Scarborough. Pastor Brian Robinson
Grace Fellowship Church, Toronto. Pastor Paul Martin
Churchill Baptist Church, Palgrave. Pastor Marino Vereecke
Trinity Baptist Church, Burlington. Pastor Carl Muller
Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship, Ancaster. Pastor Don Theobald
Blair Community Church, Cambridge. Pastor David Robinson
Bethesda Baptist Church, Delhi. Pastor Stephen Kring
Sovereign Grace Community Church, Sarnia. Pastor Kirk Wellum
The first board meeting was held June 23, 2001 where plans were laid for the first General Assembly and a plan was mapped giving some direction for the fellowship. Three phases were planned:
1. To get around to all the churches to encourage them and share the vision.
2. To contact churches that may be interested in associating with the SGF.
3. To look at areas for church plants.
Fellowship was to be a key part of the SGF. Churches needed to feel part of the group and take an active interest in the needs of the other churches. There was a felt need to develop a sense of togetherness – connectedness.
Church planting was also to be a crucial aspect of the SGF. The desire is to see growth by the planting of new churches. For that at least four things will be needed:
1. Designation of areas that need a church.
2. Finding people in these areas to help start and support a new work.
3. A leader, a pastor, to spearhead the work.
4. Financial support.
Some growth within the SGF may take place through the addition of already existing churches, but it is more likely we will see new churches coming into existence through the initiative of the churches within the SGF.
Other areas where for which policies needed to be developed were Missions and Theological education.
Coming under the umbrella of the SGF were three other agencies:
FRPS (Fellowship for Reformed Pastoral Studies) and its annual pastors’ conference.
The Carey Conference which was already very much a key point of contact between our people and churches.
The Sovereign Grace Journal edited by Brian Robinson.
There is now an annual youth retreat held in the spring and regular retreats for young adults have been offered as well. In the spring of 2007 the SGF hosted its first ladies retreat, which has now become a popular annual event. In the fall of 2008, Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto took over the planning, organization and presentation of the Toronto Pastor’s Fellowship (TPF) and annual conference, replacing the former FRPS. Starting in the spring of 2009 the SGF began to publish a new quarterly magazine entitled Barnabas. As well, Trinity Baptist Church took on the oversight of the Canadian Carey Family Conference starting with the 2009 event.
Late in 2009 there are at least 4 church plants being overseen by SGF churches. Our prayer is that, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, these will become church planters themselves in the not too distant future!