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United Church says farewell to retiring minister

Retiring minister Rev. Eras Van Zyl gets a hug from a member of Trinity United Church choir.

Trinity United Church choir performed at the retirement celebration.


The United Churches in Fort Macleod and Granum said farewell Wednesday to their popular minister.
Rev. Eras Van Zyl is retiring from his ministry and returning to his native South Africa.
“We thank God for bringing you into our lives,” said Cecilie Fleming, who is chair of the Fort Macleod and Granum pastoral charge.
The two churches held a farewell gathering Wednesday at Trinity United Church in Fort Macleod.
About 100 people turned out to celebrate Rev. Van Zyl, who served as minister of the two churches for the past 12 1/2 years.
The celebration included performances by Pete and the Re-Petes, the United Church choir and Keith and Leanne Lane.
Refreshments were served in the church hall following the program, and donations were accepted to cover the cost of shipping the minister’s bicycle to South Africa.
Pam Young, who is acting secretary for the church, recalled that James Coast drove Rev. Van Zyl for his first service at Granum, and brought him to Fort Macleod.
“At that time, I had the privilege of presenting him with a gift,” said Young, holding up a coffee mug. “I said at the time that although it might look empty this gift was actually stuffed absolutely full of potential, and promises, and prayers, and hope, and good wishes, and encouragement.”
“And so now on this bittersweet occasion of retirement celebration and farewell this mug has filled itself up with prayers for good health and happiness with hopes for a rich and fulfilling retirement, and best wishes from both our congregations.”
Fleming said Rev. Van Zyl has provided support and encouragement while challenging the congregations to follow the path of Jesus.
“As you have said many times a church community is stronger together like the strands of a rope,” Fleming said. “Individually we can become frayed and broken but together we can hold each other tight and support those in times of sadness and despair to help them once again regain strength and to in turn help others.”
Fleming thanked Rev. Van Zyl for having the courage to leave South Africa and working hard to become a minister in the United Church of Canada.
“You are a teacher preacher,” Fleming told Rev. Van Zyl. “It’s in your DNA. You can’t help it.”
Fleming said the minister taught people to look inward, to look outward, and to look upward.
Fleming said that rather than lamenting that Rev. Van Zyl is leaving, the church community is celebrating the time they had together.
“Thank you for your friendship and leadership,” Fleming said. “Go now in peace, and know you are loved.”
Bill Hart, who chairs the Trinity United Church board, agreed the night was a joyous occasion.
Hart said people enjoyed Rev. Van Zyl’s style of ministering, gently teasing that the sermons sometimes ran long enough to prompt the late Gordon Elgin to stand up and say he had a roast in the oven that needed tending to, and leave.
“We wish you a fond farwell, a safe journey, and good health,” Hart told Rev. Van Zyl.
Fleming also brough best wishes on behalf of the Granum congregation, where Rev. Van Zyl was also a popular minister.
“Thank you for bringing our services to life,” said Fleming, noting Granum’s is a small but dedicated congregation.
Rev. Van Zyl said he didn’t know what to expect in Canada as he said farewell to his family in 2007.
Through the years he learned what it is like to be a Canadian, enjoying the country’s rich culture with its kind, generous people.
In addition to his work with the church, Rev. Van Zyl gave back to the community.
In the fall of 2012 the minister cycled from Kimberley, B.C. to Fort Macleod over three days, a journey of more than 300 kilometres, in support of the Fort Macleod Handibus.
The ride raised more than $5,000 and led a successful fund-raising drive that in three months raised $51,000 toward the purchase of a new handibus.
Rev. Van Zyl thanked people for their support and participation in the church in both Fort Macleod and Granum, and for allowing him to share theology.
“This church has done well,” Rev. Van Zyl said. “I pray that your next minister will love you as much as I love you.”
“God bless you.”