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Strategic Transformations at the Canadian Bible Society

May 27, 2010 02:13 PM EDT

The closure of six of its flagship bookstores during the summer will be the most tangible sign of a much wider restructuring at the Canadian Bible Society.

“Translating, publishing and distributing the Bible is still at the core of who we are,” explains national director Ted Seres, “But changing times require a different approach to those three historic parts of our mandate, and a greater emphasis on our fourth commitment; Bible engagement.”

Seres notes that Bibles are more easily accessible to Canadians today than they were over 200 years ago when the first Bible Society colporteurs had to reach remote communities on horseback. The country is now served by several hundred other religious bookstores, as well as countless mail order services and websites that supply both printed Bibles and increasingly digital options in a greater variety of formats than ever before.

“Canadians may have easier physical access to the text, but they are not engaging with it. The numbers we have, and our experience in the field, both suggest that even the churched population is no longer engaging meaningfully with the text” Seres notes. “This has led us to return to a supportive role, seeking out ministry partners who are already actively working in the field of Bible engagement. We want to come alongside them and supply the Bibles they need to effectively pursue their ministries.”

This calling to a background fulfillment role is one that the Bible Societies know well, and in their work around the world they often self describe as “the handmaid to the church.”

The challenging economic situation was an ideal time for the Bible Society to re-examine its priorities and streamline its focus on those unique parts of its calling that it does best, while allowing other struggling Christian retailers to benefit from greater market share.

The previous closures of its stores in Charlottetown, Halifax, North Bay, Hamilton and Saskatoon were negotiated in partnership with local Christian retailers who have benefited from the increased business and now continue as service centers in their area for Bible Society products and services. The upcoming closures in Saint John’s, Saint John, London, Calgary and Edmonton will take similar approaches. In Ottawa, the Bible House will only be closed for a few weeks in June while another partnering Christian retailer transitions to continue operating a Christian bookstore in the strategic location in the downtown core of the nation’s capital.

“It’s painful to leave historic locations, and harder still to say good bye to colleagues who have served the Bible cause in Canada faithfully for years” says Joel Coppieters, who oversees CBS production and distribution initiatives. “The numbers suggest that new partnerships and approaches, and the continued hard work and creativity of our staff are allowing us to effectively pursue our mandate of making the Bible as accessible as possible. In spite of the store closures and the tough economy which has seen most retailers – even in the secular world – struggle with drops in sales, our distribution of Bibles, New Testaments and Scripture portions has increased by 73% over the last two years.”

Coppieters is also encouraged that these numbers include a steady increase in Bibles and resources in languages other than English and French. Through a growing number of ministry and retail partners across the country, as well as its website and mail order catalogues, CBS distributes Scriptures in more than 100 languages as well as in Braille, audio and a variety of digital formats. Through the generosity of its donors, special grant programs also allow for the free and subsidized distribution of resources to the visually impaired, Canadian military personnel and their families, participants in church-based ESL programs, prisoners, seminary students learning Greek and Hebrew, and many other Canadians.

“The relative stability of the Canadian economy, and the generosity of our donors, has also allowed us to play an important role in other countries of the world” Coppieters says. “CBS has played a lead role in several Caribbean countries for instance, including Cuba and Haiti. In the weeks following the earthquake, we were able to increase already significant efforts at getting Bibles into Haiti and by the end of 2010 Canadian donors will have helped to provide upwards of 60,000 Creole and French Bibles and New Testaments.”

CBS translation activities continue with a primary emphasis on Canada’s First Nations languages where there is still much work to be done. Many of the first Canadian indigenous translations are now in need of revisions and republications and few of them have any reference or study tools like concordances, maps or even basic Bible dictionaries. Work on a new Cree Bible for instance has been in progress for several decades and a June 19th event in Saskatoon will celebrate the next milestone, launching the new Cree Gospel of Mark in Roman and Syllabic Script, along with an accompanying CD. In addition, the expertise which CBS has developed translating its home languages now allows the team to support over 400 projects in other areas of the world. Beyond the highly specialized Bible translation software it has fine tuned and now supports, the Canadian team also provides personnel training and computer backup services to Bible Societies in areas of the world with less dependable infrastructures.

Seres noted that while changes in retail locations would impact the delivery of other ministry initiatives across the country, plans call for these to continue and further details will be announced as they take shape in the months ahead.

[Source: Canadian Bible Society]