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From power lifting champion to lay pastor

By Mary Ailes

Matthew Court grew up in the town of Fleurant point on the Gaspé Coast in Quebec, Canada. After going to Champlain College and Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, he became a teacher. Along the way, he also became a champion Canadian powerlifter. He currently serves as Lay Pastor at St. James Anglican Church in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

How did you become a Christian?

I came to Christ through a summer camp ministry called Fair Haven Bible Camp. It’s still there. I was about ten years old. The summer camp was funded through a small Brethren chapel that made it their priority to run an affordable camp so that kids of all ages could come and learn about the gospel.

It was due to the faithfulness of that little chapel that I and some of my friends got to know Christ, and experience the hope and assurance that only He can offer.

You have a background as a champion power lifter. How did you get into that sport and how has it impacted your life? 

As a kid I was always interested in athletics and my passion for sports eventually led me to playing college and university football.

At best, I was a mediocre football player and I think the only reason why I survived in the sport was because of my physical strength. It became evident to me that the only thing enjoyable about playing football was the weight training. So I thought, “Well I should just do that instead.” And that’s what I did.

I grew up in a rural community and had always been inspired by the stories of the feats of strengths of my uncles and neighbors. I could say that lifting heavy things was ingrained in me from an early age.

I competed in powerlifting and it impacted my life tremendously. I made lifelong friends and I had some success. I learned the value of hard work.
What did powerlifting teach you?

Powerlifting taught me resilience. In powerlifting I learned to press on through exhaustion and fear. I say fear because there was a point for me where the weight got ridiculously heavy and the mere thought of attempting a lift was frightening.

You write, “Jesus has carried me through the hardest times of my life.  Through sorrow, struggle, and loss – it is my hope that others may find the same peace that he has given me.” How have you found peace in your life?

I lost my mother to suicide in 2009. She was a beautiful person and had struggled with depression for years. It is a heavy burden to try and understand why a loved one who would choose death over life.

When I talk about peace, I am talking about the peace that God gives me in terms of the situation with my mother: Peace with her loss—and peace with my failures as her son.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has given me hope for people like my mother who have struggled through life—and have lost battles. I rest in the fact that God loves my mother more than I do. He knows her best, He is more just than I am, and He has more compassion than I do.

I have learned that I can’t change anyone, no matter how hard I try. I leave that one with God too. I think because I wanted people to be happy that for a long time in my life I tried to be all things to all people. I found that this was a weight that I could not carry—but it is one that God can.

I do believe that God calls us to work hard for people: to walk with them, cry with them, pray with them—and feed and clothe them too. Following God is not for spectators. We can live big lives and do big things, but we must remember that victory belongs to God.

What brought you along the “Canterbury Trail” and to the Anglican Church?

I don’t think I could have guessed that I would end up worshipping with my family in an Anglican Church. I think it may have had something to do with the leaders here at St. James. Jess and Erica Cantelon (now serving at Christ Church, Atlanta) are amazing church planters who modeled real faith to the congregation of St. James.

We are here to stay and I thank God for his leading us here.

You are a lay pastor of a church in the Anglican Network in Canada. How did you become a lay pastor and how has your background impacted your ministry?

For some reason I have always felt a pull towards pastoral ministry. I was attending St James and volunteered to help out when I could. I helped fill in from time to time with the preaching. I occasionally led a Bible Study, and met with the pastor to study and discuss the Bible together.

I eventually became the People’s Warden (Junior Warden), and when it came time for Jess to leave I was asked to take his place. And so I did.

What excites you most about your ministry?

The unlimited power of Jesus to transform lives.

Can you tell us about your family? How do you balance your family life with your ministry?

I am married to my wife Grace and we have three daughters: Avigaelle (age five), Elianah (age two), and Hadassah-Rose, who is ten months old.

We have only been at this a little over a year, so in that respect I think we are still figuring it out. But our experience so far is that a gracious, understanding, and generous church community is crucial when balancing our ministry, work, and family life.

I don’t think that anyone in ministry can establish that balance on their own—we need the support of our congregation and our families. I am very grateful for the people of St. James.

What are some of the challenges you see for sharing the Gospel in Canada?

Comfort, materialism, complacency, indifference. These are our challenges.

How do you see Anglican Christians making a difference in that challenge?

I see us making a difference by preaching the same gospel that we always have, and by not sacrificing truth for the sake of cultural acceptance. People need to know that they need Jesus.

By reestablishing our relevance in the world by being a church that wants nothing more than to see suffering end and souls saved; I think that is how we can make a difference.

How may we pray for you and the people of St. James?

The more people I meet the more I realize that everyone—that every household is fighting some kind of a battle. Pray that we as a congregation can win our personal and collective battles so that we can better serve God, walk together in freedom under Christ, reach the lost, and help those in need without any hindrance.

Mary Ailes is Director of Communications for the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.


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