“What you’ve been blessed with, you pass on to others.”
Rosemary Flaaten said this while reflecting on her upbringing on a farm in Pangman, Saskatchewan. The comment conveys how she strives to live her life, doing her utmost to use the abilities, gifts, and opportunities God has given her to bring blessing and encouragement to others.
She is the youngest of four children and their foundation was laid in a solid Christian home. Her mother had been a missionary nurse on Baffin Island in the 1950s and loved the Word of God. Rosemary has memories of her mom early in the mornings, reading her Bible, huddled for warmth in front of the stove. Her dad, the more outgoing of the two, was a leader in their community and he exuded generosity. No one came to their house without going home having been fed and carrying a bag of potatoes or other produce from the family garden. Both parents had a love of missions, especially compassion and love for Indigenous people. This example played a great role in shaping Rosemary for as yet unimagined trips to other countries fueled by her passion for leadership and development.
In her early years, Rosemary travelled on weekends with her family, “the Sheppard Singers.” As the youngest, she wielded the tambourine. She took piano lessons from a couple of women who were mentors in both musical and character development. As a young teenager, her very first job was as an organist in the morning services of a neighboring church, after which she rushed to her own church in time to play at their services. As Rosemary looks back on her childhood experiences she sees them as “a huge treasure given to me by my parents.”
After watching a Billy Graham Crusade on TV, seven-year-old Rosemary went to her room with the evangelist’s words ringing in her ears: Where are you going to go if the Lord comes tonight?
“I didn’t know if I would be going to heaven and so I prayed that night in bed to ask Jesus into my life.” The next summer she was baptized at camp and is grateful that God has continued to lead and guide her life through many ups and downs.
When she was about 11 subtle changes began to appear in her mother, and with worsening symptoms came the suspicion of early-onset Alzheimer’s. By the time Rosemary was 13, she was becoming more and more chief caregiver for her mother as her father was struggling with the overwhelming changes. “I wound up not having a mom able to care for me which I so desperately needed as a teenager.” All of this shaped who she is today.
Taking on a heightened level of care for her family bred strong independence. “This was good and bad,” says Rosemary. “Being independent is good until you start to become independent from God and unable to ask for help from others.”
During the same time, a sibling was struggling with anger issues which made home life even more difficult. “I came to believe that any of my problems might just be ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ so I learned just not to bring them forward. Through God’s transforming power I have learned that it’s okay to have needs. God wants to hear about them, and reaching out to a caring community is also essential.”
The Early Years
Rosemary gives all the credit to God for keeping her from going ‘off the rails’ as a young person grappling with the trials of her teenage years in a home that was in disarray. When she was almost 15, God sent along a godly young man, Norlee, a few years her senior, whom she met at a College and Career bonfire. “I’ll see you in a few years,” he thought when he learned her age. He went off to university in another city and although not dating, they saw each other occasionally, kept up a regular correspondence by mail, and eventually dated for 4 years, much of it by distance. “God used Norlee’s love and attention to help me make good life choices at a time when so much was falling apart in my family life.”
Right out of high school Rosemary moved to Calgary and entered the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1983 to pursue what she thought would be her career as a concert pianist. It wasn’t long before a couple of problems cropped up. She discovered she hadn’t the necessary talent, nor the perseverance required to sit for hours every day in a 6×8 room practicing alone. She switched programs and came away in 1987 with a Bachelor of Education with a Music Major. Norlee, an engineer, accepted a job with oil and gas and moved to Calgary. Two years into her program, Rosemary and Norlee married.
They began attending Centre Street Church. Norlee grew up in the EMCC and knew people who attended there. They started out in the College and Career Group, and now, 36 years later, with a few interruptions due to Norlee’s work in other cities, they are still there.
After graduation, she got a job as a music specialist in an elementary school. “I loved this,” she says. “Six years of teaching music and extracurricular activities such as handbells, choirs, and Christmas concerts!” She worked at the school until they began having children, and by 1997 Nordan, Graham and Janette were all part of the family.
A corporate move took them to Brooks, AB in 1993-96. Then back to Calgary. The next corporate move saw them living in Houston, Texas from 2001-05. It was here that Rosemary seized an opportunity to further her education. She loved psychology but wanted to study it from a Christian perspective and combined that with a focus on women’s issues. The kids were all in school, and Norlee travelled a lot with work, so she ‘single-mom’d it’ much of the time, working on her courses during the day and parenting when the kids were home. In 2005 she graduated with a MA in Christian Counselling.
Becoming an Author
Rosemary is a speaker and a published author of two books. She never set out to write the first one. When living in Texas, the pastor of the church they were attending asked if she would teach a course in the fall about some of the things she was learning while earning her degree. “Absolutely,” she said, thinking she’d employ the help of an existing video series. When she mentioned this to her best friend who knew her well, her response set Rosemary on a very different course. “Rosemary,” said the friend, “you should not be using a video series. God has poured so much into you. You just need to teach what He has put in.”
It was tough putting it all together and by the end of the summer, all she had was 12 titles. She needed an overall title for the series and decided on, A Woman and Her Relationships. Every week, before it was time to teach the lesson, she sat down and wrote about that week’s topic and then extracted an outline. About two-thirds through the course, while on her way to a conference, she heard God say very clearly, “You are to take A Woman and Her Relationships and make it into a book.” Her response? “No, that’s not me. I don’t write.” In considering that response, Rosemary smiles and says, “There are two words that should never go together, No and God.”
God’s direction would not leave her. She really wanted to be a speaker, not a writer. When she expressed that to Norlee he said, “Well, if you’re going to be a speaker you’re probably going to need to write something,” to which she retorted, “Then I guess I’ll never be a speaker because I am not a writer.” By the time she finished teaching the course at church, she had 12 chapters, 165 pages of written material; much of it is almost word for word in the book.
Again God used Norlee to encourage Rosemary to take the next step – going to a writer’s conference. “But I’m not a writer,” said Rosemary. “You’ve got a manuscript. Go,” he said. Here she met with the keynote speaker, really wanting to discuss speaking, not writing. The woman asked if she had written anything. After leafing through Rosemary’s manuscript, she said she knew a publisher who would want it and said she’d recommend her.
“Sometimes people say things and you don’t know the significance at the time,” says Rosemary. Her book, A Woman and Her Relationships – without a book proposal, or agent – was published 9 months later, in 2007. When God wants something, He will make a way.
After graduation, at a course in California on Spiritual Formation, Rosemary was first introduced to spiritual direction. “Although I was trained to be a counsellor, I came to realize spiritual direction was much more what I wanted to do. I felt a calling to this, and never went on to become licensed as a Christian counsellor.” Instead, she moved into spiritual direction training in 2005-07.
A Woman and Her Workplace
With Norlee’s corporate position in Houston finished, they were back in Calgary and Rosemary was on staff at Centre Street Church in Women’s Ministries. She repeatedly heard from women who wished they could have the support of being part of a Bible Study group, but their full-time work made it difficult. With the approval and support of CSC, Rosemary began the Professional Women’s Network. It began with one group in downtown Calgary and was available to Christian women working in corporate Calgary. It attracted women from all levels of the workforce and they found commonality in the struggles of working in the corporate world. Rosemary herself had never worked in this environment but felt she was there, “for such a time as this.” The group met over the lunch hour once a week and its purpose was to encourage women to live out their faith in the workplace. God used this ministry and it grew to 9 groups in various locations in the City. Rosemary supported the leaders who were raised up from amongst those who attended. She drew on her skills and knowledge derived from her Education and Counselling Degrees to help the women develop as leaders and learn how to call out the best in others.
Rosemary’s work with the Professional Women’s Network led to her being offered a second book contract. After hearing about this ministry, her previous publisher mentioned a date and said to Rosemary, “If you can have a manuscript ready by then, you’ve got yourself another contract”. A Woman and Her Workplace was published in 2010.
As part of Rosemary’s work with Christian post-secondary institutions, she got her introduction to teaching about Biblical sexuality in 2014. A college dean phoned a colleague in the college where Rosemary was an adjunct professor and asked if he knew anyone who might be able to teach Biblical Sexuality for Single Women. He recommended Rosemary. “I’d never done anything like that, but I said ‘yes’ and then struggled to find a single resource that covered the topics I felt needed to be taught. It’s been my experience that whenever I can’t find material that really works, God does something and I produce it.” Rosemary developed a curriculum and has taught it numerous times to date.
In 2018, on contract with CSC, Rosemary led a comprehensive year-long series on Sexuality called By Design which included training for staff, policy writing, a sermon series, and classes on various topics. “We delved into topics that many churches are afraid or ill-equipped to address. There were many nights I would lay awake praying for God’s protection that this series would not blow the church apart. God was gracious and his protection was upon the church. God used it in a mighty way to grow his people in ways to lean in with love, uphold truth, and offer hope.”
More about Rosemary
At this stage in her career, Rosemary is a freelancer. She teaches at Christian post-secondary institutions. She continues to be available as a life coach and spiritual director and does pulpit fill, conferences, and teaching at CSC and other churches. She also works with Journey Canada, a Christian organization that “provides a number of avenues for people to start pursuing Jesus with their whole person.” Due to the pandemic, a number of international teaching trips had to be cancelled, and Rosemary feels this as a real loss. “I love working internationally, whether it’s uplifting women or helping the church reflect God’s image. I know I’m called to this. I hope it will come back.”
Besides the freelance work, despite COVID, Rosemary has no lack of pursuits to fill her time. She is in the midst of EMCC’s credentialing process to become a Licensed Minister and is hopeful she will have completed the requirements by spring. She is also at work on a Doctorate of Ministry in Leadership from Denver Seminary which she began in April. She expects this doctorate will take 3-4 years. “God has given me strength and health and I want to use this time to be all that God created me to be,” stresses Rosemary.
With so many facets to her ministry, one might think it would be difficult for Rosemary to say what she loves most about what she does, but she was quick to answer, “When I am speaking, teaching, or preaching I feel like I’m doing what God created me to do. When it’s almost time to begin I’m like a racehorse at the gate.” And this, “It’s always a privilege to be able to sit with people and get a glimpse of God’s work and transformation in their lives.”
When Rosemary has free time she loves cooking, gardening, cycling, and reading. Highly competitive by nature, Rosemary is a force to be reckoned with when playing board games or cards. She and Norlee, now married 35 years, enjoy kayaking and getting out cycling as often as possible. Norlee has moved into the not-for-profit sector and now serves at CSC as Pastor of Finance and Operations, using his business skills to serve the church. Of the family now grown, Nordan is currently in school in Australia, while Graham lives in Calgary, and Janette and husband Mitch live in Lethbridge.
Rosemary is available to provide coaching on Sexual and Gender Identity
In Rosemary’s work with people around the issues of sexuality, she sees a lot of pain, hurt, and confusion, and being involved can exact a toll. When asked why she does it, she responds, “Because there is so much pain; but there is hope. The presence of Jesus in our lives is restorative. He is a God of love and peace. It is a privilege to be a sojourner with somebody.”
As an Enrich Facilitator, Rosemary is available to assist pastors or groups. Every situation is different, and sometimes it helps to talk with someone who understands the issues. Some may need help determining how best to talk about sexual issues in the church setting, or how to support individuals and families who are struggling. Visit emccenrich.ca for more information and to connect with Rosemary. She is available by phone, email, Zoom, or, in person: one-to-one, or with your Leadership team and key volunteers.