This was the question posed by Bill Phipps, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, at the start of Regenerating Places of Faith, a workshop for Christian faith communities with valuable real estate, often historic buildings, great locations, a history of service to the community alongside the challenges of dwindling numbers, uncertain mission and financial challenges.
The question was framed by reference to the Indigenous history of Calgary. Mitokis, is the Stony name given to the confluence of the Bow and the Elbow where Indigenous communities have gathered over the millennia. One of the legacies of their presence has been undamaged land, air and water in its natural state!
Bill’s description of churches were as places of “uncommon hope”, places where people could gather for faith, compassion, worship, justice and inspiration. Variations of the Christian tradition were the mainstay of meaning, comfort and community for settlers in Canada from early pioneers to baby boomers. Correspondingly, churches were the gathering place, the hubs of their communities. It was perhaps more obvious (although nothing is ever self-evident in the moment!?) how they could seek the wellbeing of the city for which you were called a reference to Jeremiah 29 :7, also provided by Bill Phipps.
In 2018, Christian faith communities face different challenges in responding to this call. Many are on creative journeys of compassion, courage and exploration to discover how they can be vital and relevant players in their neighbourhoods and cities. Rob Pajot with the National Trust and Kendra Fry with Faith and the Common Good shared examples from across North America including The Spire and Trinity St Pauls.
We have a number of examples in Calgary, Knox United Church, where the workshop was held, has a history of 60 million years, if you include the sandstone from the Paskapoo slopes that was used in building this, Cathedral of the West in 1912. At the time, it was indeed the community center of the neighbourhood. Now Knox United is in downtown Calgary determining how to be a good neighbour, including hosting the CPO and other musical concerts, offering a labyrinth, starting the Sanctuary Café, a coffee shop and looking at developing unfinished basement space.
B’nai Tikvah demonstrates the creative process of regeneration in the journey of the building from being the home of a United Church congregation to becoming the home a Jewish congregation with the corresponding transformation of the central worship space to one reflective of Jewish culture and theology.
The Calgary Interfaith Council has partnered with the United Way and Vibrant Communities Calgary to host a number of workshops about how faith communities can become community hubs. This is of interest to many Christian churches such as Wild Rose United ,who is exploring a Wellness Hub model and Robert McClure United Church who is hosting a Farmer’s Market during the summer.
A number of Calgary resources emerged throughout the day. Clint Robertson, Senior Heritage Planner offered guidance about how faith communities with historic buildings can use this status to support their financial sustainability. Joni Carol with Calgary Arts Development and Space Finder Alberta described how their service could help churches find new tenants for underused spaces. These rental relationships can sometimes develop into other multifaceted partnerships.
Faith communities in Calgary are on the cusp of transformation spurred by both necessity and opportunity. NewScoop YYC is excited to support and follow these efforts as congregations continue to discern their changing role in the neighbourhood and city scape.