Jordana Wright. (Photograph by Serap Seker)
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
There was an article in a recent issue of Broadview, the United Church magazine, about re-imagining congregational spaces as traditional buildings no are no longer sustainable by aging and dwindling faith communities. The estimate is that 9,000 of those physical plants in Canaa could close in the next few years across different denominations and faith groups. A drive through the Ontario countryside reveals that hundreds of church buildings are now homes or businesses, and in urban downtowns the same is true, although the large structures are often the fronts for condo developments.
The article focuses on an initiative called Activate Space which is the brainchild of Jordana Wright and has the goal of helping congregations excel as community hubs. She also hosts Things to Talk About at Coffee Hour, a Facebook Live show of conversations about the United Church which venture outside the conventions of congregational life. Wright describes which she's up to this way:
One way that I found to buck this trend is to help churches formalize and expand their de facto role as community hubs. The first key service of Activate Space is to help churches partner with local changemakers, and transform their relationships with community groups that already casually use their space into more meaningful holistic partnerships. The second service is to secure alternative financing opportunities through partnerships with municipalities or local anchor institutions.
I'll say first of all that I'm glad that someone with Jordana's creative, outside-the-bricks-and mortar thinking is providing this platform. Having a building to house competing congregations on every corner was never a smart approach to sharing the Good News, and in a day of waning interest in religion and diminishing resources to maintain physical structures these explorations are vital.
Secondly, I'm pleased that our current congregation, Trenton United, has been looking at how its building can be more versatile in meeting community needs and in working with others who are involved in social outreach. The last congregation I served in ministry, Bridge St. United, is also working collaboratively with community partners, including social service agencies and different levels of government. The physical plant has been transformed to address the needs of those who are marginalized with facilities to run several food ministries, and now providing showers and clothes washing machines. This just makes sense.
Thirdly, I've always felt that when congregations enter into these partnerships and re- imagining their physical spaces they better have a well-developed theology and sense of the gospel. This doesn't mean proselytizing or engagement with ulterior motives. It's an appreciation and commitment to the Good News of Jesus Christ as foundational to their existence.This is respectful of those who established these congregations and visionary in an Acts 2 way..
As we join with others to create a table of mutual respect and community service we can remember that it is at Christ's table we are nourished.