In recent years, we as the Anglican Church within our province, have been talking a lot about buildings. Aging infrastructure and changing demographics have necessitated this conversation. There is no doubt that for the number of people who consider themselves Anglican in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are way too many buildings, the maintenance of which has become burdensome to an even smaller number of people who financially support the church. When we consider this reality, it is easy to see why our buildings are often seen as liabilities—shackles that hold us back from doing the real work of the Church. But, what if we could reimagine ministry so that the infrastructure we own could become assets, offering hope and new life to some of the most vulnerable in our society?
Just a couple of weeks ago I, along with my friend and colleague the Rev’d Fred Marshall, had the opportunity to travel to Toronto, where we spent some time with the folks of All Saints’ Community Church. This is an Anglican Parish in the City’s East end that caters exclusively to street people. Prior to World War 2 this was a thriving community, made up of middle-class people. After the war, many moved out of the area, and the demographics quickly changed. Due to various social and economic factors, this neighbourhood became home to the poor and the marginalized. Parish priests tried desperately to make the parish what it once was, attempting to fit the community into the mold that was their understanding of Church. But their efforts were in vain. Finally, an English priest by the name of Norman Ellis, said, “If this is going to be the Church God calls us to be, then I have to let go of every idea of what I think Church and being a parish priest is.” It was then that things began to change. In response to the shifting demographics in their area, they decided to throw open their doors and invite the poor in. They began tearing out pews and opening up their space to whoever would come. And now, the place is thriving. It has since grown to serve thousands of people annually, providing meals, housing supports, primary health care, and sanctuary for some of the most vulnerable people of our society—the very people Jesus calls us to care for. As one community member shared with us, “I was a drug addict, a dealer, and a sex worker. I was so ashamed of that part of my life. For the first time ever, I don’t need to hide that part of my life. I can be who I am, and I am loved and accepted. All Saints’ changed my life.” The building that had become a liability, is now a valuable asset.
While Toronto is very different from many of the cities and communities in our province, the social problems experienced by many are very much the same. Such challenges exist in Toronto in larger numbers (of course, because they have a larger population), but they are very much present in every nook and cranny of Newfoundland and Labrador as well. As the Church (and by Church I mean the people), it is incumbent upon us to serve Christ in all people, especially in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, and every marginalized person. With all of this in mind, as we continue the essential conversation around our buildings and their function, will your building be a liability, or will it be an asset?
The Venerable Amanda Taylor is the rector of St. Mark the Evangelist in St. John’s, and the Archdeacon of Social Justice, Community Advocacy and Outreach, Diocese of Eastern NL.