Any time I go by the Temple fire hall in Northeast Calgary, I see the vacant lot where I once was the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries, did my Franciscan formation, and yes was the first baby on the Baptism registry (though that was when the congregation met in a Roman Catholic School Gymnasium)…St. George’s Anglican, they now meet in a local ELCIC congregation (Lutheran denom in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada, I do not understand why it is still a rental situation, not my bit to go into). What is seen in the empty lot is what many spiritual communities go through in Canada. We are small communities of folks, many more members in the Greatest and Baby Boom Generation, than Gen X or Millenials, so decline is inevitable. As a house owner raising the 3rd generation of my family in the home I can tell you property is expensive, not just to buy but to keep up…never mind when you have to make an insurance claim or get an unexpected repair (roofs are not your friend over time, neither is old piping). Many property owners get the conundrum of the aging/declining small to medium congregation. For every Centre Street Church or First Alliance in Calgary, there are literally hundreds in buildings or rental spots.

Yet here is the empty lot that shows what happens when you can’t keep up. But there is hope from the embers, rumour has it that an affordable to life seniors housing is to go in, and the congregation is primed to move back into a multi-use space. Quite a living out of the Great Commission, and knowing the social programs this little church that could offered it would be a great joint initiative. It is one example of thinking outside the box to survive and hopefully thrive. The Chinese United Church did much the same thing, and there is a host of other churches across the country that have moved this way. In Huntington Hills Westbourne Baptist Church (for history nuts, the church that launched Social Credit, and William Aberhart), had a senior residence built on their land and then brilliantly built a plus 15 for residents to use to come to service.

It is ways to allow for a form of life support while the congregation figures out what their own life expectancy means. Surprising choice of words for some. But every organization has a life expectancy, they are an organism, where the people are the atoms that make up the substance of their communal life. The struggle becomes when spiritual communities cannot see the end coming, or want to put off, much like the relative who places someone on perpetual life support. Sometimes the resuscitation works well, other times it just adds to the pain of the inevitable implosion.

In the last major downturn, many downtown churches in Calgary sold of their building limits (the rules that sky scrapers could not go above their steeples) which allowed a thriving downtown, and these churches to change direction and become relevant to those they served.

That is the key for understanding if it is time to move out of the building, and sell to pay debt, if the community wants to last longer move into a rental…or explore another options ala noted above. This is the crossroads faith communities are at. When the money conversations begin, what needs to happen though is to be able to remember there are people involved, it is not zero based accounting, or numbers or a drive to save the building. Each decision has repercussions like the pebble in the river, and an understanding needs to be reached. I firmly fall into the category of churches using their building to thrive in the community relevancy through things such as community gardens, after school youth programs, spiritual formation groups/classes/courses; sadly with the commodification of humanity food banks have become institutions; farmers market; free swap days or rummage sales; shelter beds in needed; working with social agencies to provide resource space; community meals; if you are blessed with a gym use government grants and get it back up to code to run floor hockey or basketball leagues that are free. Really understand what your community can use to be better.

I also fall into the camp though if the endeavours border on that which is for profit, then the church shall need to start paying business taxes. Below are some links to 3 recent articles on the state of the church, reflect on what is happening, are these things that should be taxed? Not taxed? Are they helpful to the community?

Church and Micro-brewery:

Quebec churches to close:

Churches saving themselves through real estate:

As noted in the Quebec diocese, is the building relevant to the spiritual community’s ability to thrive?

I simply note closed signs, and empty lots, and ponder what is to be birthed a new… for every life cycle brings struggles, death, rebirth, and renewal. This is not simply a church issue, but a parable for any community/social grouping and the same questions to be asked.

What will be the lasting legacy?


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