A Pilgrimage to Something New
Fairfield United Church is a place that offers a way forward when everything you believe is coming apart. Here you will find companions on a journey – church burnouts, spiritual refugees, and freedom seekers. Whoever you are, wherever you’re at on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.– Beth Walker
My congregation, Fairfield United Church, is in the midst of a five year period of significant redevelopment that began in 2015. This involves a massive re-thinking of our property and physical meeting space, community partnerships, congregational governance, revenue streams, and staff model. Our vision? A sacred, authentic and inclusive Christian community where spiritual lives are deepened so that individuals and the congregation can engage their lives and the world with strength, faith, hope and joy.
This “pilgrimage” toward something new includes stages of departure, separation, and traveling from ways that hold us back toward the promise of new life. We move as our ancestors in faith always have, aware of the presence and life of God among us, immanuel. Communication of our story within the story of our faith has been foundational in assisting the congregation and our neighbourhood to understand that this is all a normal and significant part of a journey of faith. Sharing the story of our journey – our trials and our celebrations – helps us to learn and inspires us to the next steps.
We have much to celebrate. We have created strategic plans which give us direction and purpose. We have developed new standards of practice for worship and governance. We are finding new opportunities to reach into our communities, meeting people right where they are: outdoor Christmas Eve services, neighbourhood Easter Egg hunts, a “listening” campaign. We have created partnerships with Greater Victoria Acting Together for the Common Good, a collective of multi-faith groups, unions, and institutions of higher learning that work together for justice in our broken world. As we learn to be in relationship with each other and the neighbourhood, we have experienced a significant cultural shift.
Our project has been closely followed by the community. Developers and the real estate market in Victoria took note because it effectively set a precedent for how the church contributes to the fabric of a neighbourhood and can function as a partner in the development of community. The Fairfield development was given unprecedented, unanimous approval from Victoria’s City Council.
Over the past four years, we have been constantly called upon to communicate “why and how” Fairfield United Church provides value to the community. Arguments borrowed from the Christendom era have no traction. Our congregation has been forced to become vividly clear and passionately articulate about our vision and mission. Communicating who we are and what we are all about is exciting …and exhausting!
Good and effective communication is an essential tool in sharing our vision and mission and in maintaining strong, lasting working relationships at all levels. Investing time and energy into maintaining clear lines of communication has increased trust and engagement, within the congregation and with our community.
One person who experienced our website and social media pages and then came to a service, said:
Peter and I are still processing in our own ways how wonderful the experience was, but both of us have agreed to return next week, if you’ll have our rowdy crew. (And our kids said “I love this Church, can we come back?”)
Seeing women, both ordained and not, officiating most of the service, acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and our part in their cultural trauma, embracing people of all sexual orientation, compassion and respect for other religions, races, inclusion, peace, harmony, and emphasis on serving our community (not just our church community) and, Christ-centred discussions and lessons. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.
Beth Walker is the minister at Fairfield United Church in Victoria. She is a graduate of the Centre for Christian Studies and a member of the CCS Communications Committee.