Re-Imagining Church in Fairmont
Adventures in Building a Community Ministry
by Jen Prince and Stewart Smith
Jen Prince is a diaconal candidate and CCS student doing her third field placement with a social justice focus. Stewart J Smith, is a social worker, therapist, Anglican, PhD student, and social work instructor with experience in helping congregations maximize the use of their space or discern faithful repurposing of the space if closure is imminent. He has graciously agreed to be Jen’s Learning Facilitator this year.
Jen is doing her field placement at the Centre for Practical Theology in London, Ontario. The aim of the Centre is to support people seeking to connect faith and passion with everyday living. The Centre is engaged in projects that equip clergy and lay leadership in the church, build and foster community connection, connect people with the practical service that they need, and support the vocation of community members.
Since the former Fairmont United Church building and grounds became a campus of the Centre for Practical Theology, questions have been asked about how the property might be thoughtfully and faithfully used to nurture faith, respond to the Holy Spirit, and care for the community. In mid 2021, we were asked to engage with those questions and seek responses by reaching out to the community.
The building was acquired by the Centre out of a desire to see God’s presence, love, and compassion continue to be witnessed and responded to within its walls and grounds. The people involved in this project have embarked upon it while holding the understanding that the property is sacred space, and calls its stewards to consider its use and value beyond that of real estate for profit. The project seeks to carry out the work of the Spirit with respect for the generations who worshipped and invested themselves in Christian service at Fairmont as members and adherents of the United Church, as well as the indigenous peoples who have lived, worked, and cared for the land and sought the Spirit there for thousands of years.
The first steps in the journey have involved getting to know the immediate community; a process that has just begun and is ongoing. In the Spring, a King’s University College student did his social work field practicum by conducting a community scan, researching the Fairmont area and identifying key institutions in the area, (e.g., schools); community agencies that are present and what their work involves; and possible needs.
So far, the Fairmont Campus has provided space for a Spanish-speaking Christian church to worship until they were able to find a space of their own; a worship and education program for church leaders on a bi-weekly basis; and community worship space on Wednesday evenings that includes leadership from ordered and lay leaders. The building also houses a Christian Resource Center and book store, a consistory run by the Shriners that provides people with medical equipment and adaptive aids; and a bakery whose proprietor had the talent and clientele to make their business a success, but just needed a space with sustainable rental fees until the business picked up steam.
We are currently in the process of contacting some of the leadership in the local organizations, and working to build relationship, open dialogue, and plan ways of working together. Jen made a connection with a principal in a nearby public school which resulted in a new program being created that offers students healthy snacks, as well as winter outerwear. Further exploration is being done to determine possible ways in which our space might be used for tutoring and mental health supports. Currently, we are also endeavoring to appeal to area residents who are musically or artistically inclined to participate in a creative and contemplative evening worship during Advent.
In the near future, we will be working at assembling an advisory team that includes leaders in area organizations and residents to gain a sense of available services and programs, and work together to try and fill gaps.
Our hopes and dreams for the Fairmont Campus of the Centre for Practical Theology are that it becomes a place in the community in which people may discover a heightened awareness of all of our interconnectedness, as human beings and as members of creation; that healing and kindom building might be said to be happening there. There is a goal that a space of hospitality, belonging, and spiritual nurture can flourish here, and outlive our time within this particular ministry setting. If our goals are met, or new ones discovered along the way, we hope to be able to create a template for other church communities to re-think and re-purpose their spaces.
Stay tuned; we look forward to keeping you posted.