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Ontario Church Creating Community Hub in Historic Worship Space

Ontario Church Creating Community Hub in Historic Worship Space
River City Church partnered with Trinity Centres Foundation to purchase 15 Wellington in Cambridge, Ont., a former United church.

The property at 15 Wellington St. in Cambridge, Ont., looks like a church—it has a peaked, stone face; stained-glass windows; big arched, wooden doors. It is, in fact, a historic church building, once home to a United Church congregation. But it's now part of a movement by Trinity Centres Foundation to reclaim historic church buildings and redeploy them for community impact with the help of new church partners. River City Church, a Christian Reformed congregation planted in Cambridge 17 years ago, is the church partner active in the 15 Wellington project.

Trinity Centres’ concept of community hubs is to renovate old, urban church buildings to offer worship space for its church partners and community space for community partners. The Cambridge location is the second project of its kind in Canada.

Graham Singh, Trinity Centres’ executive director, said, “Our role is to try to be a bridge and come up with innovative solutions case by case to find ways to use these buildings for missional purposes. Our methodology combines what a church needs and what a community needs.”

Jim Martin, the board chair at River City, said, “A few years ago our pastor said he really had a heart for the YMCA—how it’s a community hub and you can see people from all walks of life. He said it’d be cool to be a seven-days-a-week church where we could be an impact in the community.”

Right at that time, the church needed to find a more permanent community home since the movie theater in which the congregation was meeting each week went under renovations. They found the empty 15 Wellington location in 2018, but three consecutive bids to purchase were rejected. In March of 2019, the church made a connection with Trinity Centres Foundation, and a year later they closed on the building deal, still needing to complete a fundraising campaign to follow through with the project. By July 2020, River City had achieved the second of its two major fundraising goals, had established a 15 Wellington board, and had begun building community connections.

“We have a vision of a community hub development in this old church,” said River City deacon Melissa Burmaster. “I can see how God is allowing River City to be, as a whole unit, living into the vocation of mission in the community by putting roots down and being established in the downtown.”

The organization 15 Wellington has a three-person board: one person, Singh, from Trinity Centres Foundation; one person from the church; and a third person who has Christian Reformed affiliations but is not from River City.

Singh said, “Within the bones of the church is a good culture of financial ‘stewardability.’ Running a new not-for-profit is not easy, but we’re facing these challenges together with hope and the light of Christ at the heart of what we’re doing.”

Pastor Martin Dam, from Stratford CRC, another congregation in Classis Huron, said, “So many of us have large buildings that are full on Sunday (pre-COVID) but empty much of the week. Managing rentals and shared space can be very challenging for elders, deacons, and pastors, which takes time and energy from ministry. This partnership between River City and Trinity Centres seems ideal as costs stay down, it's good stewardship of a large space in a busy urban center, and it allows River City to focus on being the church. We're excited for them.”

The 15 Wellington building is currently being used by River City Church, a dance studio, and a fitness group. “This building is a place where emotional, physical, and spiritual needs are being met,” said Burmaster.

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