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Regeneration Works for Places of Faith: It All Starts with Mission

Peterborough workshop

So you want to regenerate your place of worship? Begin the journey with a hard look at your own mission. That’s the message participants heard at two separate workshops hosted by Faith & the Common Good (FCG) and partners, in Peterborough (February 25, 2017)  and Toronto (March 11, 2017).

It All Starts with Mission

By Lucy Cummings, Executive Director

“Why are you here? Is it clear to others? Is it actionable? How does it shape the services being offered and how you use your building?” Speaker and FCG chair, Randal Goodfellow suggested that faith communities need to ask themselves these questions.

Successful faith community regeneration is a multi-year, soul-searching, frequently painful process that will need to withstand leadership changes and lots of trial and error. Too often, as our Regeneration Works advisor Andrew Hurrell noted, faith communities become side-tracked when they allow their financial or building needs alone to determine future directions. Long term sustainability requires a clear mission to act as a road map to guide faith communities through the inevitable ups and downs. A clear mission will provide a compelling answer, to both congregants and outsiders, as to why you are fighting to remain a vital presence in your community.

Community is Key

Of course, understanding your neighbourhood is critical to shaping your mission. Many questions were asked about how to begin meaningful community engagement. The “best practice” answers from across the country were consistent – you have to get out of your building, stop navel-gazing, and find out for yourselves. “Community roundtables to assess both the needs of your neighbuorhood and your congregation’s capacity to meet these needs have to be a regular spiritual practice in the life of any healthy faith community,” emphasized Rob Dalgleish of the United Church of Canada’s Edge program.

It goes both ways. Faith communities provide invaluable services to the broader community. Greater Peterborough Community Foundation Executive Director John Good estimated that at least 1/3 of the programs they fund rely upon faith-based volunteers or buildings in service delivery. Dr. Mike Wood Daly spoke of the “Halo Effect” of a typical Toronto faith congregation – for every $1 a faith community spends, the city saves $4 in community service delivery costs. In Peterborough, rural participants, who have experienced high rates of school and faith building closure, know first hand that the closure of faith buildings can often result in an increasing sense of social disengagement and isolation.

We’re in this together

Amalgamation between two congregations of the same denomination is often the logical first step for shrinking congregations struggling to meet the high costs of sustaining large, historic buildings. What is increasingly more commonplace, however, is a shared space arrangement between congregations of different denominations or even from different faith traditions. In Peterborough, we were deeply inspired by the stories from the faith leaders of Beth Israel Synagogue and the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough, who have successfully shared the synagogue for many years and are constantly looking for new and creative ways to deepen their partnership.

Enhancing the “mission per square foot” of one’s faith property is a goal shared by all traditions. The International Muslim Organization described their shaky start but ultimately successful fundraising efforts to expand their building to better serve vulnerable youth in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Toronto’s Hare Krishna Temple shared their story of piloting a mini-farmer’s market on their property to welcome and serve the neighbouring community, many of whom had a poor understanding of this community of faith.

At the end of both workshops, I left feeling very hopeful that so many dedicated people are working together and willing to share their learning on how to ensure that our faith buildings are contributing to healthy, resilient communities. Tapping into this multi-faith community of regeneration practice means that local support is often only a phone call or email away.

Workshops: Description

Our community workshops explored the challenges of repurposing and reinvigorating our places of faith.

  • The February 25th workshop in Peterborough was co-hosted with the City of Peterborough and our Regeneration Works: Place of Faith partners at the National Trust for Canada. It focused on the challenges faced by rural and small town places of faith struggling to keep their doors open.
  • The March 11th workshop was co-hosted with the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre, Toronto Area Interfaith Council, Green Awakening Network, and the National Trust for Canada. The workshop supported Toronto area faith groups seeking to enhance the “mission per square foot” of their faith buildings.

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