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Space: The Final Frontier

Counting the Social Good Being Done in Faith Buildings

dancing with Parkinsons
Dancing with Parkinsons practicing at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts

The question of affordable office/rehearsal/programming space for not for profits throughout Ontario has been well documented. In major cities the issue is one of affordability while in rural Ontario the lack of “Third Spaces” following the closure of many schools has left rural citizens travelling ever-increasing distances to attend public gatherings.

In my role at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for Faith Justice and the Arts, I field requests many times a week from not-for-profits hoping that one of our below-market rent office units has become available. It’s been four years since one became available and two of our resident groups have been with us for in excess of 35 years, so, needless to say, this doesn’t happen often.

The vision of Trinity-St. Paul’s as a multi-use space for everyone, run by the church on a break-even basis, is somewhat unique. However, the approach exists throughout Canada where faith communities have been welcoming not-for-profit and community groups into their spaces, often for free or very below-market rates.

The future of this service is currently under threat though as the rate of closures of faith buildings is dramatically increasing. The secularization of Canadian society is at this point undeniable with the Angus Reid National Household Survey showing those reporting attendance at religious service at least once per year dropping from 50% in 1996 to 21% in 2014.

In my work within the arts and now on regenerating churches into community centres, it is not uncommon for people to ask me why we need the faith communities if they are no long self-sustaining, if no one is going to church? There’s lots of meaty conversations to be had around these issues, the question of the tax-free status of faith buildings, the changing face of Canadian society and the role of hope/faith in a time of great societal upheaval being just a few of the things that we could dig into However, that’s not where I’m going today. Perhaps another post can take on these questions. My question today is:

What will be lost when faith buildings are no longer available for non-profits and community groups to conduct their activities out of?

There are 27,000 faith buildings in Canada; one third are set to close in the next ten years. I have travelled all over this country working with rural and urban faith communities to help them reconnect with community at large. I have yet to meet a faith group that does not play host to at least one not-for-profit or community group, whether it be twelve step groups, Boy Scouts, the foodbank, a blood donor clinic, arts groups, or community meetings. Where is all this activity to go in the absence of the faith buildings?

Faith & the Common Good has formed a partnership to enumerate the following:

How many not-for-profit and community groups currently operate programming out of faith buildings?

Because we must know the extent of the risk to the non-profit sector. In collaboration with the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Ontario Nonprofit Network, Cardus, The National Trust For Canada, and the City of Toronto, we will conduct a two-year study of the users of faith buildings in Ontario. We will do a deep dive in four specific regions and apply this knowledge to the province as a whole to enumerate the depth of the challenge.

How can you help? The survey will be going out via many partners in the next couple of months. I promise it will be super short! Essentially, we want to know if you’re a not-for-profit who operates out of a faith building for any of your activities Feeling super enthused and want to tell me now what you do in faith buildings? Drop me a line at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing about all the work for social good being done!

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