Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Keeping old church's spirit alive

Anglican ministry transforming St. Barnabas church into community outreach centre

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While other clerics might balk at the idea of closing a church, Rev. Michael Bruce is excited about the possibilities for an empty sacred space in Winnipeg's North End.

While it's no longer home to a worshipping community, the former home of St. Barnabas Anglican Church will still continue to have a ministry says the interim priest, who was ordained to the ministry two years ago.

"Our intention and hope as a parish is to use that (building) as an outreach centre," says Bruce of the A-frame building at 730 McPhillips St., which closes as a place of worship at the end of June.

"If it's not being used as a worship space, how can it be used by the community? What does the community need?"

For now, the food bank, a weekly exercise class and various Girl Guides groups already using the space will continue.

The parish was financially viable -- the expenses of the 1960s-era building are covered for the next three years -- but lacked volunteers to operate it.

"It wasn't the money. It was the volunteers," says Bruce of the parish founded in 1907.

"There were no wardens. Legally, it couldn't have stayed a church."

Recently, two Anglican parishes in West Kildonan -- St. Anne's and St. Martin-in-the-Fields -- merged into one new parish called St. Francis Anglican Church. The new congregation of about 60 people worships in the former St. Anne's building at 253 Burrin Ave., just west of Main Street. The nearly century-old building of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, at 160 Smithfield Ave., will be put up for sale.

The two dozen or so people of St. Barnabas have been invited to join the new congregation, but some longtime parishioners aren't sure if they'll take up the offer.

"We had the greatest friendships here all these years," says Pat Cunningham, who raised her family in the church.

"We're all very sad because this church is a good solid building and it's visible," adds Rosina Smith, who co-ordinated the weekly exercise group.

"We were doing fine money-wise, but not people-wise," says Audrey Shkwarek, who lives within walking distance of the church she's attended for the past 61 years.

Merging the congregations means they can combine financial and volunteer resources to further the work of the church, says Arlene Egerton, the rector's warden at St. Francis.

"Bringing us together means we're supporting missions and not just buildings," she says during a break from working at a plant sale outside St. Barnabas.

The annual spring plant sale, which raises $13,000 in a good year, will most likely continue.

Bruce acknowledges the transition will be difficult for some, but he welcomes the opportunity to dream about new uses for the building. He says it could become home to another congregation, house a day care centre, be a venue for community movie nights or be transformed into something else entirely.

"The thing that excites me about this is that it really does force the church to be the church rather than being a community trying to sustain itself in worship," says Bruce.

"It's also an opportunity to be open to what God would have that space to be. It's not going to be a centre where we worship, but a centre where we work."

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 D15

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