Damaged by fire and recently home to squatters, a boarded-up three-storey West End apartment building seems an unlikely setting for a monastic-inspired community.
But the century-old brick and limestone structure at 490 Maryland St. is exactly the type of location Christian mission worker Jamie Arpin-Ricci had in mind for Chiara House, the name of the future home for a dozen or so people who choose to be a Christian presence in the heart of the city.
"The idea is to nurture intentional community in the neighbourhood," says Jamie Arpin-Ricci, pastor of Little Flowers Community and a leader with Winnipeg's Youth With a Mission team.
"I'd like it to become a place where people can live in community and share their life with their neighbours."
The community is named after St. Clare of Assisi, born Chiara Offreduccio, who founded a female order of the Franciscans in the 13th century.
"She spent time in a convent and was a person who practised hospitality, so she was the inspiration for this place," explains Arpin-Ricci, 33, now awaiting the publication of his book about community ministry in Winnipeg inspired by the Franciscan model.
Future residents of Chiara House will be asked to adhere to a monastic-style rule of life, which combines individual daily prayer and Bible study with volunteerism, communal meals and group prayer meetings.
This is a different sort of approach to service than the usual fitting of volunteer activities in between other commitments, says Arpin-Ricci, who plans to become a non-resident member of Chiara House and maintain an office for Little Flowers in the basement of the building.
"The call to discipleship calls us to orient our life around the mission rather than organize mission to accommodate our life," he explains of how monastic vows and commitments have shaped the rules and rhythm of life for Chiara House (http://chiarahouse.ca).
Located next door to the former First English Lutheran Church, now home to City Church, an intercultural congregation, and just five doors down from New Life Ministries, the Baptist mission brought to prominence by the late Rev. Harry Lehotsky, the 585-square-metre apartment building is still very much a work in progress.
Unoccupied since a fire last May, several of the building's modest suites require total renovations, while others need a facelift and some fresh paint. When Arpin-Ricci took possession earlier this month, the roof needed immediate attention and the building's aging boiler was slated to be replaced by electric heating.
The building was purchased for Chiara House for $240,000 by a group of Christian business people who share Arpin-Ricci's vision but don't want to be publicly identified, says Norm Voth of Mennonite Church Manitoba, the denomination working with Little Flowers and YWAM on the project.
He says community members will pay rent to the non-profit ownership group, which owns the building on behalf of Chiara House.
Renovations costs are now estimated at $60,000 but Voth said that number could change depending on how many volunteers help repair and refurbish the building.
"One of my goals is to get as many people as possible," says Voth. "That creates interest and creates connections and even identity."
This project is all about connections with the people of the West End and with people who support the project financially or with their time, says Arpin-Ricci, who has lived on Furby Street for the past nine years. He says several people have already expressed interest in moving to Chiara House.
"The primary residents would be Christians in the community who want to share space and create a life together and to create a space for other people in the community who might need support," he says.
Two of the three suites on each floor will be rented out and the bachelor suites located at the back of the building will be converted to space for shared meals and larger gatherings. At least one suite in the building will be dedicated for transitional housing for new Canadians or others needing temporary homes, says Arpin-Ricci.
"It's an intentional way we can reclaim what is a boarded-up building, now an arson risk and a squatter risk, and turn it into affordable housing that includes relationships in the community."
That reclamation is welcomed by Tim Nielsen, of City Church, a congregation of about 300 right next door to Chiara House. His group had considered buying the apartment building for additional space for their growing children's programs, but decided to put their energy and resources elsewhere.
"We're pleased about them moving in and we have a good relationship with Youth With a Mission and Little Flowers and we believe in partnerships and not doing it by ourselves," says Nielsen.