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This article was published 25/12/2010 (3446 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When it comes to finding creative uses for a church, St. Matthew's Anglican is one of the best and oldest examples.
The church, which has been ministering in the West End for more than 100 years, is home to five distinct congregations and nine community programs.
"Eighty-five per cent of the building's use is from Monday to Saturday," says the rector, Rev. Cathy Campbell, noting the church has been renting space to others for more than 40 years.
It's quite a change from the 1950s, when the building was more a traditional church structure -- used by only one congregation, and then mostly on Sundays only.
But as membership in the once-thriving church began to decline and offerings fell, Campbell says the congregation asked itself: "Who are we, and what is the church in this community?"
The members decided that "if we don't exist for this neighbourhood, then we shouldn't exist," she says, adding they have "lived out of that mindset since then."
While being home to so many other groups is meaningful and invigorating, it's also challenging, Campbell notes. "It's hard to run a multi-faceted community centre," she says. "It takes a lot of time, effort and skill."
Add to that an aging building not designed for all this activity and it's easy to wear out the members and staff -- not just financially, but also in terms of human capacity.
"It's a huge commitment to be a landlord," Campbell says. "Not just the know-how, but also the time and finding volunteers."
With Sunday-morning attendance hovering between 55 and 70, and most of that small number over the age of 80, finding people who can keep the facility running is a daunting task.
And even if there were more members, "there aren't many people who want to put time into building management," says Campbell. "They want to come to worship or serve, not manage a building."
As a result, the congregation is doing something unique and perhaps unprecedented in Manitoba and even in Canada -- they're planning to transfer the church to a new government-supported non-profit housing association and become a tenant in their own building.
Sometime next year, St. Matthew's hopes to convert its sanctuary, which seats more than 1,000, to 24 affordable apartments. A new sanctuary will be created in the building and community groups will continue to operate their programs out of the lower level.
Is the change a "sign of failure or a sign of faithfulness?" asks Campbell. While there are losses, she believes it is the latter -- a sign of the church's commitment to continue to serve the community and be a "witness to our belief in simplicity, not only in our preaching, but in our buildings."
It's a question other churches should ask themselves, too, she says. "What is God calling you to do in your place, with your time and assets?"
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