Over the summer I’ll be sharing some stories from the road. In my role I have the privilege of travelling around Atlantic Canada and seeing what our churches are doing to join God in our neighbourhoods. It’s fantastic! I want to share some of those stories over the next few weeks. Our churches are doing some creative and amazing things to get out of their church walls and join God’s work in their neighbourhoods. Some small things, some big things, but all important things, connecting our churches with new people in their neighbourhoods and showing the Good News to the world. May these stories inspire you!
The first story from the road comes from Saint John, New Brunswick, only a few kilometers away from our CBAC office.
This story was a dream that was a LONG time in the making.
First, the neighbourhood - The North End of Saint John has a reputation of being a tough place to live and grow up. The statistics of poverty, teen pregnancy, drugs, violence and school completion rates tell a difficult story. However, there are always two sides to any story, isn’t there? The North End of Saint John is full of caring people, taking pride in their city and wanting to see the best for their neighbourhood and their families. RiverCross Church has been in the heart of the Old North End of Saint John for 175 years. What a perfect place to be.
Through the years RiverCross Church has intentionally built friendships with the various neighbourhood partners in the Old North End of Saint John, including a partner called ONE Change. (ONE stands for Old North End.) ONE Change and the church make it a core principle to listen and consult with folks in the neighbourhood, and to hear their priorities. Way back in 2004 the residents made it clear to ONE Change that a playpark was needed in the area. After all, it’s a neighbourhood full of young families with children, and yet there’s no safe place close by for children to play.
When the RiverCross congregation began constructing a new building on Forbes Drive that would house RiverCross Church while at the same time repurposing their Main Street location to serve as the hub of the RiverCross mission, there was a stronger commitment than ever to join God’s work in the Old North End. In fact, the move would allow the work of the mission to flourish even more – creating space for the foodbank to move in, expanding the clothing bank, creating an office for the community nurse, upgrading the kitchen used to serve meals… As the plans for construction of the new site and renovations of the old site got going it was realized that the parking lot in the North End would no longer really be needed. This parking lot was in the perfect location for a playpark, close to both the Community Centre and the RiverCross Mission location.
What an opportunity for the church to give back to folks who live in the Old North End - to tangibly show God's love in action to them! So, with the congregation's approval, RiverCross deeded the property to ONE Change for the express purpose of building a world-class playpark in the neighbourhood.
RiverCross not only provided the land to serve as the "foundation" for making this dream come to life, they continued to actively participate in all phases of the project.
John Knight, the RiverCross Community Outreach Pastor, helped with the initial planning.
Lots of folks from the church volunteered their time and gifts to join in on seeing the playground come to be.
Matt Holland volunteered his gifts of planning, purchasing and approaching corporations.
Mark Hughes, got involved with his construction knowledge, and even stored the play ground equipment in a warehouse for free while the team was waiting for when installation could begin.
Marc Cormier helped arranged for the survey of the land.
In addition, Neighbourhood residents and ONE Change gave lots of hours and volunteers to the project.
Together the whole team crafted a plan, figured out a design for the park and submitted funding applications.
Set back after set back came and the church, neighbourhood and ONE Change wondered if they’d ever see the playground installed!
After much delay and greater perseverance, funding started to come in to help this dream become reality – from Kiwanis, the Provincial Government, Federal Government and more.
And, finally, as of this July 2017 installation of the playpark has finally begun!
Let me hear you cheer!
Does this story ever highlight some important things about joining God in our neighbourhoods?!
1. Listen to your neighbours and their needs & priorities
2. Build connections with other neighbourhood partners
3. Persevere in seeing a neighbourhood dream become a reality
4. Involve lots of different gifts and people in neighbourhood projects
5. Tangibly show God’s love to your neighbours – it might be by building them a playpark, it might be some other way. Ask God – where are you at work here? How do we show Your love to our neighbours?