Magazine article Anglican Journal

A Foundation That Others Build Upon: As Social Need Mounts, Anglican Churches Repurpose Buildings to Provide Housing and Community Programs

Magazine article Anglican Journal

A Foundation That Others Build Upon: As Social Need Mounts, Anglican Churches Repurpose Buildings to Provide Housing and Community Programs

Article excerpt

ANGLICAN CHURCHES in Canada are some of the oldest buildings in the country. While long a point of pride for many churches, some congregations now find themselves maintaining heritage buildings, built to seat hundreds, for declining congregations.

At the same time, Canada is facing a lack of affordable housing and rising land prices in urban centres. The federal government last year rolled out a National Housing Strategy, a 10-year, $40 billion plan to create more affordable housing and reduce homelessness.

In the face of these issues, how should churches see their buildings? As a costly drain on resources? A piece of history to be protected? Or as a resource to provide something to their communities?

"Given the taxation status that faith buildings have enjoyed since the beginning in Canada, [we should] ask ourselves, as a public trust, 'What is the best and highest use that it can be put to?'" says Kendra Fry, co-program lead for Regeneration Works, a partnership of non-profit organization Faith and the Common Good and the National Trust for Canada.

"I use those words intentionally. 'Best and highest use' is tax language for, 'What's the most money we can get out of it?' I would flip that on its head and ask, 'What is the best and highest use for community, for society, for social good, for not-for-profit good, that a building could be put to?'" she says.

Regeneration Works has been running workshops across the country "on how to keep your heritage building standing, how to reduce its footprint, how to connect with community to make best use of it," Fry says. The team also works with churches on building audits, finances and mission. "Essentially it's a triple bottom line...building sustainability and missional sustainability and financial sustainability."

"We have, and I think all dioceses probably have, vast assets in real estate that are sitting there, and not [being] used," says Peter Daniel, asset manager for the diocese of British Columbia. "We must use our buildings much more than eight to 12 hours a week...and we've got to connect with community."

Daniel has been working with the diocese's asset management advisory team to develop a capital plan for the diocese's property over the next 25-40 years. The plan includes finding ways to repurpose underused church properties to serve and connect to their communities.

These types of projects run counter to the notion that the church is "inward-focused" and doesn't pay its dues because it doesn't pay taxes, Daniel says. In the diocese of British Columbia, "we have over 330 affordable housing units now and hundreds more needed.... We have an educational society and preschools in our various parishes.... We have helped bring 324 refugees to Vancouver Island in the last two and a half years; we're planning for 320 more. …

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