This month our parish renegotiated the lease of its rectory to a business, a children’s daycare. What at one time was the home of the rector and family is now a place where children play, and are cared for in a safe environment, while parents pursue their careers. Forty years ago, this would have been unheard of, as community expectations held that children were cared for by women in the home, and clergy lived on the doorstep of the place of worship. As society changes, expectations change, and the church is called to explore opportunities that can serve the community in which it is present.
Around many a vestry table and clergy gathering, there have been discussions about what we do with the infrastructure of the church, as the world changes around us. In this province, historically there has been a church building in every community. Communities were originally settled close to the shore, and the main transportation method was by sea. Now with the presence of increased transportation methods of air and road, accessibility is ever growing. Many parishes now have numerous church buildings and less and less people in their communities. This is true in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. The outmigration from outports to other provinces, or to larger city centres is devastating to the communities, and to the church. Take for example, the Parish of the Holy Spirit. Fifteen churches (not including parish halls or rectories), 16 congregations, one parish council, are being led by three clergy, attempting to address the needs of faith and service in dwindling communities. This must be an onerous task. One cannot understand the complexities of this situation without being a part of the parish itself. How can the people of faith continue to worship and serve faithfully in each of these different locations? How can the church be a better steward of its resources?
These are questions that all faith communities will have to wrestle with, no matter the size of the congregation or of the infrastructure it has inherited. I believe there is opportunity for the church to look outward to communities to share that with which we have been blessed. There are many organizations and agencies that are looking for space, to complete their work. It may not be daycares, yet we will have to consider the worth and value of our sacred spaces in the long term. Partnerships in communities large and small, between the church and other organizations will show the world the value of the church in society. You may not have a partnership with a daycare within your parish infrastructure, but you may have other partnerships. Is it a cellphone tower; A senior’s home; A Doctor’s office; A Farmer’s Market? What kind of ministry partnerships does your faith community share with the wider world?