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Year of Conversation Backgrounder
Saint Andrew’s Church has been a vital faith community in Halifax’s south end for almost 100 years, being formed in 1925 by the union of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations. For generations it has supported spiritual care and character formation for leaders in many sectors: medicine, education, government, business, and multiple volunteer sectors. It has also long provided support to marginalized members of society through the Sunday Suppers (which we have hosted every week for 35 years, feeding over 200 poor and homeless people), refugee sponsorship (which began with Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s), and environmental and social justice initiatives. Current initiatives include:
- Sponsorship of refugee families from Syria, Iraq, and Somalia.
- A mission partnership on the Lebanon-Syria border that runs a school and medical clinic for refugees there.
- A number of initiatives on climate change.
- Hosting and providing free meeting space for organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Survivors of Suicide, refugee groups, senior’s fitness groups, scouting programs, GLTBQ support organizations, etc..
Our Current Vision
In recent years Saint Andrew’s has become an interfaith nexus with many shared spiritual practice or social justice initiatives with mosques, Buddhist organizations, and Mi’kmaw groups. Recently a charismatic Christian church made up of Canadians of African and Caribbean descent has co-located with us and shares the space seven days a week. To support these initiatives and to provide the arts community with a flexible performance space with fantastic acoustics, we recently removed our pews and replaced them with flexible seating. We are about to renovate the front of the sanctuary to include a large stage.
Two years ago, understanding that being a place of intersection – for people of different faiths, races, and cultures and people working on a range of social justice initiatives – has become a core part of St. Andrew’s DNA, we engaged in a consultation process with about 50 community organizations and faith groups to explore how me might best use our site and our resources to advance this mission of intersectionality. To assist us we engaged Common Good Solutions to facilitate conversations and for an extended piece of research. What emerged was a proposal to create the Centre for Social and Spiritual Innovation. The plan for this centre has two core components:
- A hub space for diverse faith groups and social justice organizations. We see this hub as including these elements: office space for co-locating partners and faith groups; a common work space; gathering spaces for interaction and cross fertilization; a number of rooms available for spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, yoga, or reiki; availability of the sanctuary for large gatherings, musical and dramatic performances; and multi-media presentations. This hub space will require redevelopment of a portion of our property.
- The Transformational Leadership Initiative (TLI). This initiative is forming a network of emerging leaders and changemakers from communities and sectors that have been historically isolated from each other in Nova Scotia: African Nova Scotian, Mi’kmaw, rural/urban, immigrant, refugee, European descent, LGBTQ, etc. Working with Indigenous and African Nova Scotian partners and with Windhorse Farm we gather emergent leaders from these communities for an initial four-day retreat process, with emphasis on resilience, spiritual and mindfulness practice, and the formation of support networks. We then nurture these networks through gatherings and online connection. The TLI is already well underway.
Like almost all churches today, St. Andrew’s has sustainability challenges. We have been fortunate to maintain the size and vitality of our faith community, but can no longer cover our expenses with Sunday givings alone. This is a reality for almost every urban congregation in Canada, no matter how vital the life of their church. Patterns of joining and of giving have altered dramatically in recent decades. Deficits have been growing. On top of that, our building, with its stone and mortar exterior, is very expensive to maintain in this climate. We have a growing list of repair projects that will cost us well into six figures in the next five years and into seven figures in the next fifteen to twenty. To address these structural liabilities- our endowment will be depleted within five to ten years.
How All This Comes Together
St. Andrew’s has a clear plan for advancing our mission, fulfilling the promise of SASI, and meeting our sustainability challenges. This is to work with a developer to rebuild a portion of our property to include the following elements: a residential development, and a hub space of 8,000 to 10,000 square feet for SASI and St. Andrews. Our hope is that this redevelopment will not include the sanctuary and that that space can be protected for worship, arts performances, and larger gatherings for the partner organizations within SASI as well as other community groups. However, if we are not able to develop the hall space alone in a way that provides sufficient resources to meet our sustainability challenges and advance the mission of St. Andrew’s and SASI we will have to consider redevelopment of the entire property. We have reviewed the proposed development density within the current Centre Plan Land-use Bylaw. Our analysis indicates that the density proposed for the site will not enable a feasible redevelopment of the hall only and will likely necessitate the redevelopment of the entirety of the site in the near future.