By Laura Keil
Just over a year ago, when they were about to restart in-person services after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Valemount Anglican-United Church congregation got bad news.
They knew the beams holding up the sanctuary portion of their building — an A-frame built in the 1960s — had some rot, but the repair work they’d planned was put on ice when Valemount’s building inspector declared the building should not be occupied.
“We were all set to go ahead with a repair,” said Kim McNaughton, Minister for the Valemount-McBride United-Anglican Shared Ministries, but Dean Schneider, the building inspector, informed them they would need to have any work approved by a structural engineer.
It was a blow during an already difficult time.
“Almost like a loss or a death, there was a lot of grief, there was some shock about how serious it was and confusion about what would be next, because we know that an engineer will cost a lot of money, we know that the repair will likely cost a lot of money,” McNaughton said.”We just needed some time to let it all sink in.”
During the first years of the pandemic, the church had pivoted their work to a thrift store located in the hall portion of the building. The thrift store was deemed an essential service, and provided important revenue for the church.
With the news they couldn’t occupy the sanctuary, the congregation decided to hold services in the church hall, pushing back the clothing racks and tables of the thrift store.
“We still found a way to be together, to support each other and to share our faith together.”
Some wondered whether this was the beginning of the end, as the congregation was already small. But as they worshipped in the hall among the thrift store items and saw the positive impact the store was having, some clarity arrived.
“What became really obvious for us was that our ministry — the main part of our ministry and mission — became the thrift store. It became really clear to us that this was a service to the community that was necessary with inflation and new people coming to town.”
Since then, the congregation has dug deep.
“The question became, what is our ministry and mission? What is our service to the community? And what space do we need to do that in? Do we actually need that church building, the sanctuary part of the building?”
She said they realized services didn’t have to be in a sanctuary. In fact, they didn’t necessarily need a building at all.
The church hired local facilitator Rashmi Narayan to help them answer those questions with strategic planning. Having a person from outside the church trained as a facilitator was invaluable McNaughton said, as their conversations prior to that had not led to the progress or visioning they wanted.
She says some of the values they’ve identified are social justice, the environment, and addressing social marginalisation. McNaughton says they want to hear from the community about what the needs are and how they might meet them, both in a spiritual and secular way.
“We’re looking to possibly create a multi-faith centre. We’re just kind of open to anything at this point, we’re open to ideas and looking for places where we might connect with shared values.”
She said some people do want to maintain a quiet, sacred space for the spiritual, and that will inform their decisions going forward. They are looking into the cost of repairing the beams, thanks to money earned from the sale of the Manse (the former accommodations provided for the Minister), but at this point they are still open to all options.
“We feel like we have assets, we feel like we have something we can contribute to the conversation or to a partnership in the wider community,” McNaughton says.
She said they are open to partnering with the LGBTQ community, with the Indigenous community and other groups working on social justice. They are especially hoping to hear from youth.
McNaughton says this conversation fits well with their faith.
“Our understanding of the Christian faith is all about resurrection. So life after death, and what could have been a real dying moment for us when we got the news about the building, it feels like a new life is emerging. And we don’t exactly know where that is, but that’s okay. That’s part of our faith journey that we trust, we trust that all shall be revealed. It actually feels quite exciting at this point.”
Anyone wishing to connect with the church can contact McNaughton at 250-968-4467.