By Pam Fitch
Rev. Lorraine MacKenzie Shepherd suggests that thriving churches embody vision, joy, open-heartedness and risk-taking. What helps them thrive is not specifically related to their theology but more to their willingness to engage in difficult conversations. Thriving churches use music to express joy, community, contemplation. They welcome everyone, create inspirational worship, engage in meaningful outreach and participate in community partnerships.
In these secular days when church rolls seem to be dwindling, Glebe-St. James United self-identifies as a thriving church, welcoming new members, providing live-streamed worship and creating many diverse ways to celebrate its role in the neighbourhood, the community and the region. During the past two years of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns, the congregation discovered creative ways of connecting beyond the boundaries of church property. Members built congregational supports that could function virtually and in different ways. Ten volunteer “Friendly Callers” connected with members every month or two to see how they were coping, to share news and to ensure that members had the latest updates on our COVID protocols.
Worship services transitioned to live-streaming. For those who cannot access the internet, a telephone line provides worship by phone (613-216- 0439). A weekly Monday night meditation series began on Zoom, and the Women’s Intergenerational Group (WIGs) meets monthly to reflect on issues related to reconciliation, racism and women’s ways of connecting. The WIGs collected and distributed Christmas gifts, wrote more than 300 Valentines and provided an important forum for discussing hot-button topics. An indigenous speaker series, hosted by Rev. Teresa Burnett-Cole, draws participants from across the region and across Canada. Dudleigh Coyle offers connection and chili dinners to those feeling stuck at home.
Music and the arts represent an essential part of Glebe-St. James character – it has been home to choirs, concerts and theatre groups for many years. This month marks the beginning of the installation of our new Phoenix Digital Organ to replace the almost century-old Casavant Freres pipe organ that was installed in 1929. Several ranks are being repurposed into other organs, and some wooden pipes may be incorporated into sound gardens constructed by congregational member, innovator and Carleton Music Faculty member Jesse Stewart.
During the pandemic, Zoom became an important way to connect for choir and congregation. With the first lockdown in March 2020, choirs ceased meeting in person because singing was believed to be one of the most high-risk activities. But rather than stop altogether, the choir switched to Thursday night Zoom rehearsals. Though we had to mute ourselves because of the sound delay, we could see each other’s faces and sing along with James Caswell, Minister of Music, who directed us from his grand piano at home. Although we had a few months of in-person rehearsals last fall, weekly Zoom rehearsals restarted in December. Interestingly, choir numbers increased over the past two years. Members who had moved to different parts of the country were suddenly able to take part in the Zoom rehearsals. In addition, monthly Zoom Hymn Sings have offered everyone in the congregation a chance to sing with gusto in the privacy of their own homes. Family and friends have joined in from across the country. James even led a Zoom carol-sing on Christmas morning so that participants could enjoy their favourite carols.
Community outreach represents an essential part of Glebe-St. James’s mission. The church participates in more than a dozen outreach endeavours across central Ottawa, including a cluster of churches that pool their resources to help the community. One of the newest organizations is Partage Share Ottawa, part of the Stone Soup Network (partageshare.org/). Outreach members are also trying to establish a community fridge somewhere in the central core to provide fresh food free to anyone, no questions asked.
A new initiative has recently been established to improve accessibility at Glebe-St. James. Initial inquiries discovered that hearing is the most common challenge, but mobility is the more complicated problem to solve. The church was built in 1906, and the addition of office space in the 1950s resulted in the property featuring more than 200 steps. Improving accessibility will help the church remain a viable and important community hub.
If you have been searching for community and you’d like to visit Glebe-St. James, please check out our website or contact Jennifer Reid in the office: email@example.com or call 613-236-0617.
Pam Fitch is a long-time member of Glebe-St. James and its choir. She works as a massage therapy educator, author and consultant.