Glebe-St. James United Church: building trust and connection  

Glebe-St. James United Church: building trust and connection  

By Pamela Fitch 


Healthy churches create strong supports and safe spaces for local communities and those in need of support. As a part of this community since 1905, Glebe-St. James United Church (GSJ) welcomes everyone with open arms, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, abilities and sexual orientation. This is a bold statement in the face of increasing threats and discrimination against the LGBTQ2SI+ community both locally and globally.  

Each Sunday morning and in all its communications, GSJ tries to represent the best of community-building by creating a place of safety, possibility and trust. GSJ is full to the brim with community-building. You can hear it in the laughter and see it in the smiling faces that greet you at the bright red door at 650 Lyon St. 

Members were asked recently: “How do we inspire Christian spirit at GSJ?” Geoff McGuire suggested we share a “subversive” message of welcome, kindness, acceptance and respect – “subversive” meaning to undermine the world’s fearfulness, violence and brutish realities. By sharing respect, compassion and integrity, GSJ becomes a safe place, a sanctuary for those in need.  


Right relations  

At the heart of GSJ’s commitment to community is its learning journey surrounding reconciliation with Indigenous people. Over the past year, a working group called “ReconciliAction” has investigated how GSJ can deepen its relationship with local First Nations and Indigenous organizations which provide much-needed services within their ancestral territory. The church created a fund for Indigenous communities to support their priority needs to acknowledge our property’s location on unceded Algonquin land. In addition, the Women’s Intergenerational Group (WIG) has partnered with One Plane Away, an Inuit charity that ensures adequate supplies of clothes and basic items for Nunavut mothers and their babies. 


Community space 

By providing space and support for activities, GSJ helps the community thrive. Glebe Montessori School has made its home at GSJ for almost 20 years, and the school generously engages with GSJ fundraising projects like the November Bazaar and One Plane Away. Each spring and summer, GMS students and parents work with GSJ gardeners to grow food for Centre 507. The school also offers after-school programs and March Break and Summer Camp programs.  

The Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG) shares space at GSJ through its tutoring programs, as well as theatre and arts camps in the summer. The church provides storage and recreational space for the Scouts. In exchange, Scouts assist with events like the Great Glebe Garage Sale. 

Rev. Dr. Teresa Burnett-Cole was asked recently to share some stories and wisdom about Indigenous issues with the Scouts. She discovered that none of the Scouts had ever explored the Sanctuary or the Lantern Tower. Jim Louter took them, six at a time, into the attic and the tower where the Scouts could explore all the nooks and crannies and walk on the Lantern Tower glass floor. 


Choral singing and community  

GSJ has a long musical tradition. Under the inspired direction of Minister of Music, James Caswell, the GSJ choir has doubled in size since the beginning of the pandemic. Choir members expecting to only sing in the choir have discovered the church community in interesting ways. The choir enjoys monthly pub nights. Members sing for individuals who are ill or unable to attend services. The choir sponsors several coffee hours after Sunday services, and this year it hosted GSJ Pancake Supper on Shrove Tuesday.  

Through the church’s acclaimed musical series, “Live from the Glebe”, GSJ welcomed the Ottawa Gospel tour de force, the London Trio Plus (LTP) in February. The LTP taught singers from across the city how to sing gospel, and the group performed a remarkable concert of Gospel standards, spun with LTP finesse and energy. In April, choral singers from several local choirs attended “Why does my voice wobble? Choral Singing and the Aging Voice,” a workshop led by vocal pedagogue, Dr. Mark Wilkinson. Glebe-St. James provides a choral home for the renowned Canterbury Trebles Women’s Ensemble, also conducted by James Caswell, and a rehearsal space for Hypatia’s Voice. 

Finding welcome, safety and trust in one’s community offers a crucial way of allaying social isolation. It is only through treasuring different contexts of peoples’ lives that true communities grow.  






Pam Fitch sings in the choir, is a long-time member and current Chair of Council for Glebe-St. James. 


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