Many faith communities wonder how they might go deeper in relationship, and in helping address needs in their local neighbourhood. Often they will have their own building, and wonder what might be possible if they could just open their doors a little wider.
MIllbourne Community Life Centre, supported by the South Edmonton Alliance Church provides some great food for thought on this front. They are a faith community who pursued the community centre model of engagement.
Millbourne Community Life Centre is a busy place!
Close to twenty local partners collaborate with the centre to provide a dizzying array of programming and opportunities in service to both the immediate and larger community in Millwoods. The local community they minister to is very diverse, and is home to people from a vast range of faiths and cultures, such as, Punjabi, Urdu, Latino, Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, and Arabic. The socio-economic needs of the surrounding community are also significant, with over 1,400 households that fall within the lowest income bracket, as well as 2,500 subsidized housing units within the eleven communities that make up Millwoods.
Working to respond to those needs, the Millbourne Community Life Centre has become a hot spot in the local community, with many partners coming together to provide: immigration support services, a youth ministry centre, We-can food baskets, conversational cafes to aid in learning conversational English, Pre-natal classes, a food pantry and food bank outlet, a refugee medical clinic, a Community mother’s drop-in, a summer community sports camp, cultural fluency seminars, long distance seminary courses in Cantonese, and cross-cultural internships with the University of Hong Kong.
It is also home to three church communities: City South Church (Pentecostal) – 10am-12pm on Sundays, The Multicultural Alliance Church – starting at 12:15pm, and the Light of Life Filipino church, worshipping at 4pm.
It is open seven days a week, and is a hub for all kinds of help and services embedded in the local community.
So how did this happen?
Ten years ago, the large brick building at 2101 Millbourne Road was home to the Millbourne Alliance Church. The congregation had met together for over fifty years, and done much good work together, but they had become an ageing and dwindling congregation. It was becoming clear the time was upon them to close their doors.
Local Alliance Churches began meeting to consider what to do with the building. After a time, South Edmonton Alliance Church stepped up to sponsor the building as a community outreach, and in 2011 opened it as a community centre for the very diverse neighbourhood. From the start, they elected to treat any potential organizations as partners, rather than renters. They decided all their partners would have a seat at the table, and that they would meet regularly. Together with new partners, they could help to address challenges faced by people in the community.
As the Centre found its’ feet, those partners gradually came to the table. One of their anchor partners is Youth Unlimited, who run a youth ministry centre out of the basement. A few years ago, as a partner they renovated the space as a venue for concerts and other types of programming for their youth, many of whom are from immigrant families and learning together under their Christian mentors, how to be Canadian, and caring citizens in their new home.
There were certainly some difficult transitional moments. One of those was the decision to take down the large cross that was on the outside of the building. There were strong feelings on both sides of the decision. The purpose for doing so, was to facilitate the coming and going for Muslims and other groups who could access ministries in their building. Those serving today in the MCLC facility are very mindful and deeply appreciative of the tremendous work and sacrifice of those from the original church family, Millbourne Alliance Church!
One significant shift that happened was in how they saw the building. Tim Cook, the director at MCLC describes this change as moving from a posture of “protecting our stuff,” to “let’s use this building together.” That posture has made so much possible, with partners willing to invest in upgrades and some renovations.
Certainly, not everything is simple. The centre is self-sustaining in operating costs, but currently the building needs some larger repairs, including a new roof and parking lot, and investments to make the upstairs accessible. Finding the money and resources to effect those major repairs is still in the works, but these are normal challenges. It is likely solutions to this will be generated out of the continuing fruit of the relationships and partnerships built. Perhaps they will be able to tell that story too in the days to come.
Where is the heart that drives a community ministry like Millbourne community Life Centre?
That heart is expressed well in their vision statement: “Millbourne Community Life Centre is a place where all, regardless of ethnic or economic background can come to receive an expression of God’s love and find hope that comes through knowing the gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
This vision fuels a spirit of warmth and welcome that permeates the place. There is no pressure employed, or any strings attached to any of the help. But sometimes prayers are shared, and if anyone wants to understand the heart that drives their hospitality, there are several partners there to walk with them on that journey.