Nearly a decade ago, St. Matthew’s Anglican church in Winnipeg had fallen into disrepair. Located in a “troubled, challenged” neighbourhood where the poverty rate is at least double the average for Winnipeg, the inner city church was contaminated with mould and asbestos. Its’ new incumbent, the Rev. Cathy Campbell, wondered how its ministry could even be sustained.
And yet, the huge brick building was home to five vibrant worshipping congregations. It also housed the Neighbourhood Resource Centre, which provided services ranging from meal programs to English language courses. Clearly, something had to be done.
With the vision and persistence of Campbell and her congregation (including $500,000 in bequests received by St. Matthew’s), the church is being repurposed into “WestEnd Commons,” a $6.2 million multi-use, secular complex that includes a worship centre and affordable housing for low-income families. The vision is to create a sustainable future for St. Matthew’s, and to help revitalize the area. (Despite public and private philanthropic support, 22 per cent of capital funds– $1.3 million–is still needed.)
Archbishop Fred Hiltz describes WestEnd Commons as “a wonderful example of a church looking at its neighbourhood and shaping its ministry in accord to the needs and hopes of its residents.” It is also “grounded in dignity and respect for those the parish is called to serve,” says Hiltz, whose consecration as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada was held at St. Matthew’s in 2007.
The original sanctuary space will be converted into a 1,000 square-foot atrium and play area, creating an inviting place for the community to gather. Manitoba Housing will subsidize 20 of the 25 housing units and tenants will include newcomers to Canada, aboriginal families and single-parent families. “This is a huge commitment on the part of government,” says Campbell. Five units will be provided for clients of the Winnipeg Health Authority’s mental health housing support program.
West End Commons will also be home to St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Grain of Wheat Church-Community, Shiloh Apostolic, Emmanuel Mission and Lutheran Urban Ministries. A 1,900-square foot worship space will incorporate St. Matthew’s existing stained glass and artifacts. “It is our way of saying we want to continue being a parish in this neighbourhood for the next hundred years,” says Campbell.
The conversion process is green: structures and furnishings are being reused and recycled, and energy efficiency systems and appliances are being installed. The church was originally built in 1913 and rebuilt in 1945 after a fire.
St. Matthew’s Non-Profit Housing Inc., a partnership between St. Matthew’s parish and The Grain of Wheat Church Community, will operate the complex. It is a business model that allows the building to be self-sustaining and managed independently of the St. Matthew’s congregation, which can then focus on outreach and mission, says Campbell.
She adds that the real story about WestEnd Commons is not the transformation of the building, but of the people who will live in it. “It really is to help transform our neighbourhood into one that’s flourishing, rather than one that people are fearful of,” says Campbell.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit, www.thewestendcommons.ca or send cheques payable to St. Matthew’s Non Profit Housing Inc., at 641 St. Matthew’s Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3G OG6.