Pernell Goodyear, pastor at The Freeway in Hamilton, was a keynote speaker at the recent Vital Church Planting conference in Toronto.
With his sleeves rolled up and tattooed forearms revealed, a young man addressed about 180 people who attended the Vital Church Planting Conference at St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto from Feb. 2 to 4. He quipped that if they were thinking he didn’t look very Anglican, the people at his own church, the Salvation Army, don’t think he looks very Salvation Army either.
Pernell Goodyear is the pastor at The Freeway, a holistic Christian community, based in downtown Hamilton, Ont., and he was the first non-Anglican to be a keynote speaker at a Vital Church Planting conference in Canada. This is the fourth year the conference, which focuses on new ways to do church, has been held, and it has grown so much that organizers decided to split it into two events, one in Toronto, and a second slated to be held in Edmonton from May 18 to 20.
“One of the things that we are trying to do in Canada is learning from different denominations,” said John Bowen, director of the Institute for Evangelism at Toronto’s Wycliffe College, which sponsored the conference with the diocese of Toronto. The idea of church planting may be “new and exciting and cutting-edge” for Anglicans, but it is something other churches have been doing for 50 years, Bowen said.
The Freeway is cutting-edge by almost any church’s standard. Inspired by the idea that North America has lost the kinds of public spaces where people used to gather, The Freeway is a former CIBC bank building renovated into a coffee house that serves fair trade and homemade products and hosts local artists and musicians. Located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada, it is also a place for people dealing with poverty, addictions, abuse and mental health issues. “These are people who are vulnerable and marginalized and people who don’t have a voice and don’t have a place. We’ve created a space that is theirs,” says Goodyear. There is a job coaching program to help find employment, and people in the community lead workshops.
Encouraging each individual’s creativity is an important principle at The Freeway. Goodyear describes the atmosphere as funky but “more like a family reunion than a well-produced music concert.” Some of the musicians who perform have already built a name for themselves, but it is also a space for people who are just getting started and experimenting. Some of the musicians who perform are Christian, but it is not “Christian music,” he says. “It allows us to authentically say to artists, to musicians, to those who are creative, we are the church and we love you. We want you to teach us because it seems to us that the word became flesh and then became words again because all we ever do is talk and read this text, and that’s our entire discipleship process and there’s so much more to life than that.”
It’s a compelling vision, but Goodyear began by begging the crowd not to try to “shrink-wrap” his story and build other Freeways everywhere. “Please don’t think that I think that everyone should be urban and live in a poor neighbourhood,” he said. “The Canadian church has to learn how to stop looking to new models and new gurus and actually learn how to respond to the spirit of God at work in the midst of our particular contexts,” he said, whether that context is urban, suburban, rural or a desert. This need for churches to be planted and grow in a way that comes from, suits and serves their local communities was a common theme throughout the conference.
So was the need for the church to be a living presence to the people and world around it. “We are the salt of the earth,”said Goodyear…. “[But] salt is no good sitting on a table in a salt shaker. It’s not until we knock it out on to something else that it even does what it is supposed to. Therefore, for a church to huddle in its own church, hidden behind stained glass windows, even with great intentions, is not actually the church. The church is the living, breathing example of Jesus living amongst real, live people. The early church didn’t grow just because they had a working knowledge of pop culture in the first century. And it certainly didn’t grow because they huddled in circles, read their Bible constantly and ignored the rest of the world. It grew, it blossomed, it flourished because it grew amongst the people it was intended to serve. It was church in the neighbourhood.”