The little trailer church that could

Published November 26, 2010

There have been stories about churches being remodelled into a residential property. But a home-a trailer home to be exact-being converted into a church? Innovative to say the least. When an arson fire in 1999 destroyed St. John’s church on the First Nations reserve in Grand Rapids, Man., the congregation of about 100 Anglicans was devastated. Not only did the centuries-old church carry a lot of history, the inevitable question was whether it could be replaced at all, since it had not been insured and resources were limited. “We couldn’t get funding from anywhere,” said parishioner Arnold Ballantyne. For years, the congregation met in houses and at the band hall. In 2007, someone came up with the novel idea of recycling a single-wide trailer that had been given to the band council and was used to house a family into a church. The congregation sprang into action. In the summer of 2007, a group of volunteers that included Ballantyne, tore down walls that divided the 60″ x 16″ trailer into rooms. They installed a washroom, built an altar, added pews, put fresh coats of paint on its interior and exterior, and erected a modest steeple and signage. Et voila! The new St. John’s church. The trailer church may not have the grandeur of a cathedral, but as the Rev. Steven Martin, “T-priest” of St. John’s parish reminded the congregation during the first service that fall: “Wherever and whenever you find the Holy Spirit, that place is holy.” About 100 people attend the weekly service regularly. Anglicanism has deep roots in the community of 800, which is located about 400 km north of Winnipeg and which in the early 1760s was an important gateway to the north. “Both Anglicans and Roman Catholics had core groups of believers at Grand Rapids, and these provided the rationale for the establishment of both churches [there] by the end of the 19th century,” according to an article published in 1988 by the Manitoba Historical Society. St. John’s itself was established there in 1875, it added. St. John’s is the little trailer church that could. “We have lots of things going on,” said Ballantyne. Aside from the 3 p.m. services that are packed (extra chairs have been added to accommodate more), the church is used for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and anger management courses. Martin, a non-stipendiary priest, doubles as pastor and addictions counsellor (which is his paying job at the Grand Rapids Health Authority).While it is fairly uncommon to find a trailer-to-church conversion, St. John’s is not the first of its kind. In the 1950s, the Roman Catholics had their “Church on Wheels,” which visited rural communities across the United States. In recent years, Baptist and Presbyterian congregations have also used old mobile homes as churches.This type of recycled architecture (as most conversion projects are called) is less expensive than building a new structure from the ground up, and Martin said it’s something that struggling congregations can adopt. “It doesn’t make a difference to me. It’s still the same feeling as when you worship in a building,” he said. Ω


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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