Christ Church was learning to respond to expressed/
felt needs in its neighbourhood. The head of guidance at
O’Neill shared with the congregation the difference this
project made in the lives of teens and families.
While on vacation, Paulsen received a letter from
the March of Dimes clearly sent to a number of
churches. Upon her return she contacted the social
worker. Not one church had responded to the need
for $200 each to fund a scooter for a man in their
community who recently suffered a stroke. Paulsen
asked the congregation, “Who among us would want
to be immobile?” and collected $500. She believes
people want to make a difference locally.
Parish members donated backpacks full of gifts to needy local teens.
shared custody and parents’ shift work. She felt responsible for
addressing today’s reality.
Christ Church particularly listened to parents who brought
children to be baptized but didn’t engage with church life. Parents
and grandparents expressed a desire to experience a faith journey
together with kids.
Messy Church is a Saturday, one-hour, monthly multigenera-tional, multisensory form of worship and learning based on a
biblical story. In the last four years it has drawn a whole new
group of families to become involved in church.
Five years ago Christ Church surveyed its neighbourhood within
a 2-km radius, recognizing God is also at work outside the church.
Where could they see His fingerprints? The first new missional
connection came through a natural network between a member of the congregation and the principal of a local high school,
O’Neill Collegiate and Vocational Institute, just four blocks away.
They met to discuss how the congregation could encourage and
offer assistance. Since the school already hosted a Bible study,
the principal was stumped – until the congregational member
asked about the economy.
No longer does O’Neill cater primarily to children from
wealthier backgrounds. Some come from chaotic families or
those lacking financial resources. Twenty teens were “trying to
make it on their own.”
Christ Church youth agreed to purchase cool backpacks and
place them around the altar for parish members to take and fill.
Interest was so high, 45 backpacks were returned. They were
delivered to two high schools and a special education program for
teens returning to complete their studies. The principal’s thank
you letter expressed how delighted teens were to find individ-
ualized contents in each backpack. Paulsen’s response: “God’s
mission honours each person as an individual.”
The following year O’Neill identified a need for reduced-cost
bus passes for kids travelling a distance to school. The large teddy
bear peanut butter jar at the altar collected $800 for “Tickets 4
The idea of missio dei (God’s mission) started filtering
through the congregation as parish members began looking for
opportunities to serve their community. One senior gentleman
in the church heard the following story at a Kiwanis meeting and
brought it to the church.
“The principal at Mary Street Public School phoned a truant
child and was surprised when the child answered the phone. In
response to the question, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ the child
responded, ‘My mother has the coat.’ ”
A Missional Action Team was formed to determine how the
church could help the school.
Eventually the church restructured its outreach to galvanize
parish members around specific passions – kids, schools, the
hospital and disabled.
During another chat with the principal at Mary Street, one
team learned many children were undernourished. An extra
weekly serving of milk per child costs $3,000 annually. Congregants are committed – this is their third year of sponsorship.
“When people start to think missionally, it sparks other ideas,”
states Paulsen. Hospitality emerges in local neighbourhoods. A
garage band from the congregation contributed music for a block
party. Neighbours commented on the classical rock and asked
questions about church.
The challenge is to keep an upward and outward focus.
“Because of our broken nature, churches tend to become
inwardly focused on programs and personal preferences. But
the nature of God is mission!” Paulsen also admits, “Building a
healthy congregation is an ongoing challenge to change the cul-
ture of a parish until it is willing to experience its own discomfort
in order to reach outside itself. Success will be measured by a
deeper understanding of God and what He wants us to do in our
own neighbourhoods.” Ft
cHARlene de HAAn is a freelance writer in toronto. she is also
executive director of Camino global and founder of
stepuPtransitions.ca. Read all the profiles in
this series at faithtoday.ca.