An example of retaining a university
student is Marg, who liked a guy who attended Sunnyside. Though she had no use
for God, she consented to attend church.
After a while she thought God might be
a “possibility” in her life. Five months
later she placed her faith in Christ, was
baptized, married and now serves on the
Sunnyside communication team.
The student population has also affected worship locations. The congregation has been gathering for 90 years in Old
Ottawa South. They welcome their community to barbecues, soccer camps that
link sports and faith, a women’s shelter,
community choir and exercise class.
In 2010, 50 people were commissioned
to a second location downtown, meeting
on the University of Ottawa campus.
Character of Christ
Three hundred regular attendees now
gather in three congregations. This diverse
group of university students, young fam-
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ilies, professionals and seniors welcomes
those taking their first steps toward a relationship with Christ.
Twenty years ago things were different.
Sixty seniors and empty-nesters gathered
with 30 university students that soon grew
to 90. There was nothing in-between – no
children, no youth, no young families. But
as students married, young families grew
up into the congregation, creating more
Sunnyside’s vision is for the character
of Christ to be formed in individuals as
well as the church body. And Sunnysiders
are encouraged to actively contribute their
time and resources to ministries outside
the church. Work is viewed as ministry.
Many serve in government offices or as
professional educators. Russett has added
to his ministry to students by serving on
the board of trustees for Houghton College.
The Old Ottawa Community Centre is a
hub of activity from fitness to photography,
from after-school care for kids to programs
for seniors. Jill, a centre staff worker and
member of the church board, gets to hear
the needs and serve the neighbours.
In connection with Mission Ottawa, a
group of church leaders that meets to pray
and plan city-wide events, people from
Sunnyside prayer-walk their neighbourhood at the downtown church site. They
pray for people they see on the street and
in the houses they pass, and that God’s
loving-kindness would invade that neighbourhood and heal the hurts in families,
individuals and businesses.
engage the world
Jesus’ mission to bring Good News to
the poor, freedom to captives, insight to
people who can’t see and release for the
oppressed is Sunnyside’s mission today.
Their goal is to turn the church inside out,
praying that people they encounter each
day will be receptive to and changed by the
life-giving movement of God in their lives.
Perhaps unique to Sunnyside, the majority of churchgoers’ friends are not yet
believers. On a typical Sunday five to 10
per cent attending are making their first
connection with church. The challenge is
to disciple all the seekers that already walk
through the doors.
Russett says he reminds himself and
his congregation that “Sunnysiders live in
the middle of the world,” or (to use the language of John 17: 11-16) to be in the world,
yet not of the world.
Sunnyside youth have ministered for
two years in Chiiwetau, a Cree community
in Northern Quebec. While elders gather
to celebrate, Sunnyside youth host day
camps for children and teens – without
electricity! Young leaders notice more
social challenges – anger is strongly embedded into the culture – so they focus on
sharing Christ’s transformative love.
Over the last 20 years, 30 people from
this congregation have been called to vocational ministry. Jenn was introduced to
Christ through Sunnyside’s youth group
while attending university. She and her
husband served as engineers in India for
several years. Jenn’s mother came to faith
through her daughter, retired from a government position, and now serves with a
Christian hospital association in India.
Living in a secular city that is highly educated yet indifferent to the gospel, Sunnyside’s ongoing challenge is to “speak
into the culture in ways that are loving and
wise, yet authentic and true,” says Russett.
The affluent often don’t see their need
for Jesus. When people do recognize their
spiritual need, the church is not usually
their first choice. Suspicion of organized
religion is a huge hurdle to overcome.
The cause of justice and mercy must be
accompanied with sharing the gospel in
culturally understandable ways.
If Sunnyside’s building disappeared,
perhaps no one would notice. “But if our
people disappeared, the impact would
be enormous,” says Russett. “Sunnyside
people are involved in so many spheres of
life, doing things quietly every day, living
out the values of the Kingdom of God.” FT
CHarLene De Haan is a freelance
writer in Toronto, executive director of
CAM International of Canada and founder
of Step Up Transitions ( www.stepuptransi-
tions.ca). Sunnyside Wesleyan Church is
affiliated with The Evangelical Fellowship
of Canada. Read all the profiles in this
ongoing series at www.Faith Today.ca.