When Rev. Jim Keenan joined Saint Luke’s United as an intentional interim minister in the fall of 2019, he knew there was much work to do. Located across from the iconic Allan Gardens park in downtown Toronto, the towering church had long been a fixture in the historic Cabbagetown neighbourhood. “It’s a place in the city where gentrification and poverty grind like tectonic plates,” Keenan said. At the time, Saint Luke’s had already been operating a food bank and was renting out space to over a dozen local arts and social services organizations.
But the church’s coffers were far smaller than they had been in the ‘70s. “They had this huge building that was draining any resources that they had,” said Keenan. He estimated that when he started his position at the church, maintenance costs exceeded rental income by about $60,000 a year. “The way they were serving the community wasn’t working in a sustainable way,” he said.
A month after Keenan entered his role, Saint Luke’s experienced another blow. The plan to redevelop the church into a series of condos and a small chapel was rejected by city council. The congregation was disheartened. “The congregation, for about seven or eight years, really didn’t grow in terms of their sense of mission and their sense of vitality,” said Keenan. The church was also physically deteriorating — despite its condition, it had not undergone any major repairs since the congregation had anticipated redevelopment.
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