The Orillia Silver Band on stage at St. Paul’s United in December 2017. (Photo courtesy St. Paul's United)
The Orillia Silver Band on stage at St. Paul’s United in December 2017. (Photo courtesy St. Paul's United)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Society

Orillia church transforms into community hub

The space houses St. Paul's Centre, which brings people together for food, music, learning and art

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When Rev. Ted Reeve arrived in Orillia, Ont. for a five-month contract five years ago, the congregation of St. Paul’s United was ready to reinvent itself. Membership was waning, and the number of rentals wasn’t keeping up with the building’s costs — so it was time for action. They took on a motto, inspired by a visit from former moderator Very Rev. Bill Phipps: “Turning ourselves inside out for the sake of the community.”

Today, the church is home to the congregation and the St. Paul’s Centre, which has become a community hub for its city, bringing people together for food, music, learning and art.

First, they made the building more performing arts-friendly, replacing pews with moveable chairs and updating the sound system. The congregation itself pitched in $300,000, and member Michael Gordon went out into the community to find grants and funding to complete the transformation. In total, they raised more than $1.2 million.

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The space has hosted staged musicals, been a venue for the Mariposa Folk Festival and more — at a rate of about 50 performances each year. Volunteers started cultivating vegetables on the building’s grounds that people can take whenever they want, which is helping lower-income families. The Sunday school room moved to a smaller space and was replaced with a Reconciliation Room, which permanently houses an artistic collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists called Call to Action #83. It includes mixed media, woodcut, lacework and large canvas painting, and students regularly visit to learn about reconciliation.

What’s been most striking to Reeve, who is still with the congregation, is how people’s view of the centre evolved. At first, some feared the transformation meant the church was shutting down. Now, he says, they’re proud to be part of revitalizing their community.

This story first appeared in the November 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “Church transforms into community hub in Orillia, Ont.”

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today. 

Glynis Ratcliffe is Broadview's senior writer.

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  • says:

    Very Rev. Bill Phipps: “Turning ourselves inside out for the sake of the community.”
    The real story is in the quote above. It speaks to how far any member of the body of Christ is willing to go to accommodate culture. It is the challenge of missiology for the Body of Christ. It is best articulated by H. Richard Niebuhr’s "Christ and Culture" published in 1951. this is one of the classic works on missiology. Bill Phipps said many other things that would lead a church to believe they can do just about anything to accommodate culture. As an ordained minister who took a vow to proclaim the gospel, he stated he did not have faith in the divinity of Christ, he thought the idea of after-life (-eternal life, the existence of hell and heaven, ect) to be irrelevant to the church's mission. When the 38th moderator- Rev. Peter Short was finishing his term he wrote a letter to the denomination in his very respectful way. Among other things he said, We (the UCC) have 3.6 billion dollars in property. We have more franchises them Tim Horton’s. We have an annual income of 350 million dollars a year. But the bad news is that we are starving”.
    Starving churchs are ones that have forgotten their purpose and their source of bread