Eastminster United Church in Toronto regularly hosts Greektown Wrestling. Photo: Facebook
Eastminster United Church in Toronto regularly hosts Greektown Wrestling. Photo: Facebook

Topics: UCC in Focus | Society

Wrestling and other amazing ways to repurpose your church

Some church buildings go to sleep from Monday to Friday. But elsewhere, the steepled husks moonlight as kooky and political community hubs. Here are our favourite ideas.


The hymn books are back in their pew holders, the last butter tart has been eaten, and this week’s bulletins are in the blue bin. Worship is over for another week.

In some places, the church building goes to sleep for the week. But elsewhere, the steepled husks moonlight as kooky and political community hubs.

Typical uses for a dutiful basement include a daycare centre, a home to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and a thrift store.

But there’s more. Much more.

In fact, the non-official stuff that happens in church buildings is so scintillating, a couple of Midwest Lutherans wrote a musical comedy called “Church Basement Ladies” back in the 1990s. You can see this Steel Magnolias-like play because it’s touring for the 2018-2019 season.

So if your church building is just loafing Monday to Saturday, it’s time to kick it off the couch. Here’s some inspiration.

1.    Wrestling arena

Where: Eastminster United Church, Toronto

What: In Toronto’s indie circuit, don’t miss the next Greektown Wrestling event on June 16. Weekdays, the masked-and-Spandexed men are worker bees, but on weekends, they compete as wrestlers and entertainers as Space Money, Colt Cabana, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and many more.

What does it represent? Wrestling with the Devil, wrestling with scripture — metaphorically, these guys are right on track.

2.    Microbrewery

Where: Hillhurst United Church, Calgary

What: What to do with an underused gym? This spring, Rev. Jim Pentland proposed to his congregation a brew pub. “One of the things that people are starved for right now is purpose,” Pentland told the Calgary Eyeopener. “A sense of spiritual connections and a place to have a good conversation about how we reshape the world, and those two go together.” After a church has closed, it’s not unusual for a microbrewery to open in its place, but this is a first for a worshipping congregation.

What does it represent? 
The United Church has not cracked down on emerging local challenges to its traditional stance on sobriety. Craft beer is on trend. And, Jesus did gather friends with wine. Seems like a win!

3.    Haven: a refuge for gay Christians from non-welcoming denominations

Where: McDougall United Church, Edmonton

What: A monthly ecumenical service in the basement led by Mark Chiang. The space is decorated with a rainbow Pride flag that reads, “Jesus thinks you are fabulous.”

What does it represent? In an often LGBTQ-hostile environment, the gathering is a natural for the United Church. Chiang’s partner, Mark Guevarra, was fired from his ministry job at a nearby Catholic church for starting queer support groups.

4.    Mosque

Where: St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Leamington, Ont.

What: Just like in Little Mosque on the Prairie, but in Ontario, the two worshipping communities share space. Leamington welcomed 125 Syrian refugees in 2017, necessitating a bigger mosque.

What does it represent? Earlier this year, a story spread around social media: London, England was supposedly closing 500 churches and opening 423 mosques. Snopes confirmed that the story wasn’t true. In fact, it was racist propaganda. So the success in Leamington represents the opposite of that fear-mongering.

5.    Choir central

Where: Dunbar-Ryerson United Church, Vancouver

What: The two powerhouse West side congregations amalgamated in 2017, and both offer long-term commitments to music. The church is home to five full choirs, both secular and religious, and hosts perpetual concert series and other musical events. Two music ministers are on staff.

What does it represent? As the city has grown and arts spaces have become fewer and more expensive, the church’s willingness to offer affordable live music experiences is precious — and in wealth-obsessed Vancouver, maybe even radical.


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