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Three years ago, at St. George's, Goderich, they hoped that the newly minted community hall would be a source of revenue. Today they see it as a place of transformation and learning, and embracing others in Christ.  

By Rev. Justin Comber

On November 7, 2023, shared workspace giant WeWork filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in a New York courtroom.

The company, prior to the Covid epidemic had made billions by leasing office space in major cities around the world and subletting them to corporations and individuals. Some of those leases were for terms as short as one day, though longer-term leases were also a part of the mix. The bankruptcy of WeWork is just one more harbinger of the ongoing divorce between centralized space and the world of work. For business, space has become much less of a premium. In major cities, existing office spaces still sit largely empty. In small towns, the demand is nonexistent.

About three years ago, St George’s Goderich embarked on a large-scale building project.

Initially, it was hoped that the newly minted community hall would be a source of revenue. It was hoped that the money invested in the space would invite financial returns on a business scale. But the pandemic changed the world around us. Whatever space that was available for isolation has already been transformed into functional workspace, and centrality is no longer offered at a premium.

The bankruptcy of WeWork should tell us that renovating spaces for profit and transforming existing spaces for rental in a saturated and dwindling market will cost far more than it will ever generate.

However, the same isolation that created an excess of workspace and broke the business of centrality also helped people recover something forgotten. We are a people who cannot be summed by the total of our working parts. We are people with emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Isolation, the stilling of so many lucrative pursuits, helped us recover whispered longings muted by the din of pursuit.

I am not suggesting that our church can be lucrative again by meeting rediscovered and broadly defined spiritual needs. I am suggesting that God our Father loves the whole creation and calls out quietly-but-persistently for all to come. God offers invitation. We are witnesses to God‘s invitation. It’s a good one. And it’s been reheard.

We now find ourselves meeting in a space transformed for a purpose it can never meet. I am grateful for two reasons.

First, St. George’s was not founded to be lucrative. It was founded as a worshipping community; a place of transformation, of learning, for gathering with and embracing others in Christ, and for new life. The untenability of our planned business model will prevent us from following the lucrative. We are not its disciples.

Second, the transformation of this space has given us exactly the resources we need to witness the goodness of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit to the people of Goderich.

In the new year, St George’s Goderich will begin offering a monthly midweek program for children and families. We will invite whole families into this space for food, for time together, for creativity and play, and for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because of plans made for profit, we have a space perfectly suited for witness. Our newly renovated kitchen will feed the mouths of the spiritually hungry. Our infrastructure, with its newly laid miles of audio and network cables, will allow us to share joy, music, and very good news. Our open spaces will be places for families to gather, uninhibited by the usual weight of the holy, and our laminate floors will make clean up a breeze.

This is one example of the kinds of things that we can, and should do as a community of believers. This is one example of the ways that our foundation of faithfulness and stewardship can be the basis of a robust and intentional focus on Christian mission and ministry. I hope there will be more.

This one (like most of the other great ideas I’ve encountered) was not my idea. But it’s one that I support wholeheartedly. And it is of a kind that I will continue to support, wherever  it comes from.

Mission and ministry are central to our Christian identity. That identity, mission, and ministry is shared. It is yours and mine. We share it like we share one hope, one faith, one baptism, one bread, one cup, one church, one Spirit, one Christ, and one God and Father of all.

The bankruptcy of WeWork is more bad news for an established way of being relentlessly assailed by pandemic and enforced change. I don’t mean to suggest that it is good news for the church. We already have good news, news that stands unchanged and unaffected by the winds of time and the fates of banks and institutions. The new ways of being that will emerge in a post-pandemic economy will not be any more Gospel than the old ways (thank the prophet Jagger for that one). But I am grateful for stewardship, for providence, for the still small voice that still calls out its invitation, and for the opportunity to listen and obey. I’m excited to see where this church will go next.

Rev. Dr. Justin Comber  is the rector of St. George’s Goderich and  Christ Church Port Albert, and lecturer in Biblical Studies at Thorneloe University.