Montreal church partners with circus company to help pay the bills

A church in downtown Montreal has partnered with a circus company with the goal of opening up the space to a larger group of people — while also helping to pay the bills.

The partnership could be the 1st of its kind and is a 'match made in heaven,' says pastor

Acrobats hang from the rafters of St. Jax church in downtown Montreal on Wednesday night. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

An acrobat dangles from the rafters of a 150-year-old church while a lightshow paints the altar in blue, pink and yellow lights.

Call it a leap of faith.

This was the first show of Le Monastère — the monastery, in English — a circus cabaret show held inside a downtown Montreal church.

Le Monastère has partnered with the Anglican church of St. Jax — and it could be the first agreement of its kind.

"It's been a fantastic joy to see for the first time, we believe, a circus company permanently installed in an active, consecrated church," said Rev. Graham Singh, incumbent pastor at St. Jax.

With lagging attendance and surging maintenance bills, churches in Quebec and elsewhere have struggled to stay afloat.

Singh's three-year mission with St. Jax has included not only keeping the old, creaky church standing, but also redefining what it is to be a church in a downtown core.

It has not been without its challenges. In 2016, a homeless shelter operating out of the building did not renew its lease after a dispute with the new management.

Singh has opened his church to a variety of local groups in an effort to make the church a community centre as well as a place of worship.

When he learned circus performers needed high ceilings — something the church has in spades — he said it was an obvious match.

"We thought, hey, this is a match made in heaven," said Singh.

In addition to non-profit groups, including a group that helps refugees and Alcoholic Anonymous, the church holds a variety of rental events that help fund its daily operations.

They also help fund renovations on things like a leaky roof.

"Absolutely, it helps us raise revenues in this building," said Singh.

The church underwent a small renovation to install supportive beams in the rafters in order to accommodate the circus.

Keeping performers in Montreal

One of the co-creators of Le Monastère, Guillaume Blais, said having the space in Montreal is a perfect fit.

"They were looking for art projects, and our paths just crossed," he said.

Montreal is a hub for circus performers, he said, but many have had to leave because the market for talent is outside of the city.

Blais just returned to Canada after completing a successful trapeze show in Germany.

Guillaume Blais and Rosalie Beauchamp are the co-creators of Le Monastère. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

The religious connotations of his company's name are just a coincidence, said Blais, but they're born of ideals straight out of Singh's playbook: a desire to keep the community together.

"We always come back to the community, and we always want to bring the circus community together. Montreal is like the circus capital, but none of us are working here," he said.

Blais and his co-creator, Rosalie Beauchamp, also fantasized about performing in an abandoned church.

In the end, the abandoned church of their dreams was demolished, but shortly after, they connected with Singh and decided to partner with St. Jax.

Le Monastère had a short run of shows last week and will be back with more dates in the near future.


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