Tapestry

Why Canada's 27,000 faith buildings are crucial for communities

Many of Canada's 27,000 faith spaces and buildings across Canada are in danger of closing. But some could be reborn and repurposed as community hubs.
Trinity St. Paul's Centre for Faith, Justice and the Art is a repurposed church in downtown Toronto. (Submitted by Kendra Fry)

Segment originally aired December 12, 2021.

Across Canada, church congregations are dwindling and costs to maintain their buildings continue to rise. As a result, many of Canada's 27,000 faith spaces and buildings across Canada are in danger of closing. But potentially, many of those spaces could be reborn and repurposed as community hubs that everyone could use. 

That's where Kendra Fry comes in. Fry has a long background in arts and theatre, including her latest role as the general manager of Stratford Summer Music. But her other job is to help communities of faith reimagine their spaces. 

She often gets the call when congregations have become so small that the buildings are ready to take on a new life as something other than churches.

An old church in Toronto from the 1920s was converted into an apartment building after church membership dwindled. (Shutterstock)

"When I'm feeling high brow, I call it a 'curator of community' because that's the thing that I do. I help communities curate a new version of themselves," said Fry, when describing her role. 

"When I'm feeling a little more direct, I call it church repurposing, because practically speaking, we're taking up building and helping to make it into what its community is asking it to be."

Fry says that beyond being a home for religious practice, these buildings already play a larger role in their communities. In addition to being spiritual homes, most churches house non-profits, arts organizations, soup kitchens, and other local groups. 

Rebuilding a community

Many faith spaces are ideal for this repurposing since many were built with gathering in mind. 

So I believe in collective action and mutual support networks and sharing of wealth and resources, and a really interconnected seeing of the other,- Kendra Fry, church repurposer

"They are often located literally geographically at the centre of their communities. The reason that not-for-profits use them is because of their location, because of their price and not surprisingly, because of their accessibility," Fry explained. 

While Kendra Fry doesn't attend church herself, she still sees her work as a spiritual practice: "I don't personally believe in God, but I believe in all of the things that a community of faith can engender within its own community when it is done right." 

"So I believe in collective action and mutual support networks and sharing of wealth and resources, and a really interconnected seeing of the other," said Fry. 

To Fry, that kind of seeing involves, "trying to understand what it is they need in the world to be whole, and to be a part, and to be in communion with others."

Kendra Fry's day job is general manager at Stratford Summer Music, a festival in Stratford, Ont. But in her free time, she helps communities reimagine what churches are for. (Photo by Tobi Asmoucha)

Fry said that she believes this kind of work has the potential to transform communities right across Canada. 

"Think about a number of resources that are being held right now in very faithful trust by communities of faith. And if they can help us dream a new society together using those physical resources — think what we could do."

Written and produced by Kent Hoffman.

 

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