Churches as social infrastructure

A fascinating opinion piece on church buildings as crucial community infrastructure: in last Wednesday’s Spec, the CEOs of Anishnabeg Outreach and Trinity Centres Foundation argue for the healing power of social infrastructure, in the form of repurposed church buildings. This piece is also very timely, considering the number of at-risk church buildings in Hamilton and beyond, as well as the ongoing climate emergency.

Anishnabeg Outreach created their first Indigenous healing centre by purchasing a Lutheran church property in partnership with St. Philips Lutheran and Eastern Synod in 2018. Trinity Centres Foundation is a charity dedicated to transforming church properties for community impact.

Mentoring tables at Anishnabeg Outreach’s First Nations Healing Centre in the former St. Philip’s Lutheran, Kitchener. Image: Anishnabeg Outreach.

Citing the recent Equitable Infrastructure report, the authors write, “traditional social institutions must step aside, lay down their treasure and learn.”

From Jackson and Singh’s opinion piece:

Anishnabeg Outreach has demonstrated the impact of one small local Lutheran Church building when it acquired and transformed it into a First Nations Healing Centre. The centre was once a site for German-speaking Christian worship in the heart of Kitchener. Today, mature cedars and a community-built labyrinth welcome neighbours of all backgrounds to come and learn about the ancient medicines of Canada’s First Peoples.

Waterloo Region’s tech sector has supported this project by developing Anishnabeg Outreach NEST, short online courses on entrepreneurial leadership, software coding, community development, and more, offered free to band councils and reserves across Canada. This small patch of reconciled land has become an engine for healing and the co-creation of Anishnabeg Outreach has engaged multiple local communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to maximize impact.

Imagine if Canada’s historic cathedrals were not only preserved, but strategically renovated and architecturally recrafted to model a new social infrastructure to come. Imagine a circus company, refugee non-profit, addiction support group and major conference operator all under one roof and with doors open to its local community.

The social sector is often defined by social work: the vital dollars invested in employees on the ground. Social infrastructure speaks to the deeper economic tools needed by these urban saints: community hubs, accessible rental venues for startup charities, affordable housing, and more.

Stephen Jackson and Graham Singh, “Healing Canada’s social infrastructure” (Hamilton Spectator, March 9, 2022, A12)

The Hamilton Spectator (est. 1846) is published by Metroland Media Group, a division of Torstar.

Photos: Anishnabeg Outreach, David Bebee.

Anishnabeg Outreach CEO Stephen Jackson stands in a teaching lodge with Monica Place executive director Jennifer Breaton at AO’s Kitchener location.
Anishnabeg Outreach CEO Stephen Jackson stands in a teaching lodge with Monica Place executive director Jennifer Breaton at AO’s Kitchener location. Photo: David Bebee / Torstar.
Healing and teaching lodge at Anishnabeg Outreach’s Indigenous Healing Centre, Kitchener. Image: Anishnabeg Outreach.

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