Living Spirit United Church Looks to the Future Amidst a Pandemic

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR WHAT COMES NEXT

In this update, Living Spirit United Church (LSUC) and Chinook Winds leadership report to the future plans for LSUC and its building. Thank you to report writers Merle Ann May, LSUC Council Chair (appointed by Chinook Winds); Rev. Shannon Mang, Interim Minister, and Rev. Joel Den Haan, Chinook Winds Community of Faith Strategy Consultant.

Living Spirit United Church

Living Spirit United Church in Calgary came together in 2002 with a brave vision for new ministry south of the Bow River. That vision informed a number of initiatives including a significant commitment to Affirming ministry and strong connections to the Windsor Park community around the church. After a challenging period, however, the congregation began in 2017 to discern its next steps forward, with Interim ministry appointments and ongoing support from Calgary Presbytery and then its successor, Chinook Winds Region.

Living Spirit leaders have been innovative in seeking out and speaking with a range of community partners. Chinook Winds Region facilitated discussions with community groups, as well as assisting Living Spirit to open discussions with other United Church participants seeking renewed outreach opportunities in the city. Dialogue with Hillhurst United Church in particular moved ahead with diligence and commitment in late 2019, seeking a new approach to mission that would retain Living Spirit’s community location and presence while adding renewed energy and capacity from a neighbouring, growing church.

…And then we all faced the reality of COVID-19 beginning in March of 2020.  Many of you will have heard the story of Living Spirit’s battle with a COVID-19 outbreak in March which took its toll regardless of the care by which participants sought to manage the coronavirus in their midst. Living Spirit participants mourned the loss of two members to COVID-19 in spring 2020.  The congregation, with the support of Chinook Winds Region and Dr. Hinshaw’s office, bravely weathered questions and publicity that emerged around its experiences. 

Meanwhile, online ministry at Hillhurst, Living Spirit, and across the church has become a key priority as COVID-19 continues to threaten.  Congregational leaders and Chinook Winds Region have had to consider emerging realities in a new way this Fall.  Like many organizations in these times, we have had to “pivot” and change course. With the realities of the pandemic, the track to merge ended. LSUC reverted to the earlier option of closure.  HUC offered the gift of hospitality to LSUC participants.  

By the grace of God, however, Living Spirit participants and Chinook Winds Region have in fact been able to create a way forward, where there might have been no way.

The first and most difficult step on this new pathway is taking shape at the end of 2020, when Living Spirit United Church will disband as a community of faith within The United Church of Canada. LSUC participants have been faithful, careful, and honest about bringing their faith community to an end in its present form. The leadership of the Church Council and Intentional Interim minister Rev. Shannon Mang has been courageous.  On December 13, 2020, Chinook Winds Region and Living Spirit United Church will mark the congregation’s disbandment with a meaningful online service, opening the way for next steps in the journey to unfold.

Living Spirit United Church choir, Calgary
Living Spirit’s Choir, directed by Amanda Massey, continues to practice via Zoom and will have a choral performance online on December 20, 2020. The choir will continue to have weekly singing sessions into the New Year. Check out the story on Global Calgary that includes an update on Living Spirit’s pianist, Greg Massey’s recovery from COVID-19.

Here, though, is where an important innovation will take shape: through the guidance of Chinook Winds Region Executive Minister Treena Duncan, Living Spirit United Church representatives have been authorized not to close or sell their church facility. Rather, Chinook Winds Region’s Property and New Church Development Council will assume trusteeship of the building effective January 1, 2021.  Chinook Winds Region, the New Church Development Council, and other stakeholders will then work intentionally to plan future directions from the Living Spirit location. This work will be done while respecting agreements with community groups who have established connections with Living Spirit.

Community of Faith Strategy Consultant Joel Den Haan is working with a range of legal and planning tools that will allow this innovative relationship to unfold in 2021.  Existing Living Spirit Trustees have also agreed to continue supporting the process as needed, as we move into this time of metamorphosis.  The net result is that Living Spirit United Church will officially end on 31 December, and its participants will be offered opportunities to engage with any community of faith they wish including HUC. But the ministry opportunity in Southwest Calgary will remain available to The United Church of Canada from the Living Spirit location.