Photo from flickr by  Nick (CC BY 2.0).

Church outreach heals old hurts and builds bridges in community

OTTAWA, ON–Churches and schools rarely engage with each other these days, but thanks to a creative outreach Gloucester Presbyterian Church, in Ottawa, appears to be the exception to that rule.

Seeking to foster a closer relationship with the community, the congregation picks several days a year to hand out goodies to students and parents passing by on their way home from Roberta Bondar Elementary School, located across the street from the church.

“Years ago, we had parents parking in our parking lot and the minister at that time used to get angry,” says congregation member Carol Patterson. “He would go out and shoo them away. It left some hard feelings.”

Several years ago, the church’s current minister suggested they pick a day and hand out freezies and lemonade to the parents waiting for their children in the church parking lot. As the weather got colder, they repeated the outreach several times, offering hot coffee, tea and homemade cookies. With the congregation’s support, the outreaches became an annual staple.

“Our parking lot is there, why not share it? And it gets the children off the street getting into the cars,” Patterson says. “When we go out, we say we are spreading God’s love and we want them to feel welcome. Quite often they ask us how much it costs. We say, ‘nothing, it’s a gift. We’re glad you’re part of our community.’”

Patterson says the outreach has also made in-roads with the school administration.

“We always have some cookies left over, so our pastor brings them over to the principal and offers to pray with her before they hand out the cookies to the teachers. After that initial contact, the principal approached the pastor because they needed extra parking space for school staff. Now they rent a few spaces from us.”

Denise Allen-Macartney, the church’s pastor, says they’ve had positive feedback from many parents, including the co-chair of the parent’s council.

“Once, she told us, ‘your welcome has transformed the relationship between our school and your church. You are a positive force fostering community in our neighbourhood.’”

Another time a woman they offered coffee to grumbled about not having change, but when she realized it was a gift, she began to cry.

“This has been such a hard day, you have no idea. It’s incredible that you’d do this today,” she told Allen-Macartney.

“We’re glad to be neighbours,” she replied. “We pray for you. God is thinking of you in your hard.”

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About the author

Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.