In late September, a six-alarm fire broke out in one of the 18 high-rise buildings in St. Jamestown, a densely populated community in the heart of downtown Toronto. The blaze left 1,500 people homeless – many of them new immigrants and refugees to Canada.
It was into this setting, only days later, that Eagle’s Flight facilitators, Bert Bell and Ben Wohlgemut arrived to deliver a Leader’s Triad seminar requested months earlier by Kevin Moore, pastor at Hope Community Church (formerly 614 St. Jamestown).
“When we got there, the cots were still on the floor,” said Bell, describing the makeshift sleeping quarters Moore had arranged in the congregation’s worship space. “Realizing that Kevin and his church family had been in the midst of crisis was sobering.”
“The experience was still fresh as I entered the workshop,” said Moore. “I was thinking about the type of leadership the community needed as we moved forward to draft both a short- and long-term response.”
While the training proved timely, the reason Moore invited Wohlgemut (Ontario stewardship representative) in the first place was prompted by a different sort of need.
Merger discussions between Hope Community and neighbouring church, The Jesus Network, indicated that the time was ripe to bring the two leadership teams together for an intentionally directed study that would facilitate their melding.
Though they differ in approach, the two urban churches share many similarities: both communities require leaders to live in the neighbourhood, as they seek to extend hope and healing to an economically challenged and ethnically diverse group of people; both are connected to a number of established MB churches in Ontario that support them in their church planting efforts.
“The goal is to become one team serving two neighbourhoods,” said Mike Morris, a leader from The Jesus Network. “We thought it [the seminar] would be a great opportunity for our team to learn some team-building skills and get to know Kevin and his team in the process.”
According to its leaders, this newly formed team aspires to maintain a sense of connectedness, to set measurable goals, and to identify and develop indigenous leaders to help them move forward. “I came away challenged to be clear, to build into others, and to lead,” said Moore.
To be sure, these qualities will serve this downtown community well, especially as it seeks to recover from the devastation of the September fire. In November, Moore reported that less than half of the 1,500 displaced St. Jamestown residents have returned to their homes.
The church is significantly involved with the relief efforts by providing such things as gift certificates, toiletries, food, clothing, counselling, and advocacy. At Thanksgiving, they served a meal at a local hotel. During the Christmas season, they hosted an open house for families affected by the fire.
“The families in this community remain resilient after the fire, and have shown great patience, even as many will not be back home for Christmas,” says Moore. “It is an honour to serve them alongside other community partners dedicated to bringing hope to this community of promise.”