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Christian community equity housing co-op as a way of re-imagining church

Since our inception, the Emmaus Community has been seeking to live our neo-monastic vows or promises of prayer, presence and simplicity—and to live them together, in one place.   

A few years back, as our community grew, we started to talk seriously about living life together in physical proximity. Would we buy houses in a common neighbourhood as other neo-monastic communities have done? Rent an apartment block?  

Well, we quickly learned that the housing market in Victoria makes these options next to impossible, save for a choice few—and our membership is economically diverse; ranging from home owners to renting students to homeless folk; young families and single folk and retirees.  As we started to put our collective prayers and hearts and minds together, the idea of a housing cooperative, perhaps built on surplus church land, was born.

After visits and conversations with folks who’ve done things that resonate with us such as Co:Here Housing, RareBirds Housing Cooperative, East Van Co-Housing, The Cooperative Housing Federation of BC, Parish Collective, The United Church of Canada’s EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development and the Co-Op Vision & Strategy folks—and with VanCity about their Co-Op Home Loan Program—we have all but settled on a model—polity and financial plan—that we feel can make this work and will be sustainable—and have set in motion the registering of the “Burning Hearts Housing Co-op” with the Province of BC.  We approached diocesan council in the summer of 2019 with this idea and were given the green light to have conversations with parishes about securing a long-term lease for a ‘community hub’ We presented a piece that articulates a vision where an emerging Christian community could live life together and ‘go from temple to table’ (Acts 2) daily, and come alongside what God is already doing in our neighbourhood. Partnering with a parish is what will make this project doable in the city.   

As we’ve since spoken about this idea with folks across generations and social location, there has been a lot of growing excitement about re-imaging church in a most ancient of ways; coming alongside the more established ways of the parish in doing this. Admittedly, we’re still at the very early stages of this—working with a lawyer to articulate the rules of association of the co-op, having conversations about a location, and doing the internal community formation work which will be the necessary bedrock of this project. We still don’t know what the space will look like. 

In addition to 8-10 units of housing for families and individuals, we imagine a ‘cloister walk’, a playground, community gardens, a small guest house, a library, offices for work and spiritual direction, spaces for neighbourhood use—and a memorandum of understanding with whichever parish church we partner with for mutual space use for prayer and worship and community gathering.

And as fun as it is to imagine, we know that the ‘nuts and bolts’ work will be tough; neighbourhood consultation, re-zoning, forming community, articulating polity, designing a space, financing and developing in the midst of a pandemic is a challenge. However, we believe that, led by God’s Holy Spirit it is the current state of the church, politics and the world that open our hearts to a new way of being church. To this point, Archbishop Mark McDonald, in a recent Anglican Journal article wrote: “We can grow by becoming smaller, in receiving and living the Word in sustainable and replicable communities of care and discipleship. Some of our remaining buildings will become launching pads for the multiplication of smaller communities of disciples across the land and throughout society.”   

This is our dream. Can we lean on some of our existing resources to foster new and renewed ways of being church? We’re grateful to the diocesan Vision Fund and the United Church of Canada Foundation for seeding this audacious hope with generous grants.