Churches of all denominations have played a significant role in establishing Edmonton’s earliest communities. For example, Alberta College (the antecedent to MacEwan University) was founded in 1903 by members of MacDougall’s Church board, while Robertson-Wesley United Church was instrumental in nursing sufferers of the Spanish Flu. But what about today? What larger role do they play?
Community-mindedness has never been lost amidst its religious mandates. Take, for instance, the work initiated by a handful of area pastors and reverends working, well, religiously, on projects for the neighbourhood at large—not just Sunday congregants.
Curtis Boehm started using Grace Lutheran Church as a resource for the Oliver community after joining the church in July 2014. In addition to its already well-established yearly garage sale, the pastor started organizing an indoor basketball club for the neighbourhood inside its gym every Tuesday at 7 p.m. He also led the creation of the Oliver Bike Club, which meets weekly from snowmelt to snowfall. “I’m really interested in building community activities so I can meet my neighbours,” Boehm explains, “I want to be a pastor of Oliver!”
Similarly, pastor Nick Trussell of Christ Church successfully applied for a Make Something Oliver (MSO) grant this past June to partially fund BBQ on the Block. This series of four free biweekly barbecues between July and August were well aligned with the OCL’s strategic goals, says MSO director Anika Gee. “The event welcomed all community members, not just those of the church; it made the project even more exciting.” She says Christ Church’s project let neighbourhood residents meet in person and hopefully develop lasting relationships.
Building a better community is also the theme of Robertson-Wesley’s Spirited Art Studio, which is open to creatives of every stripe Monday nights from 7 to 8:30 p.m. According to Karen Bridges, minister of congregation and community development, the free event invites people to come together and create something based on a specific theme or question. “This program is a great network which connects people’s passions and helps them find a way to offer what they have to others,” she says. The goal isn’t far from the ideals held by the Abundant Community Initiative, which Robertson-Wesley sponsored. “We provided funds through our trust fund, which are designated for community outreach.”
“The Church is there for the community,” explains Boehm. “A fellow pastor even recommended I get involved with the OCL as soon as I started.” Though Boehm recently stepped down as OCL’s volunteer director, he says that the connections he’s made have helped him understand his audience better. “Where you live, where you are, where you go,” he says, “that’s where your work is.” And that, for these generous souls, means Oliver.