Elise Stolte: Mill Woods church takes a cross off the wall to welcome Muslims, Sikhs,” by Elise Stolte, Edmonton Journal, December 26, 2018 (thanks to E.):
They took the cross off the church wall.
That’s the detail that caught my attention when I heard about the Millbourne Community Life Center, a church that reinvented itself as a neighborhood meeting space, open to anyone, and a drop-in center for youth in what is sometimes a rough neighborhood.
These days, the world can seem so polarized. To see the centre take down such a significant religious symbol to ensure Muslim and Sikh neighbours feel welcome is a beautiful gesture.
Today, the building at 2101 Millbourne Road West, in Mill Woods, hosts a long list of activities run by different partners. The mix includes English as a second language classes, a Chinese women’s dance group, a food bank pickup location, various sports camps during the summer, a drop-in program for youth, a medical clinic, a quilting club, a collective kitchen and more.
The soccer team formed by nurses from the nearby Grey Nuns Hospital have practices in the gym. Youth Unlimited took over the basement, renovating it to create a concert venue, a video game nook and a recording studio.
The centre also hosts three different Christian groups who worship there on Sundays — a Punjabi service, a Filipino service and an English-speaking church called City South. I ask if the centre would let a neighbourhood group of a different religion use the space for worship, but that seems to be where they draw the line.
No, says Tim Cook, the on-site director. “When it comes to teaching and leading a religion in our facility, we’d have a hard time.”
I’m curious if that will ever change. After all, the centre has seen significant shifts in its 50-year history, and has adapted to them. It’s in an old building that was once known as the Millbourne Alliance Church. But, as is the case with so many mainstream Christian churches in Edmonton, the congregation gradually aged and dwindled to the point where it could no longer afford to keep the doors open.
In 2011, the nearby South Edmonton Alliance Church agreed to sponsor an effort to reuse the building, paying Cook’s salary. Every group that expresses interest in using the space is welcomed as a partner. Groups pay what they can and, so far, it’s been enough to cover the utilities and basic maintenance. Still, no one is quite sure how to repair the gym roof (it leaks) or replace the old, inefficient furnace.