Published January 2001 in Christian News Ottawa
A Pentecostal church has moved into Vanier with an eye to revitalizing the inner city. At a recent Sunday service at City Church on Carillon Street, Pastor Eric Deschamps exhorted his congregation to “invest” in the community surrounding the building, which is located in one of the poorest areas of Ottawa.
Deschamps says Vanier has the highest crime rate per capita in the city and has a reputation for blatant prostitution, pornography parlors and strip joints. However, the pastor reminded his congregation that there is work to be done before the church will be seen as an attractive alternative. “We must invest before we can invite. We forget the first step too often,” he said.
City Church recently purchased a former Roman Catholic Church. Our Lady of the Holy Spirit had been closed by the Catholic diocese due to changing demographics in the area. The building’s magnificent stained glass window depicting the risen Christ stood shrouded in darkness for several years.
Meanwhile, City Church (then known as the Downtown Church), which was started in 1993 by the Life Centre with a mission of reaching Ottawa’s inner city, was struggling to find a permanent home.
Immigrants, students and street people followed as the church moved from place to place for seven years. “You had to be smart to attend our church – smart enough to find us,” Deschamps jokes. However, the constant shuffling around was beginning to wear on the staff.
The first reaction when the empty Catholic church was brought up as a potential new home for City Church was negative – the building was perceived as being too big, too fancy and probably too expensive for what City Church saw as its mission. Their lively services, short on formality and long on upbeat music and friendly outreach, provided a comfortable space for the dispossessed and lonely.
“Our worship team tries to reach out to hurting and broken people and create an atmosphere where trust can be developed. Eric’s sermons build people up and create hope,” says Pastor Russ Paquette, worship team leader and director of Christian education.
However, they put in an offer that they could afford – $300,000. Much to their surprise, the offer was accepted and the beautiful building was theirs. And the Catholic diocese is pleased with the new owners of its former church.
“It was good for us to be able to sell the property to City Church. It was costly to maintain the building and there were repairs that needed to be done. We were no longer able to afford it,” says Archdiocese representative Guy Levac. “It would have been nice to keep it as a Catholic church, but since we couldn’t, it is good that another church could go in there. We are at peace with that.”
There was a lot of work to be done before the church was ready for its official opening. The pastors rolled up their sleeves and painted out the entire building. The sanctuary ceiling needed insulation, a new stairwell was required and carpeting was laid. Deschamps cleaned several years of city grime from the stained glass windows, which now glow with their original beauty.
Deschamps, his staff and the congregation of 200 members have come to terms with the physical beauty of the building, growing to appreciate the setting more as time goes by.
“This area of town is looked down upon for its crime, prostitution and drugs. We sensed the Lord was telling us this building is a sign of how important and precious the people here are to Him, that they deserve more than a hole in the wall,” he says.
Deschamps has a long history in Vanier and a family link to the Church. His once-Catholic parents formerly lived on Deschamps Street, just around the corner from City church. His sister was actually baptized at the Church when it was known as Our Lady of the Holy Spirit.
“I’ve come full circle,” he says with a smile.
He estimates that over 35 nations are represented in his congregation, including several African and Caribbean countries. He is awed as the congregation’s dedication to the church. At the opening celebration service, people gave $230,000 toward paying down the church mortgage. “People took on second jobs, cancelled vacations and gave us money they had saved to buy homes. Their willingness was amazing,” he says.
As a result of this sacrificial giving, the only mortgage the church carries is a loan it took out for building renovations. This means more funds are available for what City Church sees as its primary mission – outreach to the community around it.
“From the outset of our congregation’s existence, 1 Corinthians 2:9 has been our life scripture. It states, ‘However, as it is written, no eye has seen , no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him,’” Deschamps says.
City Church is located at 155 Carillon St. Services are Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. For more information, call 613.740.0607 or visit www.citychurch.net