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3 January 2009

Todays Brantford Expositor

Church moving into mall


Anyone doing a little church shopping will have a new option at the downtown mall where Freedom House is moving its base of operations.

The 22-year-old mall, which has been slowly dissolving its retail base, has welcomed the young church to the lower level of the building, next to some of the City of Brantford offices.

It's a very alternative location for a very alternative church.

"We're a non-denominational, nontraditional, contemporary church ," says lead pastor Brian Beattie, surrounded by construction debris in the shell of the new worship area.

"We want to be where people are, and there are lots of people in the mall."

Although the NCO call centre, with its hundreds of workers, is in the process of moving out of the mall, there are rumours about one or more of the three downtown post-secondary schools tapping into that space.

The 45-year-old Beattie and his team aren't afraid to be revolutionary.

The Market Street church is known to neighbours for its Friday night barbecues, annual Hawaiian night/beach volleyball game (with sand a foot deep in one of the rooms) and the day Beattie "re-vandalized" the front of the building after someone had spray-painted messages on it.

In the mall, Beattie hopes to capitalize on the group's welcoming and informal nature.

The first area that people will walk into will be called the cafe, with some booths and casual seating for hanging out.

"On my wish list is a fireplace and we'll have a bar, because we came from a bar," Beattie says, though it won't serve up alcoholic drinks.

A second lounge is behind the cafe and will include a pool table, foosball and a fireplace.

There aren't a lot of classrooms in this mall-style church: the plan calls for two nurseries and a good-sized room for the "LAFF Academy" a meeting place for grade school kids.

The main worship room is set up to accommodate up to 200 worshippers and, if needed, there's a wall that can be popped out to allow seating for up to 350.

A small kitchen will one day be installed but Beattie prefers to point to the enormous "lobby" the church now has -- the huge, marble-floored hall of the mall, complete with full-sized trees.

"We've got an elevator!" he jokes. "I've never had a church with elevators before."

Beattie says the church -- which has 80 to 100 in attendance most Sundays -- has about 120 people who call it home, but has been restricted by its old building.

The big blue house on Market Street, as it's known, isn't much smaller than the church's new space, but it was unbearably chopped up with no chance of expanding the worship area.

When the church began exploring the idea of a new building, developer Gabriel Kirchberger of G. K. York showed them through many of his buildings and then had a look at the big blue 'house,' advising Beattie that the church should develop it into affordable housing, in partnership with others in the city.


Arranging that partnership, then applying for and receiving government grant money slowed the church's planned move dramatically, but everything is now set for the contents of the old building to be moved to the mall and construction to begin on the new project.

Once home to the Primitive Methodist Church in 1862, the property at 178 Market St. has been through a number of transformations.

It became a Free Methodist church for the latter part of its first century and then, in the '60s, a furniture store.

In the '80s, the Rainforest restaurant moved in and then The Scene, a night club.

Now the building will be converted into 15 apartments, split between two-bedroom and one-bedroom units.

Four of the apartments will be maintained by Nova Vita, which will offer them as second stage housing for clients. G. K. York will manage the other 11 units while the church continues to maintain possession of the building.

"This is part of our overall vision for the community," says Beattie, which includes reaching out to the post-secondary crowd downtown with random acts of kindness.

And, he adds, it will restore old inner core space in a useful way.

Moving a little closer to the core brings Freedom House a little closer to its mandate of establishing a university connection, as well.

Beattie looked at dozens of other buildings around the city, including some beautiful but traditional church buildings, before settling on the space that once housed Bargain Harold's in the mall's lower level.

The 6,000-square-foot area was being used as storage space at the time but has been cleaned out and members are mounting the $15,000 renovation that will transform it into a house of worship.

Most evenings, members gather in the mall to do painting, wall finishing and cleanup work.

The church plans to remain in the space for at least two years and then will evaluate things, based on its growth.

"We're not targeting any particular demographic, like an inner city mission," says Beattie. "We just want to minister to people, reach out and love those around us and share the gospel with them."

The long-term goal is for the new Freedom House to be open to the public at all times, but Beattie knows the church doesn't have the manpower for that yet. Still, the idea is to create a place where people can visit and feel comfortable.

Because the space is on the lower level, the church also felt it important to have a main level presence and will be taking over the old Brant Freenet office, just across from Williams Coffee Pub.

That will give them a mainstream drop-in area and some needed administrative space.

At the end of January, Freedom House will celebrate its fifth anniversary since the church first started.

As part of that, there's a push on to complete the renovations and hold a grand opening of the church's new space.

- - -


WHAT:The grand opening celebration of Freedom House church WHEN:Jan. 24 from 1-5 p. m. for the open house and at 7 p. m. for a celebration worship service

WHERE:On the lower level of the Market Square mall


Patti said...

what a GREAT article!!! Congratulations you guys - was praying for your services yesterday.

So, do you own the space in the mall, or are you leasing it? And you still own the big blue house you're moving out of, just converting it to apartments? I love downtown renewal stuff.

Just trying to figure it out, because I NEED TO KNOW! haha

Dave Carrol said...

Hi Patti thanks! Yeah it was an amazing article.

We're converting the Big Blue House into the apartments and maintaining ownership of the building. We'll be able to use it as a bit of another downtown base to do ministry out of and we'll be able to have some of our people living there too to minister to the neighborhood and we'll be able to make income off the rent.

We have a one year lease at the mall with a second year option. Once those two years are up and the apartments are in full use, we'll be able to better evaluate what the long term location is... but frankly, we'd like to have a bit of a presence in many different areas of the community so keeping a number of bases to do ministry in different areas is not beyond the realm of possibility.

It's a very exciting time really!

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