Hope Chapel is an EMC church in Collingwood, Ontario, first established in 1897, now at its current location since 1957. When Jane Peck stepped into the pastor role in July 2020, the small congregation had been struggling to stay on its feet for a number of years. Many had left to worship elsewhere, but new people had also joined during that same time. By summer of 2020, there were no attendees who had been there for more than 5 years, save one. “God was preparing us to start something new,” says Pastor Jane. 

Noting that the church was no longer viewed as being a needed part of the neighbourhood, having become focused on attempts to just stay afloat, Jane felt a rising burden to see this change. “We have to stop focusing on survival,” she told the congregation. “We need to focus on service.” It wasn’t necessary to look very far for a place to begin.

If this isn’t the way Lord, put on the brakes!

Hope Chapel stands directly across the street from a high school with a student population of 1600. “I get big ideas, and I ask the Lord to put the brakes on if I’m not going in the right way,” says Pastor Jane. “I felt we needed to provide a safe space for students to come to relax, have a bite to eat, and hang out during lunch break, and sometimes after school.” The congregation of approximately 40 adults is geographically spread out, and don’t all live in Collingwood. When they first heard this idea they were willing to try, but uncertain how to make it happen. “I was committed to it, so I decided to show them.” 

At the beginning of the new school year, Pastor Jane and a handful of other willing volunteers were out at the end of the street with a table set up with homemade cookies and a variety of drinks. “Hi. Come and have a cookie and a drink…they’re free!” This was the beginning of a ministry that is growing and is a welcome part of the day for many students. Always with at least two adult volunteers, they soon began inviting the students inside. “We learn their names, make them feel welcome, and engage them at their level of comfort.”  

Stronger Together

The staff of Youth for Christ had joined together with Pastor Jane in this daily connection with the students, but they knew they would need more partner volunteers.  The congregation couldn’t do it alone but they have been united in prayer and support of this work with students. The partnership with Youth for Christ has been made possible through the provision of office space in the church building, which has facilitated their involvement since the outset. Hope Chapel is part of a local ministerial with other area churches and three of these jumped onboard to help.

The shape of service at Hope Chapel

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays the church is open for an hour at lunch. The students bring their lunches and the church provides a free cookie and drink and a comfortable place to sit. “Nothing is nailed down in our space,” says Pastor Jane.  “If you need to use it, you’ve got to be able to move it.” Valuing accountability to the church board, Pastor Jane came to them with her request to move sofas into half of the sanctuary. The other half is set up with tables and chairs. There is even a microwave. Taking service even a step further, the volunteers prepare and serve a free hot dog lunch every Wednesday. 

Hope Chapel also provides Community Service hours for students after school. The church has a Community Cupboard where food, clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies and small household items are stored, to be given to anyone with a need who drops by. Keeping the donations sorted and organized is one way to earn Community Service hours. Baking cookies with Pastor Jane after school for use during the lunch hours is another. One student has asked to help each day during lunch as a server and he is the beginning of students serving students.

Why are you doing this?

Although some just pick up their food and leave, many others are regulars who stay, and Pastor Jane has heard, “Why are you doing this? Why are you so nice?” Her response points to her high value for developing  caring relationships and being open about her motivations.  “I’ve explained that when I was their age, if someone had done this for me, I would have loved it, and I mention that it says in the Bible that we should treat others the way we want to be treated.”

The volunteers field questions about faith and God as they come up; however, this is not the starting point. Pastor Jane describes it like this, “Any time you are building a relationship, you don’t start off by getting married.” We get to know them, remember details like how they take their coffee, have fun with them, play games. We let them initiate conversations. For students with expressed questions, the plan is to offer a once a week small group to explore these together. Dreaming big, Pastor Jane says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the students themselves someday become the catalysts for a youth church?” 

Blessed to give

The shift from surviving to serving has been life-giving for the Hope Chapel congregation that is seeing God provide in so many ways: in volunteers, in finances as they chose to give a percentage of the money from the sale of their parsonage to this ministry, and as random donations come in from people who have seen what is happening and want to be a part of it. 

Loving God by our service

“We can say we have all the faith in the world,” says Pastor Jane, “but if we aren’t serving, He will say, I didn’t know you. God tells us we need to love our neighbour, which is how we show we love Him. God is serious about calling us to serve.”

Pastor Jane bubbles over with enthusiasm as we talk. “What brings you joy, Jane?” “All of it. Seeing needs met; the encouragement it is for people. We can’t serve all of Collingwood, but we can certainly help all who come in through our doors.”

Ponder Points

Is your church considering a new ministry to youth in your area? There were many questions to consider and answer along the way for Pastor Jane and the other leaders. The following is a sampling gleaned from our conversation, just to get you thinking.

The volunteer partners

  1. Are there churches or organizations you already partner with for special events and have a current relationship with?
  2. “Christian” is a big umbrella. Working together requires acknowledgement that none of us has all the answers. Partnership requires an element of grace and a commitment to make it work.
  3. Due diligence is vital when accepting volunteers. Churches must require volunteers to be trained and screened for abuse prevention to work with children, youth, and vulnerable adults. 
  4. It is good for volunteers from different denominations or organizations to serve together. Our ministry to others is only made richer when we develop relationships among volunteers, too.

The building

  1. Sometimes things get damaged or broken. It is important to answer the question, “Who owns the building, us or God?” So what if a little coffee hits the floor? How can that possibly compare to providing space where relationships can grow and where we can show the love of God to others?
  2. When opening your building and inviting the students in, you must work to make it a safe place. Know how you will accomplish this.  Don’t make available more space than can be monitored well.  

 The students

  1. Get to know them. Let them initiate conversation topics. Have some ‘casual conversation’ starters for those awkward starts.
  2. The students must know the clear parameters you have set for behaviour in your facility. These must be applied consistently and fairly.  They will read ‘favouritism’ into interactions if your response to one student is different from another.
  3. Issues must be addressed when they come up. The students must be held accountable but in a way that doesn’t burn the bridge to relationship. Always be respectful, even when the need for correction arises.

Jane Peck pastors at Hope Chapel, Collingwood, ON