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FALL 2020
 The Gathering Place
   By Jane Thomas, The Gathering Place Presbyterian Church in Port Colborne, Ont.
Sometimes it seems as though the Bible is all about journeys: physical journeys of nomads, shiploads of animals, whale-loads of prophets, waves of itinerant disciples; spir- itual journeys of shepherds, fisher- folk, housewives, aristocrats. It also seems as though few of those trips were undertaken willingly at the out- set—well, except for the Prodigal Son, and that could have turned out worse than it did.
The Presbyterians of The Gather- ing Place Presbyterian Church in Port Colborne, Ont., are also on a jour- ney. Our story is that of many small communities. We flourished when Port Colborne was a heavy-industry town, when church-going was a giv- en, when local people depended on local commerce. Our church build- ing, which resided in the oldest part of the town centre since 1909 (when we were known as First Presbyterian Church), was traditional and pretty, with extensions added over the years for the hall, social centre and chil-
dren’s programs.
But from the 1970s onwards,
heavy industry waned and member- ship aged. By the 2000s, the con- gregation had reduced to fewer than 100 and we faced a future of great change. On top of this, the church building required costly maintenance and repair. Re-roofing the building alone could break the bank, and that was before we tackled the flooded basement and the asbestos. During this time, pastoral duties were being undertaken by an interim minister, the Rev. Larry Beverly.
Our demise was widely predicted, but the congregation chose other- wise. Could it be, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7)?
In 2012, we filled the pastoral va- cancy with a young minister, freshly arrived from Hungary—the Rev. Adam Bartha—who was committed to sticking with us on our quest.
Our choices seemed to be: Option 1, struggle until we disappeared. Op- tion 2, close and disperse immedi- ately. Option 3, seek a development
partnership to share the campus with another venture. Option 4, continue elsewhere on a smaller scale.
We didn’t go at it slapdash. We held congregational meetings with guest facilitators to assess what we really wanted. We winnowed through the options in working groups and congregational questionnaires, deci- sively dismissing Options 1 and 2, prioritizing Option 3, and keeping Op- tion 4 on the back burner.
In grand Presbyterian tradition, a committee was formed.
First, working to Option 3, we consulted with other churches that had gone a similar route. This led to writing our “Request for Proposals” for distribution to potential partners with a view to a campus, including worship space and apartments. We also wrote documentation to present our ideas to the presbytery knowing that—whatever materialized—we would need support in transition- ing, both in terms of a new building and congregational “culture.” The response to our idea for a church/ developer partnership only attracted one enquiry. Among other problems, the property proved to be too small to
provide a financially sustainable mix. Still, we were determined to re- main a church family, so we turned our efforts to Option 4. Congregants toured empty spaces and explored shared facilities with other denomi- nations. We settled on a city centre space that was formerly a dollar store. With this decision, we put our home of 149 years on the market and
sold it in short order.
The dollar store was revamped
and made into a multi-function space with an office, kitchenette, wash- rooms, a storeroom and basement Sunday School room.
We held our first service at The Gathering Place in February 2018. Did the entire congregation make the move? No, some felt the wrench of relocation too great and left—al- though some have returned. Is the new space enough? Again, no, we miss the catering facilities and the fundraising opportunities these facili- ties provided as we put on some great dinners, cooking classes, teas, etc. Sharing one space also means we’re sometimes falling over each other.
And then there’s the “but.” And it’s a big “but.”
Being on the main thoroughfare, we are discovering that we can of- fer outreach to new people through kids’ activities, environmental events, carol singalongs, and generally open doors. We are making new friends among the dog walkers, the mer- chants and people simply passing by on the street. And though there’s less room, we have done some crackin’ good potlucks, soup Sundays and fu- neral receptions in our current space.
The pandemic has shot us into the techno-world. In a matter of weeks, we have gone from traditional ser- vices to online services on our own YouTube channel (The Gathering Place Port Colborne) and online Bible study/coffee morning meet ups. And guess what? Our viewing figures are actually higher than our own mem- bership numbers were, our givings are still on track and congregants are dreaming up new ideas for a new normal.
It’s a long—and bumpy—road, asking for great change and commit- ment. It’s a work in progress, but it’s God’s work, and we’re learning as we go.
  New Program Coordinator for Sexuality & Inclusion
 Carragh Erhardt, Program Coordinator, Sexuality and Inclusion
The Assembly Council allocated funds in July to support a staff po- sition to help the church fulfill the decisions and statements it has made about sexuality, orientation and gender. The Life and Mission Agency is pleased to announce that Carragh Erhardt has been hired on a fixed term contract to assist with this work as the Program Coordi- nator for Sexuality and Inclusion. In this position, Carragh will be responsible for coordinating and
ensuring the overall effectiveness of a program that helps the PCC welcome one another as Christ has welcomed each of us.
Carragh will work with Sessions, presbyteries, committees and agencies of the PCC to help bring to life the decisions, letters and state- ments related to sexuality, orienta- tion, gender identity and faith that the church has made and will yet make.
Over the past few years, Carragh
has served the church through her work with Justice Ministries, with a focus on suppor ting healing and reconciliation initiatives and Indig- enous rights advocacy. Carragh is a relationship builder and is ex- perienced in facilitating creative, engaging, positive and meaningful conversations on challenging is- sues as they relate to the church.
Carragh shared: “As a Christian who is bisexual, my faith journey has been deeply interwoven with
acknowledging and embracing my sexuality. I’m grateful for the faith leaders, both within and out- side of the LGBTQI+ community, who have encouraged me. I look forward to being a resource and suppor t for others as Presbyterian ministries seek to become more in- clusive communities.”
To learn more about this work or to contact Carragh, visit presbyterian. ca/sexuality.

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