By Jessica Lovell
Sunday services will continue to animate the sanctuary at Norfolk Street United Church for the next couple of years, but when the congregation moves out, the old stone church’s new owners do not necessarily have similar plans to preach from the downtown pulpit.
“We have a list of things that we believe this facility could be used for,” said Lakeside Church’s Pastor Dave Ralph.
Lakeside, a Christian church, recently announced plans to buy the 175-year-old Norfolk church for $1 million. Though Lakeside hasn’t ruled out the possibility of operating the downtown church as a satellite and offering Sunday worship services there, it would only do so “if we thought it was the best strategic decision for Lakeside and for the people of the city of Guelph,” said Ralph.
Currently, Lakeside’s main plan for the church is to make it the home of a charity called Lakeside HOPE House, with HOPE standing for Helping Overcome Poverty Everywhere.
HOPE House will be an extension of Lakeside’s care ministry and will house the church’s food pantry, which served almost 2,000 people last year, said Ralph.
Though the sale is set to be finalized on June 30, the Norfolk congregation will continue to hold its services in the church while it works out plans to merge with another local congregation.
Norfolk has been involved in parallel talks with Dublin Street United and Trinity United, said Norfolk’s council chair Allan Knapp. “Probably for the last 10 years, we have been in a state of decline in attendance,” said Knapp, adding “it affects our income as well.”
Though the church was not listed for sale, it was approached by Lakeside and agreed to sell, believing it was the right thing for the congregation.
“The congregation feels sad that we need to close our church here, but they are resigned to the fact that it’s a necessary thing that we’re doing,” said Knapp.
He couldn’t say whether the council was leaning more toward merging with Trinity or with Dublin, but noted that Dublin was originally a daughter church of Norfolk that opened decades ago to meet the demands of a swelling congregation.
“They’re a downtown church, too,” said Knapp of Dublin United.
Norfolk has been given between two and three years to decide what its next step will be.
Some of the other organizations that use the Norfolk space have less time.
St. Joseph’s Health Centre, which operates day programs at the church, is a major tenant and will be staying for the long term, said Ralph.
“Everyone else who is a tenant was given notice,” he said. That includes the Lilliput Land Nursery School, which will have to leave this summer to make way for Lakeside’s food pantry, said Ralph.
Other programs that have had notice may still end up operating at the church, if Lakeside finds it can still accommodate them, he said. Alcoholics Anonymous is one such program that will likely continue to hold its meetings there.
Besides the food pantry, Lakeside HOPE House will be looking to provide services that fill gaps rather than duplicate services already provided in the city, said Ralph.
“Our mission is to help people in their need and help them to find independence,” he said.
The church participates in a variety of ongoing projects and partnerships with community support agencies. The projects include a back-to-school backpack program, and providing seasonal clothing to people in need. Many of the people served by its care ministry will benefit from its move to the downtown location, said Ralph.
“We’re trying to go where it’s easier and more accessible,” he said.
Lakeside, unlike Norfolk, has continued to expand the size of its congregation, with an estimated 2,500 people who consider Lakeside their home church, said Ralph. He believes the church will have no trouble raising the $1-million purchase price.