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James North: the Church with an Affordable Housing Complex

Editors’ note: 

Pastor and TGC Canada Council Member Dwayne Cline gives background as to why his church’s new building has been built along with affordable housing. If you click the image above this note, you can see a video that provides further background to this amazing story.

‘Pastor Dwayne,’ Patrick called out to me, ‘You’ve got to see what the Lord showed me this week.’ Patrick, who struggled with various diagnosed mental health issues pulled out his pad of paper and pen to tell me about his trip to Israel this past week and how the alignment of the birds and rainbows are in a pattern revealing Christ’s return.

Patrick lived between friends’ couches, the street, abandoned buildings, and shelters. Regardless of how many shoes we bought him, he walked the streets of Hamilton barefoot. He had never been to Israel. Patrick worshiped with us for several years and I was often at a loss as to how to best care for him in a gospel-centered way that allowed him to flourish both spiritually and practically.

I grew up in rural Ontario, just outside of Hamilton where in my teen years I worked for a couple of farmers and the only plumber in town. I never considered that God would call me to minister in the heart of one of Canada’s poorest urban communities. When I came here 26 years ago, the North End of Hamilton was the third poorest community in Canada.

I didn’t understand the complexities of the city, the crippling effects of poverty, or the complications of urban ministry. Refugees escaping torture and brutality live here, immigrants looking for a better life move here, the cyclically poor live here – some who would like to work but can’t find employment and some who don’t have the capacity to work as well as some of Hamilton’s wealthiest individuals and families.

James North Baptist Church was established in 1887 and after experiencing decades of decline was contemplating closing its doors in the late 1980s. We had worshiped and served God in a small, land-locked facility from 1909 until 2020 that rested largely on a dirt basement.

In our early years, we wrestled with a variety of passages including Isaiah 1 and 58, and Luke 14:1–24; we struggled to understand what it means to look after orphans and widows in their distress from James 1 as well as the truths from James 2. James 2:14–17 reminds us:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’ We contemplated God’s calling on our lives to live both compassionately and justly in a Gospel-centered way.

There are innumerable instances of need. I recall a couple of years ago when we discovered that one of the families we were assisting at Christmas needed additional help. I found out that the 9-year-old son didn’t have winter boots. He told me his mom couldn’t afford them right now. We met with her in her two-bedroom basement apartment where 5 of them lived – her and her 4 boys.

They had lived the suburban life and until her husband met another woman and left her and the kids to start a new life in another country to avoid paying child support. English was her second language and she had no training as she had been home raising the family – they had nothing.

In reaching out to a marginalized community we offer multiple drop-ins, a food and clothing ministry, a summer soccer league as well as a host of other ministries. Core to everything we do is the gospel. We boldly and unashamedly declare the hope we have in Jesus – who cloaked His deity with humanity confining Himself to a women’s womb, lived a sinless life, and gave His life up for us dying on the cross for our sin.

And because He was sinless, He was resurrected having defeated sin, Satan and death. He alone is our hope. We believe the gospel calls us to live our lives radically different than the culture, including the way God calls us to care for the poor.

God provided another property for us in 2011 and we planned to renovate it into a new worship and minister centre. In 2016, as our neighbourhood was gentrifying and several members of our community were being evicted and forced out, making way for larger and more expensive developments we wrested with our part in this story. As we recognized that the lack of affordable housing is a national crisis, we paused to fast and pray, seeking God to ask him what we should do with the property He blessed us with.

The result is a 500 seat gymnatorium and ministry centre where we can worship God, serve Him, and reach this community that also hosts 45 supportive and affordable apartments. 49 people have moved into the predominately one-bedroom apartments. They have moved in from precarious living arrangements including some that were living in the encampments in our city. I invite you to watch this mini-documentary of sorts that chronicles our journey. To God be the glory.

 

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