Instead of our usual devotional blog post for the week, I am using this space to follow up in writing the announcement I made on Sunday regarding the Hollywood Theatre, and to give you a sense of what will be happening in the life of the church as we head into the Winter Term of 2015.
As per my statement on Sunday: for the reasons that I will outline below, the Board and Elders and I have decided not to continue with the purchase of the Hollywood.
As you may recall, this was the second contract we signed to purchase the Theatre; the first one fell through after it became clear the owner could not get what he needed from the City to make it work for him financially. However, some time later we renegotiated the purchase price and eventually signed a second contract.
After completing our due diligence (all the relevant inspections: structural, electrical, mechanical, heritage impact statement, financial analysis, etc), and putting together a design for the necessary renovations to make the Hollywood usable for us (which was outlined at our Special General Meeting about the project), our Architect prepared a submission to the City planning office, which was delivered in September. The submission contained a number of important requests, in particular that in return for maintaining some of the heritage aspects of the building and offering community access to the facility, the city would enable us to change the designated use of the Hollywood from a “theatre” to a “church”; give us the ability to sell our unused density to help cover the renovation costs; and guarantee relaxations on a number of city by-laws (such as parking, among others), as is common with buildings of heritage value.
A few days after our AGM in October, we received a letter from the City planning office responding to our submission, which was sadly, very disappointing. The letter rejected important aspects of our proposed renovations that were necessary for the facility to work as a worship and community space; it required that we double the amount of community access time we were offering (at cost-recovery only); and it did not guarantee the by-law relaxations or the change of use designation we had requested.
After discussing the implications of the letter with our architect, it became very clear that we simply could not proceed with the purchase - the risks were too great. The Board and Elders unanimously resolved at our October 27th meeting not to lift the subjects in the contract by the October 31st deadline. However, when I met with the owner to inform him of our decision, he offered to extend our contract to the end of the year, in the hope that if we had some time to have a follow up meeting with the City planning office we might be able negotiate a different outcome. We agreed to this, but because of the elections in November, it took us a few weeks to get a meeting. When we finally did talk, it was made very clear that the planning office would not be changing its position.
In one last ditch effort, the owner of the Hollywood and I met with one of the city councillors to see if they could help us negotiate a different outcome with the planning office. We made it clear that we could not proceed on the terms provided in the letter. The councillor was sympathetic, and promised to make a few enquiries, but nothing had come of it by the end of the year. Thus, as per our previous Board decision at the end of October, we let the contract lapse, which means we are no longer pursuing a purchase of the Hollywood Theatre.
Undoubtedly this feels like a disappointing outcome, especially after so much work and prayer and money has been invested in trying to make the purchase a reality. Yet, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8, there are many occasions in ministry when we are “perplexed” but that does not mean we must therefore be “given over to despair.” At our special meetings regarding the Hollywood we agreed to pursue it through to its logical conclusion, and it would appear we have reached that point. We remain thankful and hopeful for all God has done, and for all that God is yet to do. The Board, the Elders, and I, are also immensely grateful for all the prayer and support you have given us as we have navigated through this, and in particular, for showing up to the many meetings we had to call along the way!
Where To From Here?
I want to make it clear that God’s purpose for us has never been about the Hollywood Theatre (or any facility for that matter). We have tried to keep this in our minds all the way through the process. Our attitude has been that although the Hollywood is a facility with many problems, and required a lot of upgrading, it seemed to make sense to move there from the perspective of our presence and mission in the neighbourhood. We never thought that our mission in the neighbourhood was dependent on the Theatre, but we could see how it might be enhanced by it. We weren’t sure what the outcome would be, and have been open to God’s leading at every step along the way. Now, while we wait to see if the sale of the Bernice Gerard House at UBC will go ahead as hoped, we are actively waiting and praying for “what’s next” in terms of our long-term facility.
I think it is important for us to remember at this moment that it is not buildings made with human hands that makes the church - as important as they may be for practical purposes - rather, we are the church: “living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) This is our calling. This is our identity. When we first came together in 2012 – two congregations being built together into one – we were guided by the book of Ezra, the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. We felt this was a prophetic image God had given us. This was confirmed again by the prophetic word Mike Beaumont’s friend Bryn Franklin spoke over our church in early 2013. We were encouraged to see the ‘dead’ stones lying around us, that God wanted to gather them in and make them the new living stones for the house God is building among us. Whatever happens from here, wherever God leads us, let’s be praying for the fulfillment of this word. Let’s pray that we become a people ever more filled and empowered by God’s presence, a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and a house where there is room for everyone to participate.
The “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” are only those offered through Jesus Christ, in love, by the empowering presence of the Spirit. Without that – even if we had the best facility we could possibly imagine – we have nothing. As Moses prayed in Exodus 33:15 “If your presence doesn’t go with us, do not bring us up from here!”
Each Sunday as we gather to worship I sense an ever-increasing call for us to go deeper into His glory, deeper into His presence and love. God is wooing us to Himself, reminding us again and again of the immense gift of grace we have received in Jesus Christ. Reminding us of our identity as His children. Let’s take hold of these things and press into Him in prayer and listen to Him in Scripture. Let’s make gathering to worship together a priority each week - it is so crucial for our growth in Christ that we are on the journey together, listening to Him together. It is crucial for the children and young people in our church to be surrounded by passionate adult believers of all ages and stages; your example to them provides the context for their own growth in Christ. Remember, we are not here only for ourselves, but for the health of the church we will give to those who come after us.
What’s Happening This Term?
Alongside our worship gatherings we will continue to focus on building up our Oikos communities; we will be starting the ReFrame course on Sunday nights (and in most of our Oikos); we will be holding some family & parenting workshops; and we are preparing for a beautiful Lent and Easter season: starting with a feast and a Ceilidh dance on “Fat Tuesday”, an Ash Wednesday service the following day, Lent reflections each week of the season via our blog, Seder/Passover meals to mark the beginning of Holy Week, a reflective and interactive Good Friday service, a day of prayer and intercession on Easter Saturday, followed by Baptisms and a big rowdy celebration on Resurrection Sunday! It is going to be an awesome Winter Term.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions about the Hollywood, please feel free to email me and I will do my best to respond.
Grace and Peace,