Three years ago, Highland Park Wesleyan Church (Ottawa, Ontario) found itself in the position many churches face: growth wasn’t happening, but the desire to grow and minister to the community was building within the people.
Following the resignation of the senior pastor in the fall of 2019, however, the vision for outreach in the community changed.
“When the pastor resigned, the board looked at the vision [we had for the church], as well as the Great Commission, and started to pray for Highland Park’s future,” Christiane Jastremski said. Jastremski serves as the church coordinator, music director and office administrator for Highland Park.
“It was clear that we needed a big change, and we believed that it would be a very hard job for one person (a potential new pastor) to change everything — the mindset of the people, the building, starting outreach,” Jastremski said.
Much prayer went into how to bring revitalization not only into the church but also within the Ottawa community of Westboro, a neighborhood on the west side of Ottawa where Highland Park is located. Dr. Eric Hallett, district superintendent of the Central Canada District, introduced the idea of a possible adoption by another church, Southgate Church, in Kemptville, Ontario.
“The people of Highland Park want to be more effective in reaching their community. They are a really interesting group of young families, but they haven’t been able to get the traction that they would like in the last few years,” Hallett said.
Southgate had previously adopted another church in the district, Winchester Wesleyan Church of Winchester, Ontario.
“The Winchester church once had been kind of a thriving small-town church, but it had dwindled down to about 15 people and was probably going to have to close,” Hallett said. “And then, the Southgate church adopted the church and renovated the building. Now, post adoption, Southgate is averaging about 150 people in that campus of the church, and it’s thriving once again in that location.”
Hallett said this adoption process is growing in popularity, as larger churches are partnering with smaller, struggling churches to turn them into campuses, so that these campuses can thrive and be a gospel witness in many neighborhoods.
“In Canada, we have too many churches closing, both in the city and the country, and when a thriving church is willing to work with a congregation that needs renewal, that’s when revival happens,” Hallet said. “We don’t want to see churches extinguished; we want to see them renewed and thriving again.”
“When Eric Hallett mentioned the adoption as an option, the board was quite hesitant but decided to explore the option,” Jastremski said. “One meeting with Southgate followed, and we were blown away by how much our vision aligned: to reach people (in Ottawa) and connect them with Christ.”
But some differences of ideas remained threatening the possibility of adoption. Believing the current Highland Park church building didn’t quite fit the needs and vision they had for the church, Southgate suggested selling the church and building in another location.
“The building has a lot of history and means so much to our congregation that we couldn’t imagine selling. Also, we believe that there is a reason why God placed the church in the heart of Westboro,” Jastremski said.
After much brainstorming, and even more prayer, Southgate and Highland Park decided to launch a Southgate Westboro campus and use the current Highland Park church building as a community hub.
“We would love to reach the people in Westboro, and we believe that we can do so by being visible and active in the neighborhood. We need to speak the language of the people, not fight but work with the culture we are living in, make changes and adjust to how church in 2020 looks like and pursue our vision,” Jastremski said.
Highland Park voted “yes” to the adoption mid-April, but it wasn’t an easy decision for many at first.
“It’s been not an easy way to introduce this new concept to the congregation,” Jastremski said. “The leadership team encouraged the people to go on their knees, to take the focus away from themselves and to seek God for guidance. Only he was able to lead us in this direction, through all the ups and downs, to change the hearts of Highland Park’s congregants to take the big risk we are taking.”
“The Highland Park congregation is selflessly willing to turn their church over to Southgate and join with the Southgate mission,” Hallett said. “They weighed out all the options, and they’ve prayed and fasted through this and worked with the Southgate team. They’ve decided to do what we’re praying will bring another renewal.”
Rev. Ben Last, lead pastor of Southgate Church, believes the adoption of Highland Park is yet another example of God opening doors for both churches, and the faith families of Highland Park and Southgate are walking through these doors, trusting God will provide.
“The people of Highland Park Wesleyan Church are great people who love Jesus. All they need is a fresh wind of creativity and the moving of the Holy Spirit,” Last said. “The neighborhood of Westboro is a community of young professionals. The people-to-church ratio is very low for the area. Simply put, the area needs Jesus.”
Highland Park and Southgate will start the relaunch process of the Highland Park adoption following the closures and effects of COVID-19.
Note: Photo was taken prior to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.