Photo: Mjrs Glenda and Brian Bishop, corps officers at The Salvation Army’s Northridge Community Church in Aurora, Ont.
In 2016, The Salvation Army’s Northridge Community Church in Aurora, Ont., moved into a new building, designed with the community in mind, embracing their motto “A place to begin, belong and become.” “The design was so intentional that we decided to postpone building the sanctuary so we could have a full-sized high school gym, which also serves as our current worship space,” says Major Brian Bishop, corps officer. The sanctuary will be phase two of the development project, with construction anticipated to begin in 2020.
“Whether or not it’s things that occur at the church or offsite—such as inviting students to our basketball league on Saturday mornings, or our Red Cap and Mercy Street youth mobile outreach in local schools—we want those community elements to take priority,” says Major Bishop. “To impact our community with God’s love, our vision has been to integrate our church and community ministries.”
Ray Varkki, Northridge’s community capacity development co-ordinator, agrees. “A lot of people who walk in the doors looking for assistance don’t know that The Salvation Army is a church,” he says. “What we’re doing in community and family services is about planting seeds, inviting people to explore. We’re trying to connect people in the community with what we’re doing as a church. If I was going to use one word, it would be bridge.”
And it’s working. Since 2015, Sunday attendance has increased more than 100 per cent. This past January, Northridge celebrated as close to 30 people enrolled as members. The following photos are a window into this thriving corps.
When people come to Northridge’s family help centre in need of food, clothing or community referrals, they find Brian and Betty Chatterton waiting with fresh coffee and cookies. “Everybody who comes through that door gets a hug and a smile,” she says. “If they’re new and don’t know what to do—we want them to feel comfortable. So if we play with the kids for a little bit while they fill out the forms, it’s just a little thing, but it means a lot.” The Chattertons also help prepare dinner for the ALPHA program. Cindy Atkinson, a volunteer who attends Northridge, assists Dwayne, who started coming to the family help centre when he got sick and could no longer work. “It’s helping me keep on track with all my bills and food that I can’t afford now,” he says. “It’s been difficult, but these guys are fantastic. They will help you if you fall behind, to get caught back up—to become alive again, because it can be depressing. But since coming here, I’ve been a lot better. They’re always there to help with whatever is needed."
Christine Lawrence helps a client register for the Ontario Electricity Support Program. Along with the family help centre, Northridge’s community services also include a homelessness prevention program and immigration and settlement services. “Northridge serves a large geographic region where there has been an increase in homelessness, addiction, unemployment—a lot of struggling families,” says Ray Varkki.
Boomers and Beyond, a ministry to people 50 and over, meets once a month for an inspirational message or music and to share a meal— with leftovers packaged and delivered to those in need in the group. “Our vision is to see this demographic grow in their faith for Christ and in their love for one another,” says facilitator Heather Pichora. “We want to make the most of this season of our lives and impact those who come behind us in a godly way.” One of the ways they are seeking to close the gap between generations is by pairing participants with a university student, and committing to pray for and support them during the school year. The planning committee, from left, Alex and Rin Van Hemert, Mary Jane Patterson, Jan and Gord Evans, Heather and Geof Pichora, and Joan and Richard Hayward. (Photo: Fred Brown) Sue Allen meets with Giti and Joanna to study the Bible. “We stop and talk about the meaning of words, so we’re using the study to work on vocabulary as well as understand the Bible,” says Allen. After the Bible study, which is usually attended by four to six people, more will join them for a “conversation café”—a chance to practise speaking English. “We’ve had people from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Korea, China, Iran, Mexico and Colombia,” says Allen. “It’s a real mixture, so that’s been neat." On Monday nights, Northridge holds several support and recovery programs, overseen by Terry Wiseman, a registered psychotherapist. Emotional Rescue is a peer support group for those struggling with mood disorders. Kayla Klein has attended for several years. “It has become an important part of my life,” she says. “Having a group of people who have had similar experiences and are struggling with similar things, for us to be there with each other, and lend support to each other, has been helpful for me.” Wiseman believes more people have started attending Northridge through this group than any other program the church offers. In October 2017, they launched Emotional Rescue for Teens to provide a safe space where they can express themselves and find support. Other support groups include anger management, GriefShare, HealingStrong and Recovering Couples Anonymous. Sarah Johnston is ready to serve coffee during Mission Toronto this spring. The senior youth group at Northridge spent five days learning about homelessness, and caught a glimpse of what it would be like. They were given a map of the city and asked to find a meal and a place to sleep for $3. They soon realized it wasn’t an easy task. On another day, the group walked around Toronto, handing out coffee and cookies. (Photo: June Li) A team huddles before a game at the Northridge basketball league tournament. The league, for boys and girls ages 10-13, offers an affordable sports program. W elcoming. Friendly. Community. Fun. These are some of the words parents at the “moms and munchkins” group use to describe the weekly drop-in program. About half of the parents attend Northridge, and the rest come from the community. “I want them to feel that this is their church, even though they might not have a church,” says Sandra Reid, Northridge’s children’s pastor. She also chose the day to coincide with when the food bank is open, to encourage clients to come in with their children. “We let them know about other resources that the church has to offer—such as our summer camps and basketball league." Estelle, Brooke and Capri participate in a nature scavenger hunt with the 1st Northridge Salvation Army Scout Group, a leadership development program based on the principles of duty to God, duty to others and duty to self. Along with learning about the outdoors and earning badges, the three age groups—Wolf Cubs (8-10), Scouts (11-14) and Venturers (15-17)—do community service projects. Last year, they cleaned two kilometres of beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Picton, Ont. They have also raised funds for the youth group’s mission trips. (Photo: Giselle Randall)
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