Hope Chapel reinvigorated through community initiatives like offering weekday snacks to students

Written by Jane Peck

It’s not quite 7:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, but already I am snapping on the lights and plugging in the five 100-cup hot water urns needed to make 100 litres of hot chocolate. I then head to the kitchen to begin preparing 550 hotdogs. Soon, over 300 hungry students will begin flooding through the doors of the church for their daily lunch break at 10:40 a.m.  

“Where were the pastoral classes in Bible college on how to feed large groups of hungry teenagers?” I’ve wondered to myself more than once.

By 10:00 a.m., I am joined by the other volunteers for the day. These include a retired member of our congregation, a couple of youth pastors from local churches, an Ontario police constable who works regularly with the students, and a handful of community members. Five minutes before the doors open, we stop and pray. We pray that God will continue to use the next hour to show his love to the students through us, that they will find peace and safety in this place, and that we will have opportunities to make meaningful connections.

The school bell rings and the tsunami of students arrive from Collingwood Collegiate Institute across the street and Our Lady of the Bay Catholic students who commit to a ten-minute walk each way just to participate. It’s like trying to drink out of a fire hydrant!” a first-time volunteer exclaimed. 

Some students take their free hotdogs and hot chocolate to go, but roughly a third choose to stick around. The sanctuary looks more like a coffee shop with its couches and overstuffed armchairs, as well as more traditional cafeteria-style seating. The church pulses with energy and noise during this fast-paced lunch service.  

But something remarkable is also transpiring. God is at work! We don’t preach; we don’t carry a hidden agenda; we just love these kids. We offer a free meal once a week and homemade cookies the other four school days. And, as we develop relationships with the students and listen to their stories, we have opportunities to invite them into our stories too.

Simply opening our church doors five days a week has helped us see the Holy Spirit at work, softening the soil of hard hearts. Students who knew nothing of God and had only the movie stereotypes on which to base their understanding of church are asking questions and even getting involved in activities at the various churches in our community. God has shown us that our role in kingdom work is to love these students so that they in turn may develop an increased receptivity to His life-giving message. 

But this isn’t the only work God has been doing. Less than ten years ago our church, Hope Chapel in Collingwood, Ont., was being encouraged to consider shutting down. The small congregation had become insular, so focused on survival it had become invisible to the wider community.  

When I became the pastor in 2020, it was clear to me the church needed to return to Jesus’ mandate to love our neighbours. We began the process of intentionally looking for needs to fill. We began focusing on services to others rather than our survival. And God has done a miracle; he has breathed new life into Hope Chapel.      

In the last four years, we engaged in a Good Neighbour Initiative that had us delivering small mailbox encouragements to 75 households in our neighbourhood each month during two years of Covid restrictions. We also implemented a Community Cupboard which allows those in need to access food, clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and small household items for free. We now provide our church’s space to other like-minded groups at little to no cost.     

Hope Chapel’s resurrection began with surrender: surrendering our traditions, our idea of how a church is to function and, most importantly, surrendering our future into the hands of our heavenly Father.

Just last month, we received a note from a neighbour thanking us for “taking great care of our community!” God has taken a dying church and raised it to a new life.

I am left in awe by what I witness God doing among the students, our community, and our local churches because we chose to let go and let God have His way. It is a privilege just to be able to have a part in the Kingdom work God is doing in our area. We truly serve a great God, and I know He deserves all the credit for transforming our church into a centre of community care.

Jane Peck is an ordained minister with the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. She and her husband live in Stayner, Ont., and they have one adult daughter.