By Marijke Strong
When I sit down with Fred Algera to talk about Place of Grace, his face lights up. Fred and his wife, Fem, are in their 70s and they gladly tell me the story of how Place of Grace was, and continues to be, transformed by God.
Several years ago, the RCA church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, went through a difficult time of leadership turnover and dwindling membership. According to Fred, it was a very low time for the remaining church members, but it was necessary because it was only when they came to a point of desperation and turned to Jesus in a new way that things started to change.
The consistory decided the elders would take on the duties of congregational care, and they contracted a local Baptist pastor, Tim Fletcher, to preach. What they didn’t realize was that he would also show them a new way of being the church. Tim had been known for years in Winnipeg as a teacher in the Finding Freedom addictions program. When he came to Place of Grace, he also brought with him the idea of hosting an addictions program in the church building.
Fred says a change took place in church members’ lives as they opened their building and their hearts to the idea. He explains that sometimes in our culture there’s a stigma attached to addicts, a desire to hold “those people” at arm’s length. And even in a church, people might sometimes say, “Oh, that’s the pastor’s job.” But at Place of Grace, the church members’ hearts had already been softened by what they had gone through, and those men and women, many of them in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, welcomed the program clients with open arms.
It wasn’t easy, Fred is quick to point out. But it was life-changing. A strange thing happens when you open your doors to people who are very different than you are. When all of your love and energy are directed toward seeing someone else’s life transformed by God, nine out of ten times it is your own life that is the most profoundly changed. It’s natural church revitalization. That’s what happened at Place of Grace.
Now the program participants have started attending church and are being baptized. They are being mentored into leadership. Some are volunteering in the kitchen, serving at the new church thrift store, running the PowerPoint projection, or singing in the praise team. They’re even teaching sessions on topics like parenting and grieving. Several are on the Finding Freedom board.
When I ask Fred how he and the congregation have been changed, he laughs and points out the changing church demographics. Then he says, “In the past when I helped people, sometimes I looked for what was in it for me. That’s changed now. Doing this work gives me new purpose. It gives our church new purpose. New life. We have all gone through some difficult times, but now we have a reason to continue with life and to be helpful. Every day is a new day.”
Marijke Strong is executive secretary of the Regional Synod of Canada.