We planted St. Croix Vineyard in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, on October 4, 1992. We often felt an affinity to St. Francis as we tried to care for poorer folks around us and to be available to those in need, but it was almost a decade before we realized that we had planted the church on his feast day. That surprised us. As the years passed we continued to hope that our love of God would somehow help to bring a better quality of life to people in our area. We tried to build a vibrant and positive sense of community as an antidote to loneliness, and we dreamed that economic conditions would improve for our town and the people in it. Once we brought a child psychiatrist from England to teach about parenting and we offered her to local social workers for a day of training. They said, “Why would you, being a church, offer us something that we would actually like? And why would you do this for free?” It suddenly hit us that we had been offering the people in town things that we would like rather than things that would mean something to them. Our questions regarding meaningful mission began to change.
The first area where we thought we could contribute to life in general in our valley had to do with a sense of depression, economic and otherwise, that often filtered through conversations. Our area is quite rural and suffers from most of the maladies of small-town Maritime life. But there were many good people from all sorts of backgrounds who didn’t want it to stay that way. People from our church began to help on committees, local boards and strategic planning sessions. Some also became involved with the chamber of commerce. Many took part in local fund-raising efforts for things that would enhance the town. Over time, some of our members were asked to re-brand the town, to make a new website, and to join in teaching entrepreneurial skills to business hopefuls. Things began to change. A twelve-year effort, collaborative with many groups, produced a 21 million dollar civic centre in the heart of town. A new-style café came into existence with espresso and excellent baked goods. Now a new brew-pub restaurant is being built inside the old train station and several national franchises are being established. Old apartment buildings that looked as though they would rot away are being restored. More businesses than I can take the time to describe are in the planning stages or are already underway. Quite a few of these are directly or indirectly connected to folks who attend our church.
We did other things, too. We built a significant community garden and invited anyone that would like to participate, and one young man started monthly coffee houses that provided an opportunity for beauty, art and fun. Four years later it’s hard to get a seat or to find a parking space near our building on the second Friday of the month. Now we are working with many others to bring some Syrian refugees to safety. There are many people volunteering time and money and furniture to make this happen.
Along the way we kept faithfully worshiping on Sundays and praying for needs wherever we saw them and caring for people one at a time. This still goes on. Regular worship services are the pulse and heart of our community as we continue to encourage people to treat everyone with dignity, justice and compassion and to strive to build a better atmosphere in our town. We see all of this as an expression of the kingdom of God. We hope that Francis will be pleased. Beyond that, we’re hoping that Jesus and His Father are smiling at all the activity. We think that they are the ones that are empowering it.