Story

The Commons is a little church community that lives, works and plays in the inner city neighbourhoods of Hamilton, Ontario. Quite simply, we are a community of people who are committed to making the Kingdom of God tangible in our neighbourhoods. We believe that people should be able to touch it, taste it, see it, sense it. We want to live the “Good News” wherever it is we find ourselves throughout the week. We seek to be part of the rhythms of our city, to be good neighbours, good friends, and good servants.

We like to try and keep things simple at The Commons. We don’t use a lot of big statements or policies. It’s not that formal statements or polices don’t have their place, we just find that their purpose is more often about dividing people rather than uniting people. At The Commons we find it more helpful to focus on our shared values, the things we have in common. Here is how we like to frame our values:

The Commons seeks to humbly follow Jesus through:
Shared Community,
Creative Peace,
& Story Honouring.

Breaking Down Our Values: 

What do you think? You might be thinking, “That sounds great!” More likely you are wondering. “What on earth does that even mean?!?” Well I’m glad you asked. Let’s break this down a little bit.

“The Commons seeks to humbly follow Jesus…” is our umbrella statement. Trying to follow Jesus is at the heart of what we are as a church and it is what our values flow out of. We don’t claim to be perfect and we are all too aware of our flaws, so we are Jesus followers with humility. None of us have it all figured out but we are always seeking to be more like Jesus. We are all “Commoners” on a journey of learning to listen to what the Holy Spirit of God is calling us to next.

“Shared Community” is about living life in relationship. For us, the church is not a building or an event, but rather a collection of people who make up an intentional faith community. We are not just neighbours who live near each other, we are a family that is dependent on each other. As a family we seek to build in practices of relational accountability, vulnerability and mutual support into the fabric of our everyday lives. Shared Community is also about loving the geographic community that we find ourselves a part of. We recognize that societal norms have made our neighbourhoods very transient places and that this is inherently counterproductive to long term community building. We believe that many people in faith communities (including our own) are being called to commit to their neighbourhoods long term, perhaps even for a life time. We also know that some of us are only called to be in Hamilton for a season, so we seek to send people well to where they are called to next as a way of building into our extend family of faith. Being part of a shared community is both local and global.

“Creative Peace” might sound like a strange combination of words at first but it has been our experience that peace & creativity go hand in hand. Peace is not passive, it is a practice that is both active & creative. It isn’t the absence of bad things (like violence & injustice) but rather the beautiful presence of the creative good. Peace is the way things are meant to be. It takes creativity to build and create peace for ourselves, our neighbours, and our planet. Every act of creativity is also an act of peacemaking because it echoes the heart of our Creator and adds something beautifully unique and unexpected to the world. Through creativity we are learning to become a community of “Peace Makers.” We seek to understand each other in our differences and to actively and lovingly work through conflict in an open and honest way that promotes grace and forgiveness. Creative Peace endeavours to give all of us a voice and leaves no one on the margins.  It brings justice and mercy together to creativity see past the way things have been and dream into what might be possible.

“Story Honouring” acknowledges that we all have a back story that is both true and authentic to who we each are. It is the good and the bad times of our lives that have shaped who we are right now. It is so important that we honour each other’s past stories by celebrating and lamenting together. We do this by welcoming people as they are with all the doubts, beauty, quirks, gifts, brokenness and baggage that comes with being human. We also practice story honouring by looking to the stories of Jesus and the people of peace who echo and anticipate the teachings, practices and spirit of Jesus. Thankfully our stories are not static, they are not fully written. Story Honouring is not just about our individual pasts but also our collective future. We seek to honour and live into a shared story of hope. A hope that fosters healing and connection to each other and the divine mystery of God’s love for us.

Our Tribe:

Relationship is really important to us and we are happy to be part of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC).

Mennonites are part of a wider tradition called Anabaptism. There isn’t really one type of Anabaptist or Mennonite. That being said there are three core values that are common to all Anabaptists:

  1. Jesus is the center of our Faith. Practically speaking this means that the bible isn’t a flat book for Anabaptists. There is an emphasis on the teachings, actions, and stories of Jesus (found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). We believe that everything that comes before and after the gospels needs to be interpreted through the lens of Jesus.
  2. Community is the center of our Life. Following Jesus isn’t a solitary adventure. Anabaptists believe that God wants us to live our lives together intentionally. Rather than being a club or an organization, we seek to live life as a family.
  3. Reconciliation is the center of our Work. Reconciliation is a big word that has ties to the idea of peace. For Anabaptists, peace isn’t the absence of conflict or injustice. Peace is the true way things should be. As Anabaptists we work towards reconciliation between nation to nation neighbour to neighbour, and even between God and ourselves.

If you wanted to learn more about Anabaptism a great place to start is the book “Anabaptist Essentials” by Palmer Becker.

Geography is also really important to us and that is why we are part of the TrueCity network of churches in Hamilton. While denominations rally around common traditions, theology and practices, TrueCity rallies around the idea that Hamilton churches should work together for the good of the city. We have found that even if we have differences of opinion on theology that we can still come together to learn from each other.

Our History needs some serious updating.
We are now meeting at St. John’s Lutheran Church
and we are part Mennonite Church Canada.
Those things and other important details coming soon…

…but if you want to dig into “ancient history” keep reading.

Our Journey So Far…

The Commons began in 2001 as a church plant known as The Freeway. Started by a pair of young pastors named Pernell Goodyear and Mark Jefferson, along with a cohort of even younger people, we sought to be a relevant church in a new way. As the group honed in on what it was to live out the kingdom in the current post-modern culture, we established our first six values of Justice, Hope, Beauty, Authenticity, Truth, and Community. In these early days, the value that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue was community. Community, Community, Community! We hung out in each other’s homes; discussed theology at pubs, and threw lots of great block parties with our neighbours as we learned together what it means to follow Jesus. We gathered on Sunday evenings to worship using music, art, poetry, and food to express our faith and encourage a sense of deep, authentic community.  These Sunday Gatherings took place in a variety of spaces – the downtown core, the west-end, and the mountain were all focal points at one time or another in our history.  Then in 2005, we began to see the need for a space of our own to put down roots and felt strongly drawn to the often neglected downtown core of Hamilton.

So, we purchased an old bank building on the corner of King and Wellington and after a lot of hard work we converted it into a not for profit coffee house and third place called The Freeway Coffee House.  Our desire was to be a living, breathing Church rather than be cemented into a brick and mortar building, so it made sense to establish an inviting creative community space in the Beasley neighbourhood. Worship gatherings happened at the coffee house on Sunday nights and during the week the coffee house was a hub of activity with The Freeway hosting concerts, exhibiting art, selling fair trade coffee, and being an open space for people of all walks of life to rub shoulders in.

While still just settling in, this little community of snot nosed kids got a crash course in what it meant to be an emergent church in the downtown core. In January 2006 the Hamilton Spectator published a series of articles that painted a portrait of the Beasley neighbourhood that was frankly disturbing. We learnt that Beasley was the third poorest neighbourhood in Canada at that time. We read stories of how most people don’t choose to live in Beasley, and if they do get a chance to choose, they choose to leave it. (The Hamilton Spectator’s Code Red articles continue to support data pointing to the disparaging poverty present in our city).  Despite this, our “third place” started to grow in popularity and we began to meet many of our neighbourhood friends. As a faith community, we began to see Beasley and the lower city of Hamilton through God’s eyes. Many of our people chose to move into the beautiful lower city neighbourhoods that surrounded the coffee house.  At this same time people from outside of Hamilton were also being called to inner city life and were finding their way into our growing faith community.

In 2010 our long time friend and pastor, Pernell Goodyear felt called to a new stage in his ministry life. Pernell resigned from The Freeway and he and his family left with our community’s love and blessing to do all that God was calling him into.

All through this time, our church community was part of a wider church denomination that tried to support our community as a very new and different way to think about church. We are appreciative of the love and support shown to us by our larger tribe, but it became increasingly apparent over the years that the type of organic, grass roots, emergent, missional church that we are called to be – and the disenfranchised people we are called to reach out to – didn’t fit within the traditional leadership structure of our wider denomination. We understand that for many of our sister churches that this structure works well for them, but in our own context we kept seeing painful signs that the vision and people God has called us to wasn’t compatible within the structure that we found ourselves in.

It was at this time we felt like our community as a whole was also being called into a new place. After a long, open and honest period of discussion and prayer that included all the voices of our community, the leadership team of The Freeway Church Community decided to take a step of faith and ask our community to strike out on a new adventure. This new adventure began in January 2011 when we changed our name to The Commons. We left our original name and building with our namesake The Freeway Coffee House. In this way, the coffee house could function successfully under the direction of our long time partner Lawson Ministries. The Freeway Coffee House is continuing to develop the building as a vital third place in the neighbourhood, as well as using the not for profit business model to expand opportunities for people who are differently abled.

The Commons continues to meet in the Beasley Neighbourhood, but in a new location. On January 23rd, 2011 we began to worship in Living Rock Ministries’ Historic Transit Room. The Living Rock is a resource centre for “youth at risk” and has been an active urban ministry in downtown Hamilton for over 25 years. Back in the day The Transit Room was a music venue that supported much of Hamilton’s underground music scene, so we felt right at home in our new creative environment. We are a church that values relationships and seeks out kindred spirits. The Commons and The Rock share more than just geography – we share many of the same values and a complementary vision for our community. Out of this shared sense of purpose, we officially partnered with Living Rock Ministries in April 2011, as they foster parent us through this time of transition.

So that brings us to today. You might be asking yourself “That is a great story but what are you doing now?” History is a very funny thing and it is so much easier to just describe where you have come from and leave it at that. We honestly don’t know what God has in store for us 10 years, 5 years or even 1 year from now, but we are a church community that can’t stand still. It might make some of us “Commoners” blush to see it written down but when you add it all up we a church that is currently doing a lot of things. We are building deep community with our neighbours. We are mentoring youth who need positive adult role models. We are giving young talented rappers a voice in their city. We are sending people to Bolivia to work with children living with HIV.  We are working with people with developmental disabilities. We are going to art crawl, supporting local shops and playing in bands. We are taking care of each other. We are riding bikes and starting businesses. We are using food banks as well as stocking food banks. We are volunteering. We are eating together, throwing concerts, going camping and playing checkers.  We are planning Spiritual Retreats.  We are taking pictures.  We are civically engaged. We are raising families and making friends. We are building bridges between churches. We are in each other’s homes. We are praying. We are networking. We are laughing & crying together. We are learning, teaching, hurting and healing. We are planting gardens and so much more. But most of all we are looking at our city and seeing the Kingdom of God being realized.