The Commons is an urban holistic Christian 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 are a community that is defined by our values. The Commons is committed to working together to creatively live out Justice, Hope, Beauty, Authenticity, Truth, Community, and Peace. As we seek to be the community that God is shaping us into, we continually see our values reflected in the life of Jesus and the example that He set during His time on Earth. For us “Commoners”, our values are not just words but rather sign posts that we use to help guide us on our collective journey.
Justice: We live in a world of broken systems that mistreat and hurt many people. We believe that Justice is something that you must actively participate in to bring equity and dignity into people’s everyday lives. We are committed to participating in justice on both a global and local level. We endeavour to give people who have been marginalized a place of belonging and a voice in their city.
Hope: We live in a changing world that is in constant flux. Hope is the spirit that is needed to shape that change into something good. We believe that life is a meaningful event with purpose and that God has amazing things in store for us and our city.
Beauty: We value beauty in all its wonderful forms. We appreciate the natural world as well as the creative people who artistically infuse beauty into our everyday lives. We believe that people are made in the image of their creator and when we participate in creativity, we reflect the beauty and heart of our Maker.
Authenticity: We appreciate that we are all on very unique life journeys and that we don’t all need to look, act, or think alike to be able to learn and grow together.
Truth: We foster an environment where it is OK to ask hard questions. We look to the narrative outlined in the Bible to inform our decisions and shape our actions. We believe that through prayer and open and honest conversations that God will help us move towards truth in tangible and practical ways.
Community: 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 value relationships and seek to build what we call “deep community.” We also value and love 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.
Peace: 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.
Our History needs some serious updating. We are now meeting at St. John’s Lutheran Church
(104 Hughson St. N. Hamilton, ON, L8R 1G6) and are part Mennonite Church Canada. Those things and other important details coming soon…
But if you want to dig into where we have come from 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.