Sep24MonSeptember 24, 2018
Kevin Coghill is a pastor at our Royal City Church in downtown Guelph, Ontario. I met with him to learn more about how they are following Jesus on mission to their inner-city neighborhood. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
GW Outside of the building, can you tell me what is distinctive about Royal City Church?
KC The biggest thing is that we serve meals every day of the week except for Sunday. We open at 6 pm and we eat at 7 pm. We’ll have anywhere from 60 to 100 people each day, and on a Saturday night we’ll have up to 150 people.
GW So who’s coming for supper?
KC Anyone. Usually people who are struggling in poverty, however we’ve recognized that poverty isn’t just a financial thing. For a number of years we had a man who was quite wealthy coming. He would donate money to the church but he was eating at home every night by himself. So he came here just to have community, but he found a lot of connection here and he felt important because people cared for him.
We’ve recognized that poverty isn’t just a financial thing.
GW You had a blues concert here recently. Tell me a little bit about the band.
KC Well the band is me.
GW It must be good then.
KC I’m the Right Reverend – it’s kind of a joke – a play on my role here. Most people know I don’t love titles and so they tease me about being the Right Reverend. So it just made sense when we were building a band to call it the Right Reverend Blues Band. It’s myself and my brother, and we bring in other musicians from the area and we have a good time.
We call the concert a fun raiser, not a fund raiser because it’s really about breaking the drudgery of winter. Many people in our community suffer from seasonal affective disorder, so having a party in the middle of winter is just a good idea. And blues is great music for that because it’s celebrating sorrow at some level; celebrating the hard times and finding hope in that.
GW So it’s a fun raiser, but you are raising some money too. How much were you able to raise this year?
KC This year we raised $4,000.
GW Four thousand dollars won’t feed 150 people 7 days a week, so how else are your meals funded?
KC We pay very little for food. We get food from local businesses, funerals, weddings, catering businesses and local churches. We have 28 church partners that bring food in and we facilitate the serving and all the other parts of the meal program.
GW I’ve heard talk about Royal City’s Life Centre. What is that?
KC The Life Centre is really the meal program and all the things that surround that. It’s community. The church and the centre have adopted the same values which are Relationship, Justice and Beauty. For the Life Centre, Relationship looks like sitting across the table from people. We encourage our volunteers not just to serve food but to sit and eat food. The table fellowship is super important.
We encourage our volunteers not just to serve food but to sit and eat food.
Justice is about how we stand up to injustice in this area, how we fight against poverty, how we fight against injustices faced by people with addictions, etc.
Beauty is about finding beauty in those tough situations. We value the arts so we have a music room and an arts studio downstairs.
We also have a moving program. People in poverty often move on a regular basis. One of our staff was given a truck and trailer and so he moves people because that just happens so often.
GW Are you providing other services as well?
KC Yes, we just started a boxing program which is a part of Ontario Boxing. There’s actually no striking here but it’s a physical fitness program for kids that can’t afford other programs. Two of our volunteers are certified trainers.
We partner with a section 23 school which is for kids that don’t do well in a regular academic setting, so we interact quite a bit with those kids. Sometimes we’ll play ping pong, fooseball or whatever else they are interested in.
Most people wouldn’t recognize that going to the hospital alone is different than going to the hospital with someone.
We go to court with people, we visit people in jail, often at the hospital, and we do lots of advocacy with social service programs. Most people wouldn’t recognize that going to the hospital alone is different than going to the hospital with someone. We often see that people are treated poorly until they have someone with them.
GW Who are the people providing some of these additional services?
KC We have paid staff and unpaid staff, and some unpaid staff work 40 hours/week, but then we have 100 volunteers that also participate in everything from serving food to being involved in court cases. They come from all over.
GW Are you seeing a flow of people back and forth between the Life Centre and Royal City Church?
KC Yes, about one third of our Sunday morning gathering would be people who come through the door of the Life Centre. We’ve baptized many of the guests from our Life Centre. A lot of the people who attend our church actually come here because of the Life Centre. They come here because we have a social justice initiative within our walls. Probably seventy percent of our congregation is involved in some level of volunteering.
GW So what’s the tone of a Sunday morning service with that kind of mix?
KC It’s not all that different. Sometimes we have a more interactive style, so people will ask questions – sometimes funny questions - but it feels very comfortable. Our services are a little shorter - usually an hour from start to finish because lots of people have trouble sitting still for very long. We preach less and have more conversation time after. We talk about service time continuing over coffee and we have coffee all the time, so you can have coffee anytime during the service.
We preach less and have more conversation time after.
GW What does it cost you to have a ministry focused on Justice, Beauty and Relationship with folks from the inner city?
KC I think we receive so much more than we give actually. We don’t always get the same people that would attend other churches. Often people don’t stay because there are fears. We’ve had most of our young families with little children leave.
GW What are you learning about the heart of God as you carry on the ministry here?
KC Recently I’ve come to see that God’s mission is always about revealing himself to people, or reminding us that we are made in his image. I see that here often. We teach people that come as volunteers that they need to look for Jesus each night because he’s going to show up. He’s not going to look like you think and he’s not going to smell like you think, he might not talk like you think, but he is present. We use the passage in Matthew 25 that states: “Whatever you do for the least of these my brothers, you do for me” as a way to help them see where God is present. That actually helps ourselves because when we begin to see Christ in others who even the world wouldn’t see as made in God’s image, it makes it so much easier to see God in myself. I find that I am able to say, “Hey God was present in me today too."