The St James Town Ecumenical Coalition

St. James Town Apartments

St James Town is the densest census district in Canada and one of the densest neighbourhoods in the world. There are 18 high rise apartment buildings contained in a 32.1 acre area and an official population of 15,000, but unofficial estimates range between 25-30,000 people. The area is bounded by Bloor St. to the north, Parliament St. on the east, Wellesley St. to the south and Sherbourne St. on the west. It is sometimes referred to as the "world in a block" with 64% of the population considered as new immigrants. Only 2% of the residents own their own home with 98% renting. It is one of the lower income neighbourhoods in Toronto and yet it also has one of the highest rates of post-secondary education. Most immigrants to Canada have achieved a high level of education, but their degrees are often not recognized.

Over the past four years a small group of lay people from a number of churches in the area have been meeting and working in St James Town. This group includes 5 churches representing 5 denominations as well as 3 non-profit organizations. They are currently running, have run, or are supporting initiatives like a daily afterschool program for grades 1-8, a twice-weekly homework program and basketball camp for high school students, a community kitchen, a youth choir, the local food bank and much more. The group operates through consensus and has no budget of its own. Instead, all funding is channelled through its members and raised internally and externally.

After working together on an ad hoc basis the St James Town Ecumenical Coalition decided it needed to formalize its structure for two reasons. Our founders are slowly beginning to pull back from their involvement and we want the Coalition to outlive their initial enthusiasm and vision. Secondly, our monetary needs for our growing programs demands that we move on to larger funders which require something more formal in terms of structure. As a result, on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 four of the original founding churches and the 3 non-profits came together to sign a memo of understanding that lays out who we are, what we do and how we do it. The fifth congregation was unable to get approval to sign the memo, but they continue to be involved and we are committed to have them sign the document in the future.

The memo was signed during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as a symbol of our unity and partnership in St James Town. Quoting Rick Warren, Rev. Bill MacLellan of Rosedale Presbyterian said the church of the future "will be known for its deeds not its creeds." Our memo sums it up by saying, "The Coalition strives to cross all barriers and embrace all who call St James Town home. Its efforts are an expression of our Christian faith and we warmly welcome people of other religious traditions to join the Coalition in its work. Our goal is to offer whatever resources the community needs based on our ability to provide."

memo of understanding

radio interview

memo of understanding