Introducing the Alberta Land Trust
By Donna Marchak
Many United Churches in urban and rural locations are facing the real possibility that they will no longer exist unless serious changes are made. They will have to take a big leap of faith into a very different future.
The Alberta Land Trust has been created to help congregations who are going through these difficult days.
“Many churches are seeking ways to continue to serve their community and pursue their mission from their current location. They face increased financial burdens, diminishing resources and rising costs. We are here to listen to their concerns and help with plans on using what already exists in a new, creative way,” said Rev. Joel Den Haan, Coordinating Consultant for the Alberta Land Trust.
The United Church of Canada Alberta Land Trust works with UCC congregations to examine their current situation and presents alternatives for churches seeking changes or possible redevelopment. The Trust also offers struggling congregations with alternatives to shutting their doors and selling their assets when rising costs and membership challenges become overwhelming.
“No congregation should feel alone in tackling difficult problems. The Alberta Trust can help in identifying creative solutions by bringing in experts in planning, financing, land development, as well as local and provincial regulations. There are alternatives for churches seeking to change or redevelop. The Trust has been established to help these churches find new mission potential in their community,” said Rev. Den Haan.
The Land Trust is a unique vision for church stewardship that has come at the right time. United Church governing bodies have been seeking solutions to the complex challenges of local church property for years. No matter if the churches are located in a downtown community of a large city or in a rural setting that’s experiencing an ageing and diminishing numbers in the congregation; there are many common problems and concerns. The United Church is resolved to remain relevant and responsive to community needs.
“Generally speaking, our United Churches want to continue to exist and to thrive well into the future. The stress of owning, operating and maintaining church property can be daunting, especially when surrounding neighbourhoods and communities are changing. Today’s rising costs, small numbers in the congregation and volunteer ‘burn-out’ are all major factors to be considered,” Den Haan explained.
The loss of a church will be acutely felt by not only its congregation but also by the surrounding community. Many people have valued the church as a meeting place, sometimes for generations, where they have attended weddings, funerals, bake sales, craft classes, clubs, Brownies or Scouts, garage sales and the list goes on! Everyone agrees that a church plays an important role in the community.
“Our goal is to provide new options for our mission and our facilities in communities across Alberta. The Trust gives congregations, who are able to thrive, the opportunity to have a significant impact on their community,” said Rev. Dr Catherine MacLean, Chair of the Alberta Land Trust’s Management Group.
The Alberta Land Trust offers realistic alternatives for asset stewardship and land use. By deploying a disciplined, planned approach along with referrals to experts in banking, development and management, the Alberta Land Trust can help UC churches unlock new resources for mission and ministry that run beyond traditional church models. This is possible, even while navigating the complexities of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) charities regulations – to say nothing of the nuances of United Church governance.
According to Rev. Den Haan, the Land Trust offers a winning combination of land and asset stewardship resources, which is new to the United Church community in Alberta. The needs of each church, its members, staff and community all have to be taken into consideration.
Jason Pisesky, a lawyer for the firm of Felesky Flynn Tax Counsel, is currently involved with establishing the Land Trust for United Churches in Alberta. He is impressed with the flexibility of a Trust, which can be tailored to meet each church’s needs and particular circumstances.
“Churches in rural areas, small towns and urban sites have very different concerns. There are new options to own and manage a church property that is compliant with Canada Revenue Agency regulations. Property asset value can be determined and many alternative arrangements can be explored. Representatives from the church and experts in business, the law and finance will direct the Trust, all at an “arms-length” from the church’s operation,” stated Jason Pisesky.
This will give a church more options on how it will operate day-to-day on a sound financial plan and more confidence that it will continue its ministries for the long- term.
It is estimated that United Church land and buildings in Alberta are worth $200 million or more. Volunteers and resources are often stretched to their limit in managing all of this property as well as serving their church’s mission.
Traditional funding and management models impose real limitations on what local church leaders in both urban and rural settings can achieve.
The Alberta Land Trust is designed to address these limitations and unique circumstances, allowing churches a broader range of alternatives to benefit their land and property. One solution does not fit all – churches don’t have to settle for the forced choice of either struggling alone with their facilities or selling them in a challenging property market. New agreements and ownership structures can open pathways which otherwise be blocked off.
A church that has the strength and determination to take a new path can have an amazing future. The Alberta Land Trust offers options for land use and innovative approaches for development that can make a difference for our local United Church faith communities, now and into the future.
For more information on the Alberta Land Trust, contact Joel Den Haan
Donna Marchak is a freelance writer based in Calgary and member of The United Church of Canada