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Voluntary Service a key player in missional church model


MC Canada release by Dan Dyck
Photos by Dan Dyck


Claudette Joseph (North Hamilton Community Health Centre), Adam Carter (Mennonite Voluntary Service), and Bill Carr (community volunteer) prepare a meal together with the Seniors Support Program at Welcome Inn.

Mike Hannigan is executive director of Welcome Inn. “If we are true to our mission, we will always struggle.”

Marion Rutter is “House Mommie” at Welcome Inn.


Winnipeg, Man.—“Show me what a missional church looks like; we need to hear the stories about where missional church is already happening. ”

This is an oft-repeated sentiment from pastors, church leaders, and a variety of church members, as people struggle to put handles on the missional church model.

While the word “missional” may be new to many, the practice is not. And there isn’t only one model; there as many different examples of the model as there are different people.

One example has been around for 37 years in Hamilton, Ontario. In fact, it could well be a missional church training centre.

The Welcome Inn Community Centre (and the Welcome Inn Church, a more recent addition at the young age of 18 years) is a living, breathing, and vital missional church. And most folks who use Welcome Inn services and worship there on Sunday mornings likely wouldn’t know that their unique version of Christ’s mission in a post modern world could be described by the word “missional.” They simple embrace it and live it.

Marion Rutter has been attending Welcome Inn church for seven years. For the last four years, the retired teacher has served as part-time administrative assistant for the Welcome Inn Community Centre. She says her “loving title is House Mommie.” She is also the resident story teller.

“This is the place of loaves and fishes,” she says. “We plan an event wondering if we’ll have enough food. We’ve never had a community event where there’s not been enough food.”

Rutter is completely immersed in her job. “I’m impressed by this place because we have few staff and a huge volunteer base,” she said, referring to a volunteer to staff body count ratio of 33:1. The community centre and church operate with 6 staff people – only one of whom is full-time – and a volunteer base of over 200, two of which are Mennonite Voluntary Service workers (Adam Carter and Julie Rempel). Rutter was first attracted to the church because she liked the non-hierarchical structure. “Everybody is equal. (When I first came) I didn’t know who the pastor was.”

Mike Hannigan has been on staff at the Welcome Inn for 9 years and now serves as executive director. The former Brethern in Christ pastor with social work training has also served on bi-national boards of Mennonite Central Committee.

“In the early days Welcome Inn was MVS (Mennonite Voluntary Service). The world of Welcome Inn rotated around MVSers. They established the program and agenda. MVS is still an incredibly important piece – it’s a core to our heritage,” said Hannigan.

Hannigan credits Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Mennonite Church Canada, and the Hamilton Mennonite Church for support. Still, ongoing funding and human resources are the two biggest ongoing challenges of running Welcome Inn, and a source of reflection for Hannigan.

“An ongoing dynamic is how (to) keep this connected to the Mennonite world. How do we connect service and faith in an ongoing way? At one time involvement was assumed if you were part of the church. How do we maintain that symbiotic relationship between Welcome Inn Church and the community centre?”

While pondering these big picture challenges, Hannigan gazes thoughtfully at the ceiling. “We are in a poor neigbourhood. It’s a struggle, and frankly, if we are true to our mission, we will always struggle.”

Being a missional church doesn’t necessarily mean being a congregation/community centre in a city’s core area. But it does mean being open to all. As Rutter puts it, “We target everybody.

“This is a grace filled place. You can advertise that to Christians, but how do you explain that to the world?”

Sidebar: Welcome Inn programs

Welcome Inn currently runs a variety of community service programs. The programs change as volunteers and their gifts change.

  • Teen Drop In
  • Seniors Support Programs
  • Emergency Food Pantry
  • Learning and Fun (after school program)
  • Women’s Crafts
  • Men’s Group
  • Day Camp

Sidebar: A few highlights about Welcome Inn volunteers

  • After a long struggle to find work, a young man from El Salvador finally got a job in the hospitality industry. The Welcome Inn was the first place he stopped to share the news.
  • George (not his real name) doesn’t read or write, but tells everyone in the neighbourhood about Welcome Inn.
  • A local bar and restaurant supports Welcome Inn events with promotions.
  • Marg Savoie, a community resident, pantry recipient, and Welcome Inn historian, has been a volunteer for 26 years. When she found out that I (Dan Dyck) was from MC Canada, Marg immediately asked me to say hello to Hugo and Doreen Neufeld (the Neufelds served at Welcome Inn for many years, and are now at Trinity MC in Calgary).

Sidebar: Welcome Inn partners

A goal of the Welcome Inn is to partner with other community members and programs. They currently collaborate with:

  • International Teams
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams
  • Circles of Support
  • North Hamilton Community Health Centre (5 programs)
  • Partners in the North End Neighbourhood
  • St. Luke’s Parish

Sidebar: Vision and mission statements of Welcome Inn

“Vision: In partnership with others we will dedicate ourselves to combat the poverty of exclusion and loneliness. We will foster healing and justice, trusting in the mystery of faith.

Mission: Welcome Inn is a Mennonite sponsored community centre in which all people are celebrated and loved unconditionally, enabled to give as well as receive. We are a caring community in which people are challenged to grow in self-esteem and respect for others.”