St Albans Church

St. Albans Big Give: A day of radical generosity

St. Albans Big Give: A day of radical generosity

By Erica Howes (published 26 June 2018)

2018 Big Give 1On June 2, St. Albans, St-Bernard-de-Clairvaux, and Centre 454 opened their courtyard gates and hosted the Big Give, a garage sale where everything is free.

Tables and boxes were sorted and filled with kitchen supplies, household decorations, children’s toys, clothing and furniture. Many people were incredulous or skeptical when volunteers said everything is free and repeated the motto of the Big Give: “take what you need.” There’s no judgement or catch, it’s simply a day of radical generosity.

“Some of us have difficult lives of no fault of their own. Today is a chance for those of us who have been lucky to make a little bit of a difference of those who haven’t,” said St. Albans volunteer Gillian Wallace, explaining that many people at the Big Give live in shelters or have recently got housing.

Jack was walking around the event, holding only a lanyard and a hot dog. He has been living in a shelter for the past few months after dealing with health issues. Jack talked about the isolation of being homeless and how there’s “not a lot of experiences that feel like you’re part of the community.” He put his locker key on the lanyard and said when he gets his first apartment he’s going to put his real key on there and remember this event.

Looking around and enjoying lunch and music together, he said it’s good “to feel part of something.”

Fascinating finds

They say one person’s junk is another person’s treasure and it was true at the Big Give, where many interesting objects had people guessing at their hidden stories and wondering how they could fit into their own homes.

The children’s table was piled with intricate puzzles of city scapes, a giant yellow duck pinata and a set of Harry Potter paraphernalia including a themed light switch cover, witch hat and wand.

There was a genie lamp, gold and orange with patterned curved designs stretching across its surface. There was a poster of a transit map, large canvases of abstract paint designs and dozens of baskets of every colour and size. A Homer Simpson lamp was a hot item, igniting a bargaining war.

Taylor Holmes, the lead organizer of the event, said it’s often the items on the decorative table that go the fastest to help make someone’s space more personal.

“It’s not always about the necessities. Sometimes that small, seemingly insignificant item can bring someone real joy.”

Making a house into a home

At last year’s Big Give event, Taylor said there was a yoga mat she was skeptical anyone would pick up. Where would people do yoga and would you use a second-hand mat?

Much to Taylor’s surprise, a female client of Centre 454 eagerly picked it up. Along with the rest of the items she’d collected from the Big Give, Taylor and her husband drove the client home. Previously living on the street, the woman had only recently moved in to a one bedroom apartment, and it wasn’t until they got to the apartment that Taylor realized there was nothing there. The woman was planning to use the yoga mat as a bed.

“She just saw something that was better than the floor. She didn’t have a bed yet and it made us check our assumptions,” said Taylor, adding it was an important reminder that just because someone has housing, it doesn’t mean they have everything they need.

“They have nothing except what they’ve been trying to carry with them,” Taylor said. “She had a one bedroom apartment and she was so thrilled but she had nothing to fill it with. It made her sad to walk into an empty apartment. It was another reminder that she doesn’t have very much.”

That’s the difference the furniture, decorations, and kitchen items handed out at the Big Give make - they help make someone’s space feel like home.


2018 Big Give 2



Join St. Albans for Christmas Carols Dec. 3

St. Albans is welcoming in the holiday season with our annual Christmas Carol service this December 3 at 7pm. Although it’s only the second Sunday of Advent and still three weeks away from Christmas, it’s a great way to get into the festive spirit, come together with the community and sing your favourite carols.

St Albans church, at the corner of Daly and King Edward in the heart of Sandy Hill, is unique with its mix of traditional and contemporary music and the Christmas Carol service is no exception. The service will be an evening of Lessons and Carols with a band, church choir and lots of opportunities for singing. Donations from the service will go towards Centre 454, a drop-in support for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in the basement of St. Albans, and The Ottawa Mission, a shelter and support centre for the city’s homeless.


“The Christmas Carol Service is a great way for anyone to take a break from their busy life and enjoy the peace and joy of the Christmas season,” says Rev. Mark Whittall, priest of St. Albans. “For students, it’s an opportunity to relax and sing some carols before the stress of exams begins. And it’s a great way to support two of our great neighbourhood organizations.”

Last year, the Christmas Carol service brought out a busy, engaged crowd from around the city. Some were first time church-goers, others interested in exploring different church carol services or just wanting to sing. Juliana Colwell, a St. Albans parishioner who has attended the past few Christmas Carol services, says the community aspect is her favourite part.

“People come together and sing their heart out, or just listen and enjoy the joyful music, it’s a great evening to get together with the community to celebrate Christmas,” Juliana says. “When I first came to St. Albans, I felt welcomed and valued. That’s the thing I really like about this church because no matter what your background is, you’re accepted, you’re welcomed and you are part of the community. You especially feel that at this service, and we hope to see a great turnout again this year and of course, everyone is welcome!”

We invite you to join us for our Christmas Carol service on Sunday December 3 at 7pm.  

St. Al's Stories: Juliana

She’s a student intern helping with St. Albans Young Adult group. She sits on parish council and sometimes sings on Sunday mornings. Juliana Colwell is as involved at St. Albans as you can get.  


Juliana found the church through Open Table, a free monthly meal at St. Albans for students hosted by various churches. She was church-shopping at the time, trying out a few different churches in Ottawa but decided to give St. Albans a try one Sunday morning and continued going ever since.

She said she was intrigued by the young adult focus and the large number of students at the Sunday services. Now it’s come full circle as Juliana is the Young Adults group intern where she helps run the Tuesday night discussions on “the questions you can’t ask in church.” These topics have included free will, the concepts of heaven and hell, the importance of silence and how to spread faith without being an asshole. But Juliana said she wants to ensure it’s a group that extends past the weekly meetings.

“We have a community focus so it’s very inclusive and welcoming and everyone can speak their mind whatever way they see fit. There’s also the presence of being in the community itself,” she said, adding how events this year have included garbage community clean-up, a night at Winterlude and a retreat in Quebec.

Every Tuesday night, there’s new faces at the Young Adults group and Juliana said it’s important to make sure everyone feels included, regardless of where they’re from and what got them there.

“Sometimes it can be a bit daunting to walk into a church if you’ve never been before, but it’s also something quite wonderful and it’s not as scary as people make it sometimes,” she said. 

Juliana struggled to find the right words to describe the feeling of community at St. Albans and what she felt that made her immediately want to get involved. She said it’s the feeling of being included and part of something bigger, a feeling she strives to create for all newcomers at the young adult group.

“You’re always welcome,” she said. “That’s the thing I really like about it because no matter what your background is, you’re accepted, you are part of the group and you are part of the community.”   

St. Al's Stories: Our DJ Meganne

Meganne Woronchak, a classical pianist all her life, walked into a St. Albans band practice rocking out to Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee and said she felt a bit overwhelmed. She was impressed with the loudness and the progressive sound of the guitars, something she’d never experienced before. 

“I was somehow drawn to it,” she said. Since that practice in July 2014, she’s been part of the band. And now she said “they make fun of me and say, not many people come on their first week and just never leave!”

Sunday mornings Meganne is on stage playing keyboard, organ on special occasions and recently some electronic synth mixed in. Within a year at St. Albans, she learned their entire roster of songs and has had a steep learning curve in a different kind of music.

“As a classical artist, sometimes it’s very isolating and there was something very exciting to me about being in a band. I guess you can call it a childhood dream,” she said with a smile.

Meganne is a musician finishing up her masters in piano pedagogy at the University of Ottawa. She recently got accepted to do her PhD in music. Before moving to Ottawa, she searched for a church online and admired the young adult focus and the friendliness of the staff when she reached out to ask what St. Albans was all about. Being an introvert and moving to a new city, is a big jump but Meganne said after her first Sunday morning with the band, they told her “welcome to the family.”

“I was touched by that because I’m really shy and it was mostly me laughing at them bickering about whatever and they considered me just as valuable even if I wasn’t contributing to the conversation,” she said. “Even just my presence, my being there, made me part of the group and that’s really special.”

For Meganne, Ottawa was a place she was going for school but she said St. Albans has provided a community and “surrogate family.” She said she doesn’t usually believe it signs, but when she was on stage with the band blasting Home by Phillip Phillips to an energetic congregation, she felt something.

“I took it as a feeling that it was going to mean more to me than I had bargained for,” she said. “I was definitely struggling between Ottawa being a temporary and permanent home and somehow in that moment I knew that it would become more than that in the end.”

St. Al's Stories: Gillian and Iain

Gillian and Iain Wallace are easy to spot at coffee hour. They’re among a crowd, reaching out to new faces or catching up with old ones. Gillian’s usually sporting her long dangly earrings and recognizable fun-coloured hair. 


Although St. Albans has a high student population with the progressive band music and the proximity to the university, Gillian enthusiastically points out “middle-aged people love it too!”

Gillian and Iain made the transition to St. Albans a few years ago from a church they loved but one that struggled with embracing change. She said it was stuck in the idea of doing things “the way it’s always been done.” This frustration led the pair to St. Albans, which Gillian said is unique because it challenges traditional views people have of church. It launched on social media and was keen on connecting with people online and Gillian said the welcoming people and fun worship music drew them in.

Gillian is a classically trained musician who studied french horn at Western University before pursuing a masters and PhD in the psychology of religion. Classical music isn’t usually heard at St. Albans, but Gillian said there’s a time and place for it.

“I love classical music, but not on Sundays to worship,” she said, adding that the music was a big pull factor in coming to St. Albans.

A writer and academic is what Gillian identifies herself as. She said the St. Albans congregation is abundant with writers, which is telling to the character of the community. She said it shows there is creativity and thinking outside the box in the way things are done. Conversations in the church also lend themselves to “skip the small talk” she said, as we ironically spiral into a conversation about free will.

Gillian and Iain are constant faces around the church. Whether it’s from their hosted community breakfasts, film and faith nights or the harmonies coming loud and clear from midway down the right pew; they’re a big part of the community. For St. Albans newcomers, you can bet they’ll be the first ones to welcome you in. 



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