Babylon, P.Q.: Hot for preacher

Hot for preacher

Prayers ride the heat heavenward at Imani

When the Rev. Darryl Gray’s independent, non-denominational Imani Family & Full Gospel Church were looking for a roof over their heads, following Gray’s very public split with Little Burgundy’s Union United Church in 2005, they got one. Way over their heads – at the former St-Joseph’s Catholic Church, a gorgeous, high-ceilinged historic building also in Little Burgundy.

And then, financially speaking, they got in way over their heads. Because although God’s spirit may warm the soul, it’s Gaz Métropolitain that takes care of the body over at the cavernous old St-Joe’s, and corporeal salvation doesn’t come for free. Which is to say the Imani Church finds itself struggling under the weight of enormous heating bills this year and is reaching out for help.

The Imani Church rents the building from the Society of St-Sulpice. "They own most of the Catholic Church property in the city," explains Gray. "And they’ve been helpful, I’ll say that, but we’re still talking about a 100-year-old building with no insulation. Our heating bill in the winter can be anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000. And with a lower turnout in the winter we’re also talking about lower revenue for the church… Our Achilles’ heel is winter."

Last year the church made it through (a considerably warmer) winter with a bill of about $30,000, "And we were able to raise the money, but that was not without having to shut the heat off for a couple of weeks.

"We’re dealing with a community that doesn’t have a very big economic base to begin with," says Gray. "We don’t own anything. We are consumers, not producers. We are not manufacturers, we are consumers. And that’s a big part of the problem – [the black] community has higher unemployment, it has a higher drop-out rate, and our economic base, man, is not good."

The obvious question: Was it not anticipated at the outset that a space this size would incur much higher, perhaps unsustainable, costs?

"Yes, but we also anticipated that the [church's] growth would be a lot quicker as well… We anticipated that we would be able to meet the financial requirements. Unfortunately, we have not. And don’t get me wrong, I think that it will happen, but we’re still new."

That said, the Imani Church will nevertheless attempt a purchase of the church this spring. The catch is, they can’t do that if they’re carrying any debt. "The Sulpicians are prepared to sell it to us at a very good price, I think a manageable price," asserts Gray. "In order to buy it, though, it has to be a community initiative, and not just the black community. People who feel that this church is relevant have got to help."

Should the sale succeed, Gray would like to see the building put to use by the wider Montreal community. "We’re still going to do worship on Sunday, but there’s a hall downstairs that can accommodate over 400 people, and classroom space that community organizations can utilize. That’s what we want to do.

"But the biggest reason we need this building? [...] As a black community, we don’t own anything. We need something that’s a flagship; we need a symbol of ownership. We need something in this city that we can say, as a community, ‘This belongs to us.’"

But first things first, and the first thing is the remainder on a gas bill this year that’s expected to be in the $12,000 to $15,000 range. Not surprisingly, the Rev. isn’t short on ideas…

"We’re planning a major concert on May 1," says Gray. "We’re not asking people to give us something for nothing. This is our relief concert to help erase the winter heating debt." The idea is to fill the church, which seats 1,200, at a suggested donation of $10 apiece. And if a concert isn’t music to your ears, donors "can also come by Sunday morning to our services, or call the church [at 514-846-2020] and we’ll make sure that someone from our finance committee gets back to them."

As for the concert itself: "We’re talking gospel choirs; we’re talking the music ministry of our Church, which in and of itself is five choirs… And we’ll call upon some of the other local churches to assist us. You’re going to hear some of the best gospel music in this city."

So raise the roof! Or, um, not…

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The biggest, baddest fundraiser of the year is what organizers are calling the St-Ambroise Fringe Festival Mega All-Star Fundraiser and Auction (the Fringe Fest has always had a healthy way with hyperbole). This Friday, March 11, starting at 8 p.m., Mainline Theatre (3997 St-Laurent) will play host to a quintessentially Fringe money-raising operation, beginning with a silent auction featuring the following awesomeness: A year’s worth of beer from McAuslan (value $200), Fringe 2011 superpasses ($250 each), a Just For Laughs Comic Pro Pass ($100), a photo shoot with Tristan Brand Photography ($400) and a trip to the Toronto Fringe Fest (which includes VIA Rail tickets, superpasses and accommodations at the Drake Hotel – a value of $1,000). Plus lots more swanky stuff.

There will also be live performances by Belzébrute, Dance Animal, Sketch Kombat, Montreal Improv, The Mélodie Rabatel Trio, dancers Vanessa Kneale and Pierre-Luc Brunet and Fringe Festival director Amy Blackmore, all hosted by Uncalled For. Your $20 admission also comes with a $5 coupon for your first bid. See you there!

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