When you cross the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit, MI to Windsor, ON, you may think that you’re leaving behind the Motor City and entering a quaint Canadian town.

But as residents of Windsor know, that assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.

While its American neighbor to the south garners more of the attention for its musical, architectural, and of course, industrial legacy, Windsor is a major contributor to Canada’s automotive industry and the site of the busiest Canada-U.S. border crossing. But like Detroit, Windsor has also experienced its fair share of economic decline. Residents have been hit hard by poverty and unemployment, which in turn has allowed the opioid crisis to flourish. 

It is in this hub that Freedom Church of Windsor is meeting the needs of residents struggling with addiction, as well as adults with intellectual disabilities. It’s also a testament to the power of church as a place of generosity and justice – one that you can support on Sundays, May 12 and May 19 by making a gift to the 2024 Pentecost Offering.

After a failed merger with another congregation, Rev. Jonathan P. Nantais re-started Freedom Church in January 2020 to provide a faith community that welcomed everybody to God’s table, from members of the LGBTQ+ community, to blended families, to folks with a myriad of religious backgrounds. In 2022, it affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Canada

Pastor Bradley Williams appears in the top left photo

“I’ve gone to a lot of different places of worship, but I never felt like I belonged until I came to Freedom Church,” recalls Student Senior Pastor Bradley Williams, who assumed leadership of Freedom Church with Minister of Administration Katie Burgos and Supervising Pastor Rev. Dr. Jen Garbin last summer after Rev. Jonathan answered a call to pastor a church in Houston, TX.

This theology of radical acceptance can be seen on Sunday mornings, whether it’s at Bible study, which folks can attend in-person or online, or afterwards at the worship services, where all are welcome to receive communion and children are encouraged to express themselves during worship.

Lisa Metivier appears in the bottom left photo

As for those struggling with drug misuse, the church helps them on their journey to sobriety by providing addiction resources, such as recovery meetings at the church and access to a clean-living house for clients to stay at who have detoxed and gone through a treatment program. With the high cost of living, the facility, which is managed by Pastor Brad, provides an opportunity for its inhabitants to both get off the streets and re-learn how to live clean again.

“My mother is a retired ordained minister, addictions counselor, and 45 years sober,” shares Lisa Metivier, who is the treasurer and interim vice-president of the church’s board.  “I grew up with my mom being very actively involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I’ve seen firsthand how these programs allow us to be there for our brothers and sisters facing active addiction.”

On Sunday mornings, a church van picks up the residents, as well as elderly members who can’t drive, for worship services. Church attendance isn’t mandatory for the clients – rather, Freedom Church wants to ensure that their community can find God if they need to.

“Many of our members struggle with addiction or are in recovery,” relays Pastor Brad. “At Freedom Church, we provide them with a safe atmosphere in which to learn about God and participate in the body of Christ without the judgment or stigma around addiction.”

In addition to the clean-living accommodations, folks can seek counseling from him during his office hours and/or attend Narcotics Anonymous or AA meetings held twice a week in the church building.

Freedom Church is always open for folks struggling with their addictions to drop in. The congregation did close their doors during the early days of the pandemic – until someone came to their building seeking help and overdosed. Since then, its doors have remained open.

Despite these many opportunities for support, the insidious nature of the opioid crisis leaves many people with substance abuse issues struggling with food insecurity as well. To address that, the congregation runs a food pantry and a community meal program. The latter takes place periodically throughout the month, when Freedom Church invites its neighbors in to eat breakfast or dinner and engage in conversation with their fellow diners. On Good Friday, its members broke bread and fried fish.

God’s presence also imbues itself into the church’s Freedom Respite Program, which provides art and music therapy, exercise classes, community outings, and more to adults with intellectual disabilities. Initially opened as a subsidiary of the church in 2022, the program is now a non-profit organization with its own roster of clients. From Monday to Friday, 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM, it provides daily programming to relieve parents or guardians who are not able to care for their families during the day due to work or other professional commitments. Freedom Respite currently has eight clients, all of whom are 21+, the age at which clients “age out” of the school system.

“Our church is about hope,” explains Lisa, who joined Freedom Church in 2019. “When we help people with food or transportation, these are the actions that we are taking to show them that God loves them.”

And these actions are practical, too. Windsor has an average temperature of -3 degrees Celsius (27 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter season, so offering folks shelter and transportation gets them out of the cold.

“A lot of our members have come to our church to rebuild a faith they felt they weren’t worthy of having,” concludes Lisa. “So, every week we make sure to remind everyone that God wants everyone at the table. No one will be excluded.”

To ensure that communities of faith like Freedom Church of Windsor can continue to serve their communities, participate in this year’s Pentecost Offering. Half of the gifts made to this Special Day Offering stay in the regional ministry in which they are collected to support local new church development. The other half goes to New Church Ministry, which trains, equips, assists, and multiplies emerging and affiliating congregations and their leaders across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

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