Canvas – All Grown Up
The Canvas New Worshipping Community will soon cease to exist. In its place will stand Canvas Presbyterian Church, a fully chartered member church of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Only 7 short years ago, Canvas was a third worship service of Irvine Presbyterian Church. During a pastoral transition in early 2012, it was clear to the congregational leadership that Canvas (then known as Veritas), for the health of IPC and Veritas itself, needed to stretch its legs and go out on its own.
So, with the blessing of the congregation, and the support of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, Pastor Kirk Winslow stepped into the leadership role of a New Worshipping Community, before the name New Worshipping Community even existed.
Tilling the Soil
At the time, they were called a Fresh Expression. When the leadership team assembled and began sorting out their mission, vision, and core values, they took stock; walked the walls, as it were.
In many ways, they approached this new church plant like one would approach a new business. They held focus groups, imagined their ideal consumer (aka: church member), and even dove into the area demographics through MissionInsite. What did they find out? Mostly that a great many of their neighbors are very “thoughtfully de-churched.” That is to say, they are people who have had an experience of church that was not a healthy expression of the gospel. To their mind, they have tried religion and it failed them, and they have no plans to return. Such people are often deeply thoughtful, generous, concerned for the larger world…, but they don’t associate the church with such values. If Canvas intended to reach these neighbors, they would have to take these cultural experiences and expectations very seriously.
Which brought up a big question: could a participant never believe, and still belong? Can we find a way to fully invite, include, and love our neighbors, without ever pressuring them to believe as we do?
Winslow explained that the leadership team decided, “Yes. You could never believe, and still absolutely belong.” Which lead to Canvas’s centering ideas: that love is the name of the game and that the salvation is what God desires to bring to all creation – not some escape to the afterlife, but the transformation of all things to conform with love (you know, stuff like: justice, sufficiency, peace, rest, joy…).
This is not to say that Canvas is a church without theological conviction. Winslow was clear that church “membership” at Canvas requires a clear confession of orthodox faith. But to reach the de-churched world, Canvas can’t be selling religion – exerting pressure on others to conform to the gospel worldview.
“Not everyone has to hold all 6 Core Values,” Winslow explained. “You know, if all someone ever does is come to our Clean Up the Beach event, that’s okay by us, it’s a start, and a very legitimate one. We are glad that they care for the earth and want to be a part of our community in that commitment. In fact, many of the organizations we partner with are secular, but they are doing work we feel called to do by God. We know that we have to leave it to the Holy Spirit to bring someone from a place of searching and considering to sincere faith.”
Winslow contributes the majority of the success of Canvas to the fact that there was a lot of autonomy granted to the work of selecting leadership. “Without that crew of folks, Canvas wouldn’t be what it is today,” Winslow said.
The rest of the success he attributes to Los Ranchos Presbytery and the risk they took to plant a church in an already existing church’s backyard. (As far as he knows, that has not been done before). Canvas NWC will be “chartered” as an organized congregation of PLR this October with the Chartering Service to be on Sunday, October 27. Canvas has received multiple 1001 grants and PLR grants in its journey toward chartering.
“PLR has been such a great support as we’ve journeyed through the chartering process. Finding the most flexibility for our congregation, but still falling within the denominational structure, has been no small thing. But, I think it’s incredibly important to charter,” Winslow continued. “Canvas is amazing, but it’s not mine. It can’t belong to me. For it to thrive over time and continue its mission, it needs something greater than itself to hold it accountable with wise and humble supervision. It can’t be tied to just one person.”
Five years from now, the saddest thing Winslow can imagine is that Canvas is exactly the same in its ministry, that nothing old has been released to the past and nothing new has been born. He cites their Concerts at Canvas series, which brings local musicians into the venue for concerts for the community. While it is now one of Canvas’s most successful expressions of ministry, “My worst fear is that such events will continue past their lifetime,” says Winslow. “I hope that Canvas Presbyterian Church continues to find new ways to meet the needs of its community, and lets go of the things that no longer serve.”
“But, you know, I think we are doing something right. In the community we’ve built, there are some pretty amazing things. For instance, some of those folks who helped us start (and said they will never walk in the front door), they don’t come to worship, but their kids do.”