Ministers representing a majority of St. Albert’s churches want the city to remove restrictions on the ability of religious groups to apply for grant funding, something the mayor says the city might want to have a look at.
United Church Rev. James Ravenscroft, representing St. Albert Christian Ministerial, spoke to council last week, asking why church groups and religious assemblies are allowed to apply for some grants, such as the environmental initiatives and community events grant, but are specifically prohibited from applying for the community capital program grant.
“We wanted to raise the issue because churches are very concerned about social issues, social concerns and many churches are used by a variety of groups in the community, so we might want to make our facilities more accessible, more user-friendly but we’re not able to because we’re not able to access grant money like other not-for-profit groups can,” Ravenscroft said.
St. Albert Christian Ministerial represents 16 of the city’s 28 churches.
Ravenscroft isn’t sure why churches are prohibited from applying. He said it might be the perception that churches are seen as primarily spiritual, “but they are about community and responding to the needs of the community.”
He pointed out numerous community groups unaffiliated with any religious group use church facilities across the city, such as Scouts, Girl Guides and different 12-step programs, for which the church often charges no fee or a nominal amount.
“There is no one particular church seeking a grant at this time,” Ravenscroft said. “It was more we were reviewing the eligibility for the grant and just scratching our heads and wondering.”
Asked if the fact churches don’t pay property taxes could be the reason for the prohibition, Ravenscroft countered that schools don’t pay taxes either but are eligible for more grants.
“It’s not the ministerial saying we want you to pay for our upgrades,” he said, noting the grant provides only one-third of funding. “But we’re saying some of us might be able to do them more quickly if the grants were available.”
What if, said Ravenscroft, a local scouting troop had a member who used a wheelchair and the church in which the troop met didn’t have an elevator or wheelchair ramp?
“The church can’t build an elevator because it can’t raise funds,” he said.
Mayor Nolan Crouse pointed out church groups have received different types of grants in the past. If the ministerial wants to challenge the prohibition on the capital grant, he is ready to listen.
“They are saying we are community builders. We take care of the homeless, we take care of food banks. We have developed a reputation as a religious centre and we do other things, too. I’m willing to listen to it. Why do you qualify for one grant program but not another?” he asked.
Ravenscroft also pointed that St. Albert’s social services began with religious assemblies, such as schools and health care and looking out for the poor.
“At the time churches were responding to a social need and we want to continue to respond to that need.”