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CHS gathering

The Life Center Journey

Bringing church vision into reality in South Africa

On the outskirts of Cape Town, Church of the Holy Spirit consisted of a dwelling and barn with scattered wooden huts.

These housed the church office, the sanctuary, and various children’s church groups.

Zane Liebetrau

‘We like to say the Life Center existed before the building existed—God was doing the work and there were ministries growing. This building is just an incredible tool that we were blessed with along the way.’ —Zane Liebetrau, CHS Assistant Pastor

Through the years, their heart for the fragmented surrounding community had expanded.

Now these humble spaces were bursting at the seams with various programs through the entire week.

From Addicts Anonymous, to the “Mothers and Nanny” club with all the prams parked in the ‘Pram Parking Lot’, to the men’s breakfast club—there was activity at all times.

Exterior of CHS before
Interior of CHS before

‘The idea was that worship is our lives and that church is not just a warehouse where you gather people in on a Sunday to sing some songs and then leave. God was calling this to be a Life Center that shares something of His life all through the week.’ —Brendan Fox, CHS Lead Pastor

But the physical buildings were a struggle.

Geese would swim in the sanctuary lobby due to regular flooding in winter. Children were freezing-cold in winter and overheating in summer in the wooden sheds used for children’s church.

And the bill for repairing the existing building was so high that a rebuild became a serious consideration.

The CHS file of designs by previous architects is large with a variety of ideas, but none materialized for an array of reasons. They faced direct opposition from local authorities, there was limited budget, and many other hurdles.

Pastor Brendan

‘We were struggling in terms of the vision and felt, ‘Lord we can’t do this. We really just can’t do this. We don’t have the finance, we don’t have the right people. Maybe we heard wrong, maybe we need to stop…’ That was amazing because it pushed us back into dependence on God. And He just started opening doors. It was so faith-growing for us.’ —Pastor Brendan

Church leadership interviewed EMI South Africa Director Gerhard to assess if EMI were capable of taking on the Life Center project and if there was alignment in vision.

As we got to know them more, we realized how actively they are pursuing Christ in this segregated country. They are not afraid to be Jesus boldly.

So we noticed vision alignment but knew we would have to walk a long journey with them to make the Life Center a reality.

Construction of the CHS building
Remote video URL

‘Working with EMI was a real privilege because it felt like a partnership in the Kingdom which was something bigger. But the journey is an uncomfortable, humbling thing for us. We quite like to be at the end point and destination. I think what happens along the way is where God is at work, shaping us in ways we don’t expect or imagine.’ —Pastor Brendan

Once EMI got approval from CHS, we were briefed by the leadership team on the vision for the Life Center. Then they paused, ‘However, we would like you to speak to every ministry group of the church.’

They said, ‘We want to hear what the Lord has laid on the congregation’s heart for the future of CHS to see if there is alignment.’ And with that, they sent us off.

A group of people listening
Children at play at CHS
Taking a photo of a group of people

‘We believed that if the best use of the building was to serve the whole community—to cross the spheres from spiritual to family, business to educational to arts and media, adults to children—we would have to listen to people representing all those groups.’ —Angie Tate, CHS Life Center Director

So we prayed and visited with every group from the two-year-olds to the men’s group, from the mums to art classes, from the congregation to Bible study groups.

However, we came with no tick boxes, no suggestions—we just listened and gave space for God’s Spirit to move, clarify, and inspire.

Angie Tate

‘We wanted unity at each of the key points. And that’s been hard—that’s where the work-in-progress is. The building itself isn’t finished and we think it may never be—like us. The beauty is in realizing we’re still growing.’ —Angie

I still clearly remember the silence in the room when we finally presented the feedback to the leadership.

There was a humble air and a deep joy in seeing alignment and confirmation. The congregation was in fact much more missional than leadership expected.

That feedback was all woven together into the design tapestry of the Life Center. What stands out specifically are children’s drawings from two separate classes.

Child's drawing showing a gathering outside
A table outside the church for fellowship

They drew a building of the church with a long table next to it with the comment, ‘The table is outside because people of other faiths are also invited in.’

So we integrated a long timber table in the café, penetrating through the glass shopfront, becoming a concrete table outside. A table inviting all—inside and outside—to sit together.

The Life Center vision was to become a Home to feel welcome, a Hub for partnerships, a Harbor for resourcing, and a Holy place to sense the love of God.

These were Church of the Holy Spirit’s visionary ‘Four H’s’ and the table connects them all.

Fellowship at the table
  • Article: Kerstin Fourie, EMI South Africa
  • Photos & video: Jenni Keiter, EMI Global | Avodah Images
  • Editor: MJC Published: 15-October-2023

Next month CHS & EMI are hosting a walk-through tour of the Life Center—join them at the table! And, your support of the EMI Fund enables EMI to join the journey of many other ministries like Church of the Holy Spirit!

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