The ‘Mall Church’
by Shandy Browett
Walking through West Edmonton Mall, not only is it loaded with attractions, there are hundreds of stores all under one roof. A shopper’s paradise! It is a city within a city.
The first time you see the West Edmonton Christian Assembly (WECA) Chapel, your brain registers the word ‘chapel.’ Wait… isn’t a chapel a church? You might experience a moment of confusion as you see a warm, transparent space, which looks more like a coffee shop than your typical church. You can’t help but look in. Just for a moment. You hadn’t noticed that now you are completely stopped, and are staring. You might even find yourself being drawn just a little closer to that welcome desk with the smiling receptionist. What is this place?
Looking behind the welcome desk you will read the Chapel mission statement displayed for all to see: ‘NOBODY IS PERFECT’ & ‘EVERYONE IS WELCOME’. It is literally engraved and written on the wall, and evidently written on the heart and actions of every volunteer and pastor who works out of this space.
The Marketplace Chapel first opened its doors in May 1986, with a heart to reach the diverse people and needs that were represented in the mall. Thirty years the Chapel had existed in an unassuming corner of the mall, just through the doors of entrance 55. Unlike your average church with a busy Sunday and regular office hours, to lease at West Edmonton Mall, you need to operate like any other retail space. Not only paying to lease the space, but also required to be open every hour that the mall is open. It has required a large network of volunteers and lay leaders, equipped to minister to a variety of needs/situations.
The Marketplace Chapel was facing closure. A devastating blow to the many dedicated volunteers and ministers who served there, who worked hard to keep it open. Knowing the vital importance of this ministry, Director Bob Gal reached out to a church called West Edmonton Christian Assembly, also known as ‘WECA’, located in the west end of Edmonton, not far from the mall.
Sunday, June 12, 2016, WECA announced its adoption of this initiative and first multi-site campus at West Edmonton Mall. Soon the hoarding went up, closing off the familiar Marketplace Chapel, and the renovations began. January 2017, the Chapel was open once again with a fresh look, a new name, but the same heart.
Adam Browett, a Pastor at WECA shares, “We envisioned a lot of mall employees coming in. Lots of seekers, unchurched… What surprised me after we opened was that I hadn’t anticipated how many lonely people would come to the Chapel. The Chapel becoming a safe haven to build community.”
In one corner of the WECA Chapel, you will see a room with glass doors where you will see a wooden cross (a special piece kept from the original Marketplace Chapel). A space to pray. “I didn’t know how much the prayer room would be used.” Browettt says. “Instead of occasionally, it is being used daily… all the time. Sometimes there will be line ups of two or three people waiting to use the space to pray.”
October 2017, WECA launched church services at the mall. The Chapel seats approximately 80 people, creating an intimate setting, with acoustic style music, a short sermon and a time for Q&A. Passerby’s slow down to casually peer in, drawn by the music drifting down the corridor.
“Typical people who are getting saved in the Chapel are what we would call the “De-churched”. You have the Un-churched, Churched, and the De-churched. Those who used to attend church, but stopped at some point for one reason or another. They don’t feel comfortable going back to a traditional church setting, but somehow, they have found themselves at West Edmonton Mall. The neutral space has created an avenue for them to give their hearts again, and return to the Lord.” says Browett.
With approximately 24,000 employees at the mall, the Chapel services and programs are designed to target the mall demographic, hoping to provide not only a sense of community, but a church the employees can call their very own.
They anticipate more change to come as the community grows and the needs evolve.
You can visit the WECA Chapel located on the second floor of the mall, near the Fantasyland Hotel.
For more information about the WECA Chapel, visit www.weca.com/weca-chapel.