Grassroots Church began in 2002, when three couples felt led to plant a church in Thunder Bay. With an intention to provide a community of worship for those who didn’t seem to connect with more traditional churches, Grassroots was, from the start, comfortable with doing things a bit differently. Chris Pacholczak pastored with a vision of Grassroots being a missionally-minded community united in the Spirit, much like Acts 2 describes the early church. Weekly services were held in a rented church board room, then later a living room, and when that was outgrown, the college cafeteria became a place of worship each Sunday morning. The weekdays were devoted to operating the Great Commission School, in which students spent nine months studying the Bible. These early years planted a deep sense of church family, hospitality, and love for God’s story. A culture was grown in which people felt free to ask hard questions, express doubts, explore fresh perspectives, and discover new ways of understanding God within the safe place of authentic community. Real relationships were woven together and tested by the holy messiness of shared life.
While many pastors and authors influenced the flavour of Grassroots, much of the theological underpinnings were guided by the writings and teachings of N.T. Wright, embracing the idea of being part of God’s New Creation here and now as a picture of future restoration, and firmly anchored in the hope and truth of the Resurrection. Our conviction that the Resurrection interprets reality gives us the freedom to think outside of the box theologically and explore fresh expressions of Christianity.
As the church grew, having a public space with room to expand brought about significant growth, as well as the realization that a permanent building was the next step forward. A small congregation at the former Central Evangelical Free Church decided to dissolve and sell the building for a nominal fee to Grassroots. So, in the summer of 2008, the next chapter of Grassroots began, centrally located on Balmoral Street. Over the next few years, the congregation grew in numbers (including expanding young families!) and in purpose. This new start in our own space was a time of joyful worship, inspiration from other emergent church leaders, and investing in the many children in our midst. Being an independent start-up church presented several challenges like generating new policies and succession planning for leadership.
In 2014, the Pacholczak family felt called to move on from Grassroots and Thunder Bay. During this transition time, we were fortunate to have church member Steve Bill serve as an interim teaching pastor.
In May of 2016, Grassroots entered another exciting chapter, with Pastor Keith Jagger coming on board. With a special emphasis on Spiritual Formation and Biblical Studies from his graduate studies with N.T. Wright, Keith challenged the church to be transformed by the selfless love of Jesus, engaging in God’s story so that we may cover the earth in his love, meeting both spiritual and physical needs of Grassroots and our broader community.
When the spring of 2020 hit, much momentum came to a halt in terms of unity, mission, new initiatives, and growth. Like most churches, Grassroots weathered the effects of the pandemic life, adapting in huge ways as we struggled to maintain community connection, worship, and learning. Home groups were a saving grace, offering for many that place of connection and support when community gathering was drastically reduced. For large group worship, we relied on Zoom church as well as outdoor services when the weather co-operated. In the spring of 2021, we said goodbye to Keith and his family as he moved on to a new career as a university chaplain after five years of pastoring Grassroots.
As an interim measure, we are glad to have retired pastor Steve Mills with us, providing Sunday morning messages, care and guidance through this time of transition.
Emerging from the past couple years has been both humbling and awakening. While we recognize and honour the reality that each person is on a journey, the challenges of individualism in this day offer a stark reminder of what needs to be set aside when we come together as a community of worshipers. A long-defining mark of our church family which we aim to reclaim is how we come together during crisis and take care of each other well. Grassroots began as a movement and continues to operate as a movement: fluid, flexible, adaptive, evolving. We are a work in progress, but there is both beauty and strength in our imperfection.