'Where Jesus would hang out:' Mall chapel to attract people with lounge, hockey

The Canadian Press
Published on December 23, 2016

Community chaplain Bob Gal, left, and associate pastor Adam Browett of the West Edmonton Christian Assembly, stand together in what will be the newly renovated chapel at the West Edmonton Mall on Thursday December 15, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — There will be no pews and no pulpit, but plenty of coffee and even some puck watching.

A chapel on the second floor of West Edmonton Mall, just down from the World Waterpark and tucked in near the theme-roomed Fantasyland Hotel, is changing hands and getting a make-over.

The West Edmonton Christian Assembly, a short drive from the largest shopping mall in North America, has signed a five-year lease for the space and is fundraising $1.35 million for rent and renovations.

"It won't feel like a church," says the chapel's associate pastor, Adam Browett.

"This will look more like a Starbucks or a lounge."

The previous Marketplace Chapel ran out of funds and fortitude after a 30-year run, and asked WECA if it wanted to take over.

Browett says it's a great opportunity to reach more of the community. About 1,500 people attend Sunday services at the WECA church. But 85,000 people work in the mall and 90,000 to 200,000 shoppers stop in each day.

"It's not like we're trying to accost shoppers as they walk by," Browett says, "but creating that space in a very neutral location ... having a safe place where people can walk in and ask questions."

Some chapels operate out of other shopping centres around the world. But Browett hopes this one will be different.

Walls have been torn down and glass panes have gone up so people will be able to see inside, making the thought of walking into a chapel less scary for some, says Browett.

When the chapel opens in mid-January, there will be tables and booths and a coffee machine.

And there will be hockey.

To bring more men into the chapel, Browett says, they'll be rolling out a TV and regularly turning on Hockey Night in Canada.

"You can tell your wife, 'Hey, why don't you go shopping? I'm going to watch the game," he says. "We want to do everything short of sin to reach people."

Aside from welcoming drop-ins, staff are still working out what programs might be offered, says Browett.

But the place won't be available for weddings, he says. And it won't host funerals.

"I don't know if people at the mall want dead bodies rolling through."

The mall, with 800 shops and services, is also home to hotels, bars, a gun range and a casino.

A mall chapel is often like a church's emergency room, helping people in times of crisis, says Bob Gal, the chapel's former pastor, who is staying on as community chaplain.

Over the years, Gal has seen gamblers who lost big at the casino stumble into the chapel to pray.

And troubled teenagers or "mall rats" also regularly stopped in for donuts and kind words. Some of them, now grown, have even returned to work in the chapel as volunteers, Gal says.

He's excited by the changes to the chapel.

"It's like where Jesus would hang out," he says. "I wish that every mall had one."

Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press