December 1, 2023, Denver, Colorado:  FREE Spiritual Community owns their building and celebrates being, “Home at Last!” and University Park United Methodist Church has new resources to grow and serve the community.

Today was a big deal.

We signed a bunch of papers.

We bought the thing.

Our permanent home…home at last!

Where we’ll continue: breaking the silence of addiction.”

Ryan Canaday, Pastor & Executive Director and Tami Canaday, Co-Founder of FREE Spiritual Community

In 2018, Ryan Canaday, a United Methodist Elder, envisioned a community of addicts, loved ones of addicts and spiritual refugees. He began by inviting people to his backyard in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, a suburban neighborhood of the Denver Metro Area. 

The idea took off, and suddenly the group needed a place with a roof and more parking. So, they rented a space in a strip mall. Then a large concert venue/bowling alley/bar took over the rest of the strip mall on top of FREE who was outgrowing the place anyway. It was time to find a new place. 

By this time, there was no denying that FREE was here to stay, so they began looking for a home that they could call their own. 

Meanwhile, an old church building yearned for a new purpose. In Denver, on the corner of East Evans and South Lafayette, in a neighborhood where Methodist-philes would recognize street names like Warren, Iliff, and Asbury, sat the original Evanston Evangelical United Brethren Community Church. By the time FREE moved in, the old EUB church building was owned and managed by University Park United Methodist Church. “The one thing that the Evanston folks were terrified of is that their beloved building would be torn down for condos.  As pastor of University Park, I promised them that the ministry outreach that they were so committed to would continue in one form or another.  FREE is the perfect dream come true for them.  The Legacy continues to live!” reflected Rev. Paul Kottke.  

Rev. Kottke continued, “I vividly remember the Sunday that we met at the Evanston building, each member carrying something of Evanston’s importance (books, crosses, pictures).  One high school student carried a box of EXPIRED Cheerios!  And we walked across the DU campus (which was such a part of the legacy of both congregations).  As we got closer to University Park, our numbers swelled as people from University Park joined the procession.  We processed right into the Sanctuary, having long tables up front by the Chancel.  All the precious items (including the Cheerios) were placed on the tables.  The Evanston folks then turned and found a seat in the Sanctuary.  Everyone was standing, singing and clapping.  There was not a dry eye in the house.”

Now it is rare for a United Methodist Church to sell its building to another United Methodist organization, but that is what happened. The combined congregation of University Park and Evanston United Methodist churches had invested in the property over many years; the combined church was counting on the resource that the property would provide to bring new life to this community of faith. After FREE found that the space and location met their needs, FREE and University Park came to a mutually beneficial agreement for FREE to purchase the property. 

Rev. Andy Dunning, Pastor of University Park UMC, said this, “For me, the sale of the Evanston Center was an inspiring process because of the quality of reflection that went into it. Our church’s leadership was thoughtful and patient, listening to all viewpoints expressed and taking our time. FREE’s leaders are remarkable. Their dedication to their mission and their thriving ministry meant a great deal to members of our church. In the end, we were able to work as sister congregations in a cooperative transaction, meeting important needs of both. “

Finally, on December 1st, the Methodists Helping Methodists Foundation assisted to close the transaction. The Foundation made a loan to FREE, rounding out the financing after FREE had a very successful capital campaign. The Foundation also helped University Park document the vesting of real property dating back to pre-1968 (merger between EUB and Methodist churches) and helped both parties adhere to the Book of Discipline requirements for this complex transaction. 

And so, it continues. The generosity and faithfulness of church members from more than 100 years continues to provide love and grace to the community. “When I talk to church members about investing in their church, the first question I receive is what will happen if the church closes. I often provide a technical response about transferring assets by the rules in the Book of Discipline, state law and other legal documents. But the fact is, The Church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time. Today’s transaction provides evidence of this,” said Kristi Kinnison, Executive Director of the Methodists Helping Methodists Foundation. 

First planted, the place was named Evanston Evangelical United Brethren Community Church.  Next, it became Evanston United Methodist Church. And then, with University Park United Methodist Church, it became Evanston Center for Spiritual Life. Today, it is FREE Spiritual Community.

Rev. Kottke: “Now the building has new life for an incredible ministry!  I have been part of some incredible moments of ministry of grace and new life for which I am blessed.  But this story reminds me that I have been truly part of an incredible resurrection story!”