This historic Montreal church was just saved by donations. Now, it's at risk of closing again

After narrowly escaping closure last year thanks to donations from worshippers, the Church of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Montreal is once again in need of help.

Known as the Red Roof Church for its iconic red roof, the 163-year-old Anglican church was set to close its doors last year due to a lack of funding.

Generous donations saved it from folding, but one year down the line, it's still barely making ends meet.

"We're trying to keep afloat, pay the bills, but at one point we will also need to address some problems with the building," said Marc-Philippe Vincent, the priest in charge of the parish.

Vincent says the repairs are serious, essential and expensive — about $980,000 worth. That price tag doesn't include the necessary upgrades for added accessibility.

The congregation has hosted concerts, film projects and even rented portions of the building out to other organizations.

But the building has fallen into disrepair. In 2022, one of those organizations, St. Michael's Mission, was forced to relocate operations after nearly 70 years inside the historic church.

Since news of the church facing financial ruin spread, Vincent says the number of groups renting their space has gone up. But it is losing out on potential clients due to lack of facilities.

"We only have two restrooms. This is highly insufficient when you want to have a concert. We don't have access for people with mobility problems," he said.

"If we want to attract more people, we need to do repairs and build up things, and we need money for that."

'Something of great value would be lost'

Despite only discovering the Church of St. John the Evangelist last year, Brock Hanly says he fell in love with its programming and "felt a calling" to help change its fate.

Hanly, the rector's warden since June, says the services held at the church are unlike anything offered in virtually any other in the city.

"When you combine the music, when you combine the way in which the congregation interacts with the liturgy during the service, it's very profound," he said.

"Something of great value would be lost if this church were to close."

The church's red roof stands out, even from afar, tucked in among a mix of contemporary and historic buildings in downtown Montreal.
Known as the Red Roof Church for its iconic red roof, the 163-year-old Anglican church was set to close its doors last year due to a lack of funding. (Esteban Cuevas Gonzalez/CBC)

The church's administration is now working with the city of Montreal and looking for a developer who could use part of the church's property to generate money while addressing needs like low-income housing.

By the end of the summer, the church is also hoping to host another organization similar to St. Michael's Mission that works with low-income families or those experiencing homelessness.

In the meantime, Vincent says the church's community is comprised of longtime worshippers who are continuing to step up to the plate to help keep their beloved place of worship going.

"We want to continue and by the grace of God we will," he said.