Congregants at the Queensway Cathedral in west Toronto are replacing a stripper's pole with the holy cross after closing a deal to buy the gentlemen's club across the street from their house of worship.
Pastor Billy Richards says the strip club will cease operations immediately.
The building's transformation from sinful to wholesome began when the senior pastor saw a for-sale sign go up in front of the 25-year-old Casino Gentlemen's Lounge at The Queensway and Kipling Avenue several months ago.
"Every day I pull out of the church parking lot and I look across the road and see 'exotic gentlemen's dance club,' which just doesn't do a pastor any good in his heart," he said.
"And then - boom - one day I just saw the sign had been put up."
Through donations from its 1,700 congregants, the Pentecostal church was able to close the $1.2-million deal on Wednesday.
"We took the pole out today," Rev. Richards said yesterday.
Standing inside the large complex yesterday, he said the building - which "smells like old beer" and has a "filthy and stained" brown carpet - will be transformed into a community outreach centre by September.
He hopes to have a Christian Alcoholics Anonymous group regularly meet there, a separate area where grief counsellors can talk to those who have recently lost loved ones, as well as a variety of other support programs on the two floors and in the finished basement.
"Our job as a church is to take things that are biblically bad and try to help them become good. We could see that this was not biblically good," the pastor said.
The previous owner of the strip club, Thomas Maleganos, declined comment when reached at his Mississauga home yesterday.
Rev. Richards said the relationship between the church and the strip club had been strained and "unhealthy."
"So many men were going in and out of it and we felt really bad because there were so many young ladies working out of this place and they were not having the best life."
He said some of the women would come over to the 50-year-old church before work to "talk about sexual abuse that they would have from different men, or how they felt so cheap; how they just didn't feel like they were going to get ahead in life."
Rev. Richards said that's all about to change.
"We're going to rip the carpet out, paint the walls. Of course, we're going to take the exotic dancing stages out. And we're going to put in better lighting because you hardly can see."