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Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—

About this time last year I was wrapping up a four-week symposium entitled "Beyond Housing to Homefulness" in partnership with the Sorrento Centre. Over the course of four weeks, we heard from 16 different presenters who discussed perspectives on what it means not simply to address houselessness, but to go beyond—to create a sense of homefulness. 

Over the course of these weeks, we heard from housing advocates and politicians. We heard from front-line workers, activists, and housing operators. We heard from developers and architects. We heard from clergy and theologians too.

Each speaker was asked to reflect on what it might take to create both a culture and reality of homefulness. This is more than a roof. This is about creating cultures and spaces where folks who have been pushed to the margins might be afforded the agency, dignity, and worth that they are due as God's beloved. 

If you want to take a listen, you can find the podcast of some of these talks here:
Apple PodcastsAmazon MusicSpotify, and Stitcher.

The Rev. Michael Shapcott—director of the Sorrento Centre—offered a striking reflection from his decades working on the front lines—and in back rooms—to secure the right to dignified and affordable housing for all people in Canada. Michael, quoting a statement from the World Council of Churches (from the 1930s!) shared these words:

"Human beings are seen to possess a transcendental worth not subordinate to any other end. Human dignity is therefore to all individuals. Human rights are not ends in themselves but the conditions for the realisation of human dignity therefore the church must give a preferential option for the poor rather than giving primacy to individual freedoms at the expense of basic human necessities." 

I found these words—words that were penned 90 years ago—quite challenging. I found them challenging because they speak right into our current reality as a parish. They speak directly to the reality on the ground in Castlegar, and many communities throughout our region.

With each passing day, we are seeing more and more signs of homelessness around town. What has been more hidden in past days is being made more visible. And, I would suggest, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many people in our community who are precariously housed, and many more on the brink of homelessness. And this I find deeply troubling.

In recent days, someone (a person with a name and a story) has started camping on the edge of the St. David's property. He is known to me and to Deb at the food bank. Other members of the congregation have engaged him in conversation. Over time, we are coming to know him as one of our neighbours. As you can imagine, some other neighbours have expressed concern as to his presence.

What kind of concern should we, as a Christian community, exhibit?

It's not exactly clear cut, but my hunch is that those words from the World Council of Churches ought to be front and centre for us today. How do we respond to the needs of individuals our society has rendered homeless in a way that preserves their dignity? How do we participate in addressing the structural and societal issues that render people homeless? Where is God calling us? What is there in this moment that God is trying to teach us?

In this moment I have more questions than answers.

And I am posing these questions because their answers require discernment. Prayer and discernment are at the heart of life as a Christian community. This is our shared work. 

It is not as simple as telling our new neighbour to move on without a commitment to being changed by this encounter. Whether we ask him to move on or not, in what ways are we open to responding to the very real and present needs that are on our doorstep? 

We can't do everything, so where might we start?

What, in this moment might we—with God's help—be able to do? This is one of the questions that parish leadership is wrestling through. Last week, Lorraine, Marnie and I met with Deb to discuss the partnership between St. David's and the Food Bank. It was a good and productive meeting that, I think, will lead to clearer communication and deeper ties between us as ministry partners in the days ahead. 

The common theme to that conversation was one of partnership. These were words used by everyone around the table. How might we work together to better serve the needs of our neighbours? How might we come to know our neighbours, and in seeking to ensure that each person is afforded the dignity they deserve?

Amongst those things we discussed was a way to engage with those who are currently taking refuge on church grounds overnight. And while all of these challenges have yet to be addressed, we are on the way. In the past week, I have had a number of good conversations with folks within and beyond the parish. I have had conversations seeking understanding, and ways forward as we seek to live into the ministry we share, by virtue of our baptism. 

At Easter, we renewed our baptismal vows. Do you remember? They go like this:

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in God the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?
I will, with God’s help.

God the creator, the rock of our salvation, has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sin, through our Lord Jesus Christ. May he keep us faithful to our calling, now and for ever. 

As I was reflecting on these vows this week, what came to the forefront was the question of how we would strive for justice and peace, and seek to respecting the dignity of every human being. How might we, as a parish community do that? 

As we figure our way forward in the days ahead, may our Saviour Christ keep us faithful to this calling now and for ever. 

Every Blessing,

Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Valhalla Parish Missioner