We’re publishing some examples of Christian groups trying new things in the pandemic, but we didn't have room in our Jul/Aug print issue for all the great stories. Here's one in Surrey and one in Toronto that you can only read about on our website.
Pandemic restrictions, anti-racism protests and other recent social turmoil have forced many outreach ministries across Canada to figure out creative ways to continue their mission in new ways. While Canadians lament many that have closed temporarily or even permanently, other Christian charities are trying new things and finding success.
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Community hub in Surrey
At City Centre Church in Surrey, B.C., Rev. Gabriel Snyman has been wowed by the way their Sunday-service-centric church and once-a-week food ministry has transformed into a daily food outreach and community hub.
“I need to stress the exciting movement of the Spirit from just charity to community. Instead of just giving food to people, we have received relationship and allies in our mission from outside our church,” says Snyman.
Surrey is a suburb of Vancouver, and historically has had high rates of drug use and homelessness. He says the generosity of neighbours, businesses and church members has been astounding. “It’s renewed a passion for the neighbourhood,” he says. “When things started closing, we asked ourselves, there are so many things we can’t do, but what can we do?
City councillor Brenda Locke is a member at Snyman’s church, and she immediately got involved, reaching out to her contacts in the community.
“The Sikh religion is the most prevalent here, so she reached out to the gurdwaras,” says Snyman. “We collaborated and brought in food donations. A Muslim group brought in a big donation of food during Ramadan.”
The church now prepares 200 meals a day.
“Eventually we had people who had never been here, coming to volunteer and help out. They help with the food and with washing graffiti off the church. We’re even in talks of starting a community garden.” says Snyman. “Our focus on what we can do led to things we couldn’t have dreamed in our wildest imagination.”
Meal program, activism grow in Toronto
Angie Hocking runs the Common Table, a meal program at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto. The church is normally a “busy, bustling place” and has been doing outreach to the community for the last 25 years. They had always offered meals five days a week, to between 70 and 80 people each day. The numbers have now jumped to between 130 and 150.
“Because we’re extremely invested in our community, our neighbours were cheering us on with words, actions, money, saying, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’ So we asked, What would it look like to stay open? So we tried it.”
They’re focusing on food, as well as providing washrooms. Church members are volunteering, restaurants have partnered with them to provide food, and people in the community – at Bloor and Avenue Road, one of the richest locations in Canada – have been generous in their support.
“We’re trying our best to be present,” says Hocking. “We love our people. It’s interesting that we’re the face that is still open and 150 people are coming every day. It’s really striking to see how that has played out in our corner of the world.”
Hocking is also part of the Downtown East Faith Collective, “a group of churches of different denominations that want to work together for our people.” Their main task since the pandemic hit is advocacy. They wrote a letter, on behalf of frontline workers in churches, to the mayor of Toronto, advocating for housing and noting that churches are taking the brunt of the workload. “We have a unique frontline voice,” says Hocking. The letter has since been turned into a petition, online at FaithInAction.to.
She said the pandemic has brought the group even closer together, with a greater sense of emotional support, as well as even more sharing of resources. “We are one big team. There is this cohesion; we’re stronger together and we need each other.”
Amy MacLachlan is a freelance writer living west of Toronto. Watch for her feature article profiling a wide range of Christian groups that have successfully altered their ministries in the pandemic in our Jul/Aug issue, coming soon. Subscription is now free to Canadian homes – sign up today!