Produce from the St. David’s community garden was donated to a local food bank. Photo: Courtesy the Rev. Martha Tatarnic
When you think of Orillia, Ont., you think of Stephen Leacock, music festivals, lovely lakeside cottages, pricey waterfront condos, big boats. But this picturesque tourist town of almost 31,000 people harbours a lot of poverty, especially in its low-income south end.
When she became incumbent Anglican priest and Lutheran pastor in January 2009, the Rev. Martha Tatarnic quickly organized a visioning day to discern where God was calling this new joint entity to go. Out of that came some core values and statements of vision in line with the Anglican Communion’s Marks of Mission and their equivalents in the Lutheran church. “Over the past three years, we’ve tried to make all our decisions about ministry and stewardship in accordance with these values, and they have been very life-giving,” says Tatarnic.
So how have these principles played out at the community level? The first thing undertaken by St. David’s, which is located in the low-income part of town, was a Sept. 2009, community barbecue to kick off discussions of the community’s needs and concerns. “It was a forum for conversations on how we might offer gifts in the face of those needs,” Tatarnic says.
Out of that sprang a regular hot Sunday breakfast for the community—no strings attached, no expectation of attending church. “We just wanted to hear from neighbourhood people what was going on and build relationships. Food is such a great way of creating community, conversation and a safe and welcoming place,” she says.
Attendance has grown to 100 regulars; there are 40 volunteers serving the eggs and bacon and several local businesses donating food. “It’s been a very important undertaking.” She says. The breakfast has sparked a mini food bank and a table offering non-food items as well.
Last fall, the parish launched Route 66, a much-needed children’s recreational program on Tuesday evenings. “The message from this under-resourced neighbourhood was that it kids need a safe place to go,” she says.
The programs rely on a lot of lay labour, churchgoers and non-churchgoers, alike. ” We are not a 80-20 congregation where 80 per cent of the work is done by 20 per cent of the people,” says Tatarnic.
Last year, the group also launched a community garden and donated the produce to a local food bank. The enterprise was partly motivated by the exhortation to stewardship of the fifth Mark. “If you want to do something for the environment, then eating locally grown food is the number one thing,” says Tatarnic.
As for the fourth Mark, transforming unjust structures of society, the church has plenty to do in Orillia and its environs, where poverty, hunger, unsafe water and inadequate housing abound.
The church has also interacted been, though less successfully, with local city council on the affordable housing issue, and recently it’s begun to work with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, on clean water supplies for the impoverished aboriginal community in nearby Rama. It’s also networking with faculty at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus to provide courses on aboriginal culture and issues.
Tatarnic admits it can be daunting to discern where God is calling you to go, and for a small church with pinched resources like hers to make a dent in complex overarching social issues. “But when you take discernment seriously and begin to understand that you have something that God wants you to offer, it takes on a life and energy of its own,” she says. “It turns the entire conversation away from your survival as a congregation and toward possibility and hope.”