(left to right)Jennifer Henry of Kairos; Becca Whitla, music director at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Toronto; Alfredo Barahona of Kairos, Anne Marie Jackson of the Jesuit Forum; and Hannah Lee of the Dentonia Park United Church in Toronto sing at one of the plenary sessions at the Kairos Gathering in June.
Cydney Proctor, a second-year university student in Halifax, had her “first brush with Kairos,” with about 350 other people at the first national gathering of the ecumenical social justice organization in Waterloo, Ont. from June 17-20. One of the aims of the conference was to bring long-term supporters and activists together with people who hadn’t been involved with Kairos before. The result was “awesome,” according to Ms. Proctor, who said she was inspired by meeting so many people who are passionate about a whole spectrum of social justice issues as well as by the key note speakers, such as Inuit activist and Nobel prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier and Christian economist and theologian Ched Myers.
“It was both a gathering of Kairos present, the folks who are currently involved, but we also wanted to make it a Kairos gathering of the future in the sense that it invited in people who would strengthen and expand the ecumenical social justice movement going forward from this time,” said Jennifer Henry, Kairos dignity, rights and development manager. About 40 young people aged 18-30 attended. “There was specific work done by denominations and regions and also through the application process to put a priority on diverse voices and new voices,” said Ms. Henry. The gathering also brought together board members, staff, regional delegations and program committees with representatives from all 11 churches and church-related organizations, including the Anglican Church of Canada, that jointly created Kairos.
Ms. Proctor said the gathering had a grounding effect. “Pre-conference, people were sort of floating around in the ethereal, ‘I’m interested in social justice but I don’t know what to do about it.'” This, she said, offered a starting point. Ms. Proctor is already involved in organizing the Anglican Church of Canada’s Justice Camp, which will be held in Halifax from Aug. 9 to 15 and said attendees at the Kairos event expressed a lot of interest in it. She said she also made good contacts with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and learned about a plan to bring 100,000 young people together on Parliament Hill in Ottawa at the start of the next G8 Summit to express their concerns about climate change.
The theme of the conference was “The End of the World as We Know It – Thank God!” and keynote speakers reflected on various aspects of that theme. Ms. Henry said the response to two speakers on the first morning was particularly enthusiastic. “We had Sheila Watt-Cloutier who is an Order of Canada Inuit activist on climate change – very wise, very gentle, very reflective, and on the same morning Sharon Ruiz Durendez, who is a partner from the Philippines, a theologian, fiery, strong, very action-oriented. And between the two of them, they were a wonderful counterpoint for inviting both reflection and action.” Other speakers were Denis Couture, a professor of ethics and interreligious dialogue at the Universite de Montreal; Dan and Marylou Smoke Asayenes, who offered traditional native ceremonies and teachings; Lilia Solano, a Colombian human rights activist, academic and member of the Mennonite church; and Sylvia Keesmaat, a gardener and biblical scholar at the Institute for Christian Studies. Becca Whitla, the music director at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Toronto, co-ordinated music for the gathering.
Canon Maylanne Maybee, eco-justice co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of Canada’s partnerships department, said she also attended a pre-conference day on anti-poverty work. Those who attended heard first-hand accounts of what it is like to live on low incomes as well as what different churches and communities are doing to respond, she said. “They raised the concern that Kairos had made a decision to cut their anti-poverty fund from their budget,” she added, but noted that Kairos executive director Mary Corkery responded graciously with an explanation that recent cuts to Kairos programs, including the anti-poverty fund were done reluctantly. When the cuts were announced earlier in the spring, Ms. Corkery said they were made in order to balance the budget in a time of increase costs and decreasing contributions from member organizations. “I know that Kairos is continuing in advocacy and taking a kind of human rights approach to poverty in Canada, but what’s lost is the community development aspect that allows small groups to do self-help projects,” said Ms. Maybee.
Beth Baskin, public engagement co-ordinator for PWRDF, said a highlight of the gathering was just “connecting with folks from across the churches and across the country and having an opportunity to hear what people are doing in different places and share different kinds of experiences.”