A new partnership between the parishes of the diocese of Niagara and the national church is leading to promising new conversations between Anglicans at all levels and their non-church communities.
Hands Across Niagara is a three-year-old annual fund-raising and ministry-support program that has essentially replaced and broadened the parameters of the traditional Anglican Appeal in this southern Ontario diocese. “It’s a joint initiative between the people, parishes and diocese and General Synod to support transformative justice and servant ministry,” says the Rev. Bill Mous, the diocese’s co-ordinator for social justice. “Its aim is to support projects that address the root causes of social injustice.”
Now in its third year, the campaign is targeted by Bishop Michael Bird’s office to clergy and parishioners, and in 2012 raised more than $40,000. Of that, one-third, or about $14,000, went to support justice and servant ministries in local congregations; an additional one-third went to the diocese to fund grants for addressing the underlying social conditions that foster social injustice; and one-third went to support the national and global ministries of General Synod. The 2013 appeal took place in April and the figures are still being tabulated.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Hands is its mandated and growing relationships with the larger, non-faith community. The Social Justice Group of Centre Wellington, originating from a committee at St. James Anglican Church, Fergus, for example, partnered with the Guelph-Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination to address poverty in the area, gathering people experienced in poverty as well as lay and faith leaders to talk specifically about housing. “Through that, they and several congregations started a broader community conversation in innovative ways that hadn’t happened before,” says Mous.
“We often think of poverty as an urban or suburban problem, but the Centre Wellington area, where these conversations about poverty took place, is a largely rural set of communities,” he adds. “From this discernment, conversations have really blossomed. They’ve gone in all sorts of directions from housing to public transit and awareness of general systemic injustice in the community.”
The group’s first concrete project involves public transportation. “We’ve been working with a local school bus company, Elliott Coach Lines, to set up a community bus service, and expect to start the service in the next couple of weeks,” says Paul Holyoke, chair of the Social Justice Group, which held public meetings in two different communities to get input on schedules, routes and fares.
“We were gratified by the turnout and the stories of those who will find the new bus service extremely useful. It will help those who are living in poverty avoid high taxi charges for regular shopping and recreational activities, and will reduce significant social exclusion for older community members.” Young people will be regular users of the service, which held its first trial run on June 1.
The group has also produced a 20-minute video called Another Side of Centre Wellington, named after the series of community discussions.
Valuable but unexpected connections can emerge from these conversations. When St. Christopher’s, Burlington, held diocesan-grant-funded talks on food security, it transpired at one gathering that a local apple grower was unable to find a local buyer for his fruit. At that meeting, however, both a local grocer and a community project leader stepped up and agreed to buy his apples, thereby providing him with customers and the community with locally grown produce. “This was not the specific goal of the grant program, but it’s an example of the connections that can be made,” says Mous.
“What’s unique about the grant program is that it insists that parishes applying for grants have a community partner outside the church: it’s community engagement,” says the Ven. Dr. Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada. “It’s similar to work in Cuba, where the church is looking to the needs of its communities and not just sustaining the infrastructure of church.” The diocesan grant program is now in its second year.
Thompson recently met with stakeholders to discuss strategies for strengthening the Hands brand. “The next step is to raise the profile of the national work supported by Hands and to highlight the amazing projects and partnerships developing across the diocese,” says Thompson. “People are connecting with each other outside the parish structure, out in the life of the world, and that is consistent with the Marks of Mission and Vision 2019.”
Off to a slow start in its first year, the Hands campaign grew appreciably in 2012 over 2011. “By paying attention to its profile, we can sustain its growth,” says Thompson. And the timing for joint initiatives is right since current church restructuring discussions have made it a “significant priority…to work more in partnerships and less in silos,” he adds.
The national church has undertaken a similar partnership with the diocese of Ontario.