The third of the Five Marks of Mission urges us to respond to human need with loving service. And at St. Christopher’s Church in Burlington, Ont., Anglicans are doing this in a decade-old dinner and clothing program that blurs the lines between the needy and need-nots.
Archdeacon Dr. Stephen Hopkins, St. Christopher’s rector, explains. “For me, where our Open Doors program becomes a mark of mission is that people who are hungry and don’t have enough resources to get by on share food with those who do have enough,” he says. “Part of what we’re creating is an alternative vision of community where everyone belongs.”
Held during the school year from September to June, the free Tuesday evening community meal attracts up to 140 people, many from several low-income pockets of the neighbourhood. “And while some arrive for the meal because they need the food, they end up staying because of the relationships. They stay for community,” says Hopkins.
Or the store. While a recreational program for children and tweens keeps youngsters busy, their parents can browse in the free clothing store, which operates twice weekly, year-round and attracts 80 to 90 people a week looking for good used apparel.
In the past 18 months, the hot meals, featuring meat, vegetables, salad and dessert, have become more affordable for St. Christopher’s, thanks to its partnership with Halton-based ReFresh Foods, a recovery program that works with wholesalers and grocery chains to collect surplus food and redistribute it to groups feeding the hungry. “It’s a secular organization, but it has many people of faith working in leadership roles,” says Hopkins.
Open Doors is a winning model that’s being replicated by other churches in Burlington. Wellington Square United Church started a Friday community dinner after observing the supper at St. Christopher’s, and another community meal will likely start up in one of the Pentecostal churches.
“We’ve had people who’ve become part of the worshipping community because they arrived for the dinner and folks who arrived for the dinner who have become volunteers in the kitchen or the store,” Hopkins says. “One of the things we’re keen to do is erode the distinctions between those who serve and those who are served. People on low incomes may lack financial resources, but they have other resources to offer.”