Taking prayer to the streets

Published May 8, 2012

The Rev. Maggie Helwig, curate at St. Timothy’s North Toronto, and the Rev. Andrea Budgey, the Humphreys Chaplain at Trinity College and the University of Toronto are among Anglican clergy who are social justice advocates. Photo: Michael Hudson

Last May 1, the Rev. Maggie Helwig marked the first anniversary of her ordination as deacon by taking part in an Occupy Toronto rally.

Subsequently, she was charged with trespassing.

Police gave the assistant curate at St. Timothy’s North Toronto a $65 ticket for trying to set up a makeshift chapel at Simcoe Park. Also charged were Barry Rieder, a United Church minister, and Lee McKenna, a Baptist layperson.

Helwig has been actively involved with Occupy Chaplaincy in Toronto, a group that provides protesters with a space to talk, pray or meditate. It is composed of priests and laypeople from the Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Baptist churches, as well as Quakers.

On the day she was arrested, the Occupy Toronto movement had joined a protest against Barrick Gold, a mining company linked to “significant human rights abuses” in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, said Helwig in an interview.

“The message of Occupy is that all people are valuable, that a system which allows people to become extremely rich while others are extremely poor is wrong and unjust,” said Helwig, explaining why she and other priests are supporting what is largely a secular movement. “Those are fundamental faith values,” she told the Journal. “…it is our duty as Christians to stand on the side of the little people, of the poor, of the excluded, of the marginalized.”

Occupy Toronto protesters have been “extremely pleased” to have the chaplains and members of other faith groups present at their mass actions, said Helwig. “They were quite surprised (but) it means a lot to them.”

Her presence at these rallies also shows that the church is paying attention to the needs of the world and that it stands alongside those who desire a more just and compassionate society, said Helwig, adding that, “Being out there on the street is also prayer.”

Ordained a priest last Jan. 22, Helwig is no stranger to being arrested. Active in the social justice movement since the 1980s, she been involved in international human rights issues, particularly in East Timor and Bosnia. Before becoming a priest, she helped start a community meal program for the homeless and marginally housed at St. Thomas’ Church, Toronto. Helwig chairs the diocese of Toronto’s social justice and advocacy committee and is the published author of 12 books of poetry and fiction.

Her congregation’s reaction to her involvement with the Occupy movement has been mixed. “Some are very supportive, some a little confused,” she said. “I have talked about it quite a bit, preached about it and have had individual discussions. People have different opinions, inevitably.”

Receiving a ticket has not deterred Helwig in the slightest. She is planning to participate in Occupy Toronto protests being planned this spring and summer.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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