(This editorial first appeared in the October issue of the Anglican Journal.)
As we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, some of us may decide to compose our own prayers. Or, perhaps, stick to familiar ones such as these:
“Dear Lord, thank you for this food. Bless the hands that prepared it. Bless it to our use and us to your service. And make us ever mindful of the needs of others”; “For food in a world where many are in hunger; For faith in a world where many walk in fear; For friends in a world where many walk alone; We give you thanks, O Lord. Amen.”
These prayers urge us, in the midst of plenty, to think about those less fortunate than we are. But is it enough to simply remember and pray for the homeless and poor?
Each night across Canada, about 35,000 people are homeless, a growing number of them families with children, says a recent report by the advocacy group Raising the Roof. In fact, one in seven Canadians using a temporary shelter is a child.
The report also notes that 841,191 Canadians visited food banks in 2014, an increase of 25% from 2008.
“Homelessness is a disaster in this country, one that has been recognized by the United Nations,” the report states. Noting how growing inequality fuels poverty and homelessness, it warns, “If we fail to act soon, this problem is only going to get worse.” The gravity of homelessness in Canada
was starkly illustrated a year ago when a group of homeless Victorians set up camp on the city’s courthouse lawn, across the street from Christ Church Anglican Cathedral. The tent city was demolished this summer, but it succeeded in putting a spotlight on poverty and lack of affordable housing.
Some are dioceses that have made ending poverty and homelessness the lynchpin of their work around social justice. Diocese of Edmonton Bishop Jane Alexander, for example, sits as co-chair of the End Poverty Edmonton Task Force, along with Mayor Don Iveson. The task force has identified specific, community-led strategies to “end poverty in a generation.” As Alexander told members of Council of General Synod in 2013, issuing a statement or signing a petition is a good start, but these are not enough.
In September, the Journal reported on efforts made by the diocese of Ottawa to make better use of church real estate by converting some of them into multi-purpose facilities, generating profits that finance social services.” There is an increased expectation now on the part of the church to do more… and there’s an obligation…on our part to respond to that expectation,” said Bishop John Chapman. He cited increasing demand for ministries that provide housing for disadvantaged women and shelters and day programs for people living on the street.
Aside from funding various social programs, the diocese of Toronto is active in social justice and advocacy work. Recognizing that advocacy requires strength in numbers, it partners with faith and justice groups in speaking out on child poverty, affordable housing and homelessness.
There are many other examples of good work that dioceses, parishes and individual Anglicans do across Canada. It would be ideal for Canadian Anglicans to share their experiences, and even work together, to achieve greater results. There are success stories, for sure, but there are also challenges with no straightforward solutions.
At their first joint assembly in 2013, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada passed a declaration committing their churches to “advocate for renewed federal funding” and for an “integrated national collaborative strategy and greater accountability on the part of provinces and municipalities” in addressing homelessness and substandard housing.
When they meet anew in 2019, the two churches ought to assess whether they have lived up to these commitments.
In closing, the Anglican Journal wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving. We invite you to join us saying in this prayer often attributed to Latin America: “O God, to those who have hunger, give bread, and to us who have bread, give the hunger for justice.”