City Councillor Andrea Reimer would love to see churches working together for the good of the city. “Many things start in a church basement,” she said recently. “I use that phrase a lot – and here we are in a church basement.”
Well, not a basement exactly, but she was addressing 85 Vancouver church and ministry leaders downstairs at Glad Tidings Church November 24 – 25. She set the tone for the two-day City Summit, which capped off the year-long Vancouver Consultation process, along with fellow panelists Deb Bryant and John Neate.
Reimer, who was particularly passionate about the issues of homelessness and child poverty, said she would love to see faith groups promote the common good by fostering dialogue and action on a different topic each year. She even had a name for her vision: ‘One City, One Sermon.’
The resonance of her comments became clear towards the end of the gathering, as the assembled leaders – representing a very wide range of denominations and perspectives – were asked by moderator Jonathan Bird to think about what the churches and ministries of Vancouver can do together to help the city flourish. (Bird, executive director of CityGate Leadership Forum, guided the Consultation process.)
One participant suggested that CityGate might pick up on Reimer’s suggestion and pilot a One City, One Sermon initiative. Another thought the theme of hospitality might be appropriate. Before long, there was a tentative plan that pastors in churches all over the city be asked to focus on issues of hospitality and welcoming the stranger June 11, 2017. A follow-up meeting February 16 will flesh out the plan.
Deb Bryant / John Neate
Following Andrea Reimer during the first panel was Deb Bryant, CEO of the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC. She said, “It is so interesting and touching and really courageous to be talking about hope right now.” After recognizing the beauty and diversity of Vancouver, she lamented that “we manage to systematically exclude so many people” from the necessities and pleasures of the surrounding good life.
Bryant encouraged the gathered leaders to get in touch with their neighbourhood houses (Cedar Cottage, Frog Hollow, Kitsilano . . .), which she oversees, noting that they do some of the work churches have done historically.
JJ Bean founder John Neate joked that “I am not a community servant like the other two [Reimer and Bryant] – “but I do serve over 10,000 cups of coffee to the community every day.” He supports and encourages his young (“all born in the late 90s”) staff members as they undertake charitable projects in a variety of locations, such as Guatemala, Haiti and the Downtown Eastside.
He said he would like to like to see less unnecessary duplication of programs between service providers in the Downtown Eastside – and even offered his services as a mediator between groups if called upon.
(Neate offered some colourful stories about the challenges and pleasures of running 19 JJ Bean coffee shops around town as places where people of every description can find community – one of which was told, in part, by the Vancouver Sun’s Pete McMartin a couple of years ago in Coffee and cannabis, a clash of manners on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive.)
Signs of Hope: Described
In the afternoon of the first day, we heard firsthand from six people whose programs, lifestyles or businesses suggest innovative ways for Christians to engage with their neighbours. Here a couple of examples:
Maureen Donegan coordinates Catholic Charities Justice Services (CCJS) for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, providing ministry in collaboration with chaplains for offenders in prison.
She now has a couple of hundred volunteers from different Christian traditions visiting prisoners in the Metro Vancouver / Fraser Valley area and points out that volunteers who might once have feared the prospect are now enthusiastic about their visits.
The CCJS recently added a new program, Victim Circles of Support (V-CoS), which works with victims of crime. Earlier this year, Donegan addressed a banquet to celebrate the work of Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA), in which Catholic and the Mennonite Central Committee BC volunteers support sex offenders.
Jonathan Mitchell delivered an enthusiastic and encouraging update on youth work around the city. Beginning on a down note – youth groups are failing to make disciples (“even though they’re better than ever”) – he then pointed to a unity movement among youth pastors which is making a difference in the lives of young people.
Starting about three years ago, the Chapel movement began to hold joint worship events at John Oliver Secondary School in east Vancouver, now at six locations around Metro Vancouver.
“You kind of go, this must be the answer,” said Mitchell. Early on, he wanted to fill a stadium, but realized over time that Chapel was really about relationships. He has now had coffee with 200 youth pastors, and is excited about what God is going to do next. “Something is happening right now among this generation of leaders that we cannot miss.”
On the horizon, right now, is the likely prospect of student-led, leader-supported Alpha Courses in half of the public schools in the Lower Mainland this spring. Connections between youth pastors lead to students getting to know each other and work together in the various schools.
Signs of Hope: Visited
On the morning of the second day, Summit participants hopped on chartered buses to visit eight sites around the city, with two organizations presenting at each one:
- Faith Fellowship Baptist – multicultural community development; Place of Refuge Recovery Home;
- St. Paul’s Anglican Advocacy Office; Meta Communities;
- Inner Hope Youth Ministries; Youth Unlimited’s Creative Life arts program;
- Madonna House – Roman Catholic / Eastern Orthodox house (poustinia) for prayer and service to neighbours; International Student Ministries Canada at UBC;
- Mission Possible – social enterprise; Union Gospel Mission – training and support for Christians embracing the marginalized;
- Grandview Calvary Baptist; Vancouver East Vineyard – congregational renewal through holistic neighbour care;
- Kinbrace Refugee Housing; Christian Reformed Refugee Services;
- City in Focus – marketplace chaplaincy, co-location of for-profit and non-profit kingdom efforts; Business By the Book – congregational outreach to the central business district.
Guidance from urban experts
Throughout the two-day event, we received guidance from three leaders with a wealth of experience in urban ministry – Ray Bakke (international), Glenn Smith (national) and Tim Dickau (local).
Dr. Ray Bakke is a pioneering urban missiologist who has taught and written books on urban issues since the 1970s and has guided consultation processes in hundreds of major cities around the world. He distilled some of those insights into two talks, on ‘Scripture and the City’ and ‘Global and Historical Contexts for Vancouver as an Ideal Laboratory for Urban Mission.’
Bakke said, “Mission today is in the migrant streams; Vancouver, you are in the middle of it,” adding, however, that those of us in the West “are no longer in charge” because the centre of gravity of the worldwide church is now in the global South.
He encouraged the assembly to open their arms wide in looking for allies. Billy Graham, he said, would simply “run up the flag of Jesus, and see who salutes.”
Dr. Glenn Smith has been executive director of Christian Direction in Montreal since 1983. Its mission is “to pursue the transformation of people, families and their communities in the cities of Québec and the French-speaking world.” He considered the issue of ‘Pluralism, Secularity and the Shaping of Canadian Urban Spaces.’
As the assembled leaders discussed future plans, Smith said he would like to see Vancouver develop a set of ‘indicators of a transformed city’ such as Christian Direction has created over the years in Montreal. “If you aim at nothing, you’re going to hit it every time,” he said.
Dr. Tim Dickau has been pastor of Grandview Calvary Baptist Church in the Commercial Drive area for more than 20 years. He wrote Plunging into the Kingdom Way, which tells how the church developed practices of community, hospitality, justice and confession.
He described some of the initiatives which have spun off from Grandview, such as Kinbrace Refugee Housing & Support, and Co:Here Housing Committee, being built right now at 1st and Victoria to facilitate community across economic dividing lines.
“An encouraging thing for me,” said Dickau, “is more and more people holding a wholistic version of the gospel,” one which takes into account both personal conversion and concern for broader social issues.
The final session of the City Summit was devoted to gleaning suggestions from the assembled leaders as to how the church could work together more effectively, for the good of the city. Here are some of the suggestions:
Hold missional roundtables in neighbourhoods.
CityGate helps to pilot ‘One City, One Sermon’ – tentatively on the theme of biblical hospitality, June 11, 2017.
Pastors commit to an hour’s visit with at least three pastors nearby, before the One City, One Sermon date.
Congregations could routinely acknowledge near the start of worship time that we are on unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
Image from group prayer: Jesus sitting on the Lower Mainland and gesturing “come, let’s sit together” – a posture of being present and blessing, not doing or controlling.
More intentional time for collective prayer of discernment.
Define our desired outcomes for gospel transformation: e.g. Smith’s indicators; identify the church’s prescription for the Healthy City Strategic Goals established by city hall;
Plot our directory of congregational community service programs and parachurch organizations onto the City of Vancouver’s Healthy City diagram.
Note well the notion from Frederick Buechner that the church’s calling is where its greatest passion overlaps with the city’s greatest need.
- Let Jonathan Bird or Flyn Ritchie know your passion, so we can connect you
The Vancouver Consultation process ended with the City Summit, but the team which organized it (co-facilitators Jonathan Bird and Flyn Ritchie, along with the core leadership team), are very much open to further developments, under the guidance of the broader church, and the Holy Spirit.
Podcasts of presentations made at the City Summit will soon be available on the Vancouver Consultation site.