Has COVID-19 been a challenge or an opportunity? Our church has been challenged on many levels – but we have been reminded of our original call, to pursue the things God had sent us into our neighbourhood to do.
Southside, now a multi-neighbourhood church, began in 1992 with a call to move into the Edmonds neighbourhood, in southeast Burnaby. In those first days, there was a deep focus on loving our neighbours.
For a variety of reasons, some of our original focus shifted. We have always been in and for and with our local community, but the energy we were giving to respond to neighbourhood issues waned. The pandemic has allowed us to . . . re-focus.
Deemed a provider of essential services, Southside has been allowed to continue responding to some very present needs, and to expand. Although these plans were in the works before COVID-19, it has served as an accelerator, increasing both our intentionality and our intensity towards joining God on mission.
On Mondays we are hosting between 75 and 100 people for a meal. Next Monday is our annual Christmas dinner and we expect numbers on the higher end. We have partnered with the Salvation Army to eat together with neighbours who have especially been feeling the crunch during the pandemic.
Our partnership with the Salvation Army, and increasingly with UGM (Union Gospel Mission), has allowed us to expand our caring for neighbours to include not just a hot meal, but to supply clothes, food (we are a hub for the Food Bank and essential food services) and even warm shelter.
Our desire is to find ways not just to host people, but to practice hospitality with them and continue to develop relationships. These are our neighbours.
Edmonds has always been a community with many underfed and underhoused people. Now, we are experiencing the opportunity to expand the care we are able to give. Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley’s attitude towards caring for those who are vulnerable has been a welcome support.
We have also been long-term partners with the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby and its hands-on Burnaby Task Force. Our Edmonds campus hosts their office, including the ‘Outreach Resource Centre,’ and its special outreach on Thursday mornings.
This weekly event sees up to 150 people each week, to receive a hot meal, health care, foot care, help with finances, taxes and other pressing needs.
The volunteer team has done a wonderful job in helping to value these neighbours who have become friends. The sense of community that has been developed runs deep. Once again, food packages are handed out to help people get through the rest of the week.
Their 2020 Christmas Outreach – supported by a wide range of local businesses, non-profit societies and politicians – will take place on our property today (December 17).
As we have moved into the colder part of the year, Southside has been able to participate in other ways.
Many people have been sleeping on the streets in the wet and cold. Now, through a partnership with the Lookout Society, we have been able to open the building and provide warm shelter for those who need it.
Local people who are underhoused are able to come in for a hot meal, a warm place to sleep and some social interaction.
Of course we could not do all of this on our own; we have had the help of others like Progressive Housing and Willingdon Church – and a generous gift from the United Way has allowed us to purchase some pods for storing all the supplies needed.
There are even more needs. And our desire to be good neighbours is growing. We are praying for the opportunity to purchase the vacant lot next door. The housing needs of the neighbourhood are deep.
We have partnered with Journey Home to help several families new to Canada, but long term there are so many more we could help in this exceptionally diverse neighbourhood, home to many new immigrants.
We are also planning to work with Union Gospel Mission to start a School of Mission which would include an Urban Training program to raise up new Neighbourhood Coordinators who could be helpful to so many other churches in the city.
We have recently hired a part time Neighbourhood Coordinator at Southside, but with expanding needs and programs, we are still just helping with a small part of what is needed. We will expand as finances allow.
None of us wanted COVID-19. But Southside has begun to embrace the opportunity in the Edmonds Neighbourhood Campus.
We have been learning to pay attention to where God is at work in our neighbourhood in new and fresh ways. Now, on to seeing this happen contextually in our other campuses.