Creating Conversation: Sister’s Closet and community transformation

Women met and prayed at City Centre Church during the Sister’s Closet event.

Creating Conversation is a weekly editorial, curated by the Centre for Missional Leadership (CML), which gives opportunity for people to speak about issues they believe are vital for the church in Vancouver.  

One of the goals of this weekly article is to spark dialogue – and action. We invite you to join the dialogue here on the Church for Vancouver website.

We also invite you to use the article as a discussion starter with your small group, church staff, friends and your neighbours. Thanks for participating in the conversation!

Gabriel Snyman is the minister of City Centre Church in the Whalley neighbourhood of Surrey. The church is very active in working with the community, serving meals at Surrey Urban Mission, providing free clothes and caring for needy families.

Recently, it was Transfiguration Sunday. We read in Matthew 17 about Jesus ascending a mountain with three of his disciples. Moses and Elijah appeared, and Jesus’s appearance transforms before the disciples’ eyes.

Two details are given about this transformation. The text tells us that Jesus’s face “shone like the sun” and his clothes became “dazzling white.” What we miss in this account of a seemingly otherworldly revelation is the reaction these details would likely have kindled in the disciples who witnessed it.

Jesus’s face shining, though a one-time occurrence, linked to something in their frame of reference, something they valued. The disciples grew up with accounts of Moses having ascended a mountain to commune with God, descending with his face shining.

Jesus’s face shining provided them with an interpretive grid with which they could understand Jesus as someone intimately communicating with God and a legitimate messenger of God’s will.

The white clothes Jesus donned were not unfamiliar to the disciples either, though rare. Even today you would struggle to keep a white garment white for long and in those days there wasn’t mass production according to taste. White garments were rare and special and thus had the connotation of ritual significance and purity. Somebody dressed in dazzling white would be set aside for a special role in a ritual of importance.

With his changing appearance, shining face and dazzling white garment, Jesus made Himself known to them and deepened their understanding of His identity. What resonates with us and what is rare and good, deepens our insight into who Jesus is.

Community in Whalley

City Centre Church members make a point of getting to know their neighbours.

City Centre Church is a gathering of individuals to whom Jesus has, in various and personal ways, revealed Himself to be the Son of God and the hope of the world. We feel compelled to make Jesus known to the neighbourhood God placed us in.

Our neighbourhood is very diverse. Whalley has a high population of refugees. We have low income families and homeless people, often in the clutches of addiction, together with an ever-growing population of young and upcoming professionals moving into the high-rises that seem to spring up like mushrooms all around us.

How can we make Christ known to people in such a diverse community? Following the lead of Jesus on that mountain of transfiguration with his disciples, we decided to get involved in something most people would value but also to do something rare, something that is not done all too often where we live.

We realized that clothing and being clothed well is almost a universal passion among women, regardless of background, race or socio-economic class. One of the first things our parents did to care for us and to give us dignity, was to clothe us well and appropriately. Even as adults the opportunity to dress well makes most people feel dignified and cared for.

Women especially, love the opportunity to pick out clothing that meets their and their family’s needs and expresses their identity. Commercial and charity outlets that sell clothes are all around, but places that offer such items for free are very rare.

Sister’s Closet

Hundreds of people turned up for Sister’s Closet, choosing from more than 20 racks packed with clothes, along with more on pews and tables.

We saw an opportunity and launched Sister’s Closet, the brainchild of a widow in our congregations. Once a year we turn our sanctuary into a clothing shop filled with donated women’s, men’s and children’s clothing on racks.

Volunteers in and outside our congregation gather donated clothes, set up shop and assist women in the community to come in and pick out outfits they like.

Each visitor gets to pick two bags full of clothing free of charge. Covid prevented us from having this event for two years, but we resumed last year and just hosted this year’s Sister’s Closet on Family Day.

What we have discovered is that when you do something that links with what people value and if you go about it in a generous way – which is rare in our consumer driven world – Jesus shows up. You see Him everywhere.

I saw him in an affluent housewife living in White Rock helping a recent immigrant from Colombia choose an outfit that makes her feel beautiful, with the help of someone translating from English to Spanish.

I saw Him in the burka-clad woman entering our sanctuary skittishly and cautiously, but soon getting excited and relaxed when seeing all the beautiful clothes and friendly people welcoming her in.

I saw Him in the women downstairs serving coffee, tea and snacks to the satisfied shoppers.

I saw Him at work in the basket with a simple sign stating “Prayer Requests” filling up as the morning progressed and I saw Him in the group of women sitting around a table and spontaneously taking hands and praying for one another. I went and sat with them for a while and counted no less than eight nationalities among them!

I saw Jesus in people warming up to our hospitality and asking how they can sign up to volunteer in the next event and inquiring about our worship services.

I saw Jesus in a young congregant who works in a chocolate factory bringing an enormous bag of keto-friendly chocolates for our guests.

I saw Jesus’s face shine in the gratitude and joy of women old and young with bags of clothing and hearts filled with a little bit of hope as they navigate their life in this beautiful country.

Like Peter on that mountain who sheepishly offered to build huts for the guests, I wanted to linger in this special moment and make it last longer. It was over all too soon. We packed up. Only three small boxes of items were left, which we took to a local charity.

Christ’s presence

We were all tired and our clothes were anything but white after this intense morning of engagement with our neighbours. None of us got transfigured, but we as well as our community were transformed by this experience. And sometimes I think that where this happens Christ’s glorious presence is felt just as potently as those three disciples felt it on that mountain with Jesus.

Gabriel Snyman

What good things do the people living around your church value? What rare act of gracious generosity and hospitality can you pursue that will resonate with these people and what they value?

Answer these questions. Implement and you will not only make Christ known to others but get to know Him a little bit better yourself.

Gabriel Snyman is the minister of City Centre Church a missionally oriented Presbyterian Church in Whalley (Surrey). He is on a quest to learn with his congregation what it means to wait expectantly for God and recognizing Him, breaking through the givenness of a secular context in hopeful, surprising and gracious ways.

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