Lower Mainland Christians are hopeful the newly formed Metro Vancouver Alliance – a broad, non-partisan coalition that includes people of faith – will develop solid solutions to some of the critical social issues facing their communities.
“We see so much human suffering around Metro Vancouver,” says Paul Schratz, speaking for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, “and this is a chance for us to work together and make concrete changes rather than just issuing recommendations.”
The MVA brings together 40 organizations representing 200,000 people, including union locals, youth groups, neighbourhood houses, co-ops, community non-profits and churches that are affiliated mostly with the mainline denominations.
The fact they set aside sometimes major differences so they could work together on issues they all care about “makes for a powerful movement,” says Vancouver & District Labour Council president Joey Hartman.
Schratz agrees. “We have these preconceived ideas of each other, and [Catholics are] as guilty as anyone else,” he says. “We need to find these opportunities to work with other people. That breaking down of barriers can only be a good thing.”
As a lead-up to a founding assembly on March 19, members spent nine months in a “listening campaign” to discern the concerns that matter most to them. The result, says North Vancouver Anglican deacon Andrew Wilhelm-Boyles, is they “will only move forward on issues on which all of the members can agree unreservedly.”
Those issues are affordable housing, poverty, public transportation and loneliness.
The next phase will be to train the teams studying these issues how to craft practical and achievable solutions, and how to engage the public and persuade municipal politicians – who will be facing their electorates in November – to support them.
“They’re learning the savvy way, the smart way, the collaborative way to approach these issues,” says Wilhelm-Boyles. “That’s a better recipe for success than simply doing demonstrations and then going home. People are committed to this.”
For the churches, being part of the MVA is also another way for them to fulfill their God-given mandate to serve the poor, the homeless and the marginalized in their communities.
“It’s so obvious, especially now,” says Schratz. “We’re getting a very solid reminder from Pope Francis that if we’re not living out the gospel, then we’re not really being the church [God’s] calling us to be.”
As well, Jeremy Bell, executive minister of Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, so far the lone evangelical group in the MVA, hopes churches will “be an explicitly Christian part of the conversation, [declaring the] full gospel, not simply a social gospel.”
“Incarnation means being in places that are inconvenient and uncomfortable. There will be times when that is true within MVA, but up to this point it’s been a good experience,” he says. “If we focus on the poor, we will by the grace of God make progress.”
This model of community organizing is not new. About 60 similar groups already exist in the US, England, Germany, Australia and elsewhere. “They have shown,” says Wilhelm-Boyles, “that this kind of concerted, careful, intelligent, well-thought-out advocacy approach actually works.”
Metro Vancouver Alliance is holding its Annual General Meeting this Thursday (June 5).
This article was first printed in ChristianWeek.