These were the words that would change the next 4 years of my life, and be the beginning of changing others lives for ever. You see long before I came to work for the Dioceses I was a youth worker in Saint John among other places. I spent my days working with youth that were struggling with poverty, addiction, loss and homelessness, those who had so often been discarded by the world and were left at too young an age to fend for themselves. They were and are the hidden homeless of our cities, towns, villages, the lost and oppressed of this generation. Many of us had worked hard to bring to the surface the plight of the homeless teenager in our community. We spoke about it around tables of other NGO’s, we petitionined government officials, we cried out to the public, we told story after story of lives lost to the street. Some rallied to the cause and others went on with life not giving it a second thought, at times it felt like we were fighting a loosing battle.
Then one day I got a strange phone call. “Can you come and meet the Bishop in 10 minutes?” It was my friend Paul who I had met when the Bishop had assigned him to the south end of Saint John to assess the need and to determine how the Church could be a blessing in that community. Paul and I had become friends through this journey together and had dreamed about how we could work together on this project. I had never met a Bishop before so it sounded like fun! I turned my car around and headed to Anglican house. Upon arrival I was escorted upstairs to the Ladies Auxiliary room, where Bishop Claude and our now Bishop elect David Edwards sat (and Paul). I entered the room prepared with my best pitch about the need for a youth shelter in Saint John, about the countless lives we were loosing to drugs, prostitution, gangs and mental health, all because we could not offer the most basic of needs, shelter! The bishop asked questions and carefully considered my answers and after all was said and done he said “I think we need to do something about that”
I had no idea what those nine words would mean in the course of the next four years, but I had a sense in that room that God was beginning a good work in Saint John. What followed over the next few years was a level of dedication from not just the folks in that room, but Anglicans all over New Brunswick. First the St James church property was donated, so that it could continue on in its mission to serve the community in the name of Christ. Then support started rolling in from all corners of the Diocese. Some sent checks, others committed to funding the project yearly, and others knitted the most comfortable blankets you could imagine so that kids would have something made with love to wrap around while they slept. Even when hope seemed slim God’s people led by their Bishop stood by us. This fall Safe Harbour will open its doors providing 10 bedrooms for homeless youth in our community. What will happen there will be life altering for these youth, offering more than just a roof over theirs heads, but a continuum of support to walk with them to success. Some people wonder about the relevance of the church today. Well I don’t, because the hundreds of kids who’s lives will be saved because of Safe Harbour, say that the church is relevant and we are needed more than ever!!
Jesus talked said a lot of funny things on his time on earth. He talked about letting the little children come to him and what it meant to serve the least of these. He stuck his neck out for the women caught in adultery and always defended the poor and oppressed. As I look back over the last 4 years of knowing Bishop Claude I have come sincerely respect the work that he has done and his commitment to serving others. His desire to see young people know the Lord and to see them reach there full potential, and for the church to surround them with loving community has come through in almost every conversation we have ever had. Many will remember his time as Bishop for different reasons they will celebrate his contributions in many different ways. For me it will always go back to that first conversation and those 9 words that changed everything “I think we need to do something about that!”
Your brother in Christ