By Gisele McKnight
The Ven. Charlene Taylor was a special guest at Diocesan Council during its meeting April 22 in Oromocto. Earlier in the week, she was a speaker at the diocese’s 12-12-12 (3) group as they focused on the topic of community engagement and partnerships.
Charlene, who serves in the Parish of the Good Shepherd in Mount Pearl, NL, outlined the structure of Cathedral Chapter, as appointed by Bishop Geoff Peddle, whereby canons were appointed for three years and given a ministry portfolio such as society and justice, chaplaincy, children and youth, spirituality, parish renewal and communications, seniors and mentoring.
With three years up, the bishop recently thanked the canons and archdeacons for their service, dissolved Cathedral Chapter, and appointed a new one.
Charlene reported on several success stories to come out of this project, saying, “We’ve done more programming in the past three years than the previous 10 years.”
Because this is where her passion lies, Charlene chose the society and justice portfolio. She sought out established agencies to find unmet needs in the region. That led her to a group called Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) associated with the St. John’s Status of Women’s Council.
SHOP offers practical services to the city’s sex trade workers, from health care to help on exiting the industry, and advocates for the human rights of sex workers.
“I told them to dream big — ‘if you could have something, something you need, if money was no issue, what would it be?’”
It turned out they needed more space to deliver programs, and Charlene thought she knew exactly the right place.
“I told them to leave it with me, and I went to visit the bishop,” she said.
Over a cup of tea — much is decided over tea in Newfoundland and Labrador — she reminded the bishop of some unused space the diocese had that could work for the project. Why not allow it to be used by SHOP to deliver its services?
“So we started the process,” she said, adding there was no hesitation on the bishop’s part and diocesan council gave it a unanimous go-ahead.
In that new, no-cost space, women can see a street health nurse (many have no family doctor and are often shunned at ERs); get a shower; benefit from counselling; and get advice and support on a safe exit from the occupation by women who have left the trade, among other services.
“This is a secure, unidentified space,” she said. The project has been operational since March 2016.
When the women learned it was the Anglican diocese that had provided the space, they were surprised: ’A church?! Do they know what we do?!’
“It was a shock for them to learn there really were people who love and care for them,” said Charlene.
Prostitution in St. John’s is booming, linked largely to the successes of the oil and gas industry. Similarly, the drug trade is also benefitting from increased disposable income. About 100 sex workers access SHOP’s services at the new place, although the estimate could be as high as 700 workers in the capital city region.
One woman told Charlene, ‘No little girl says she’s going to be a prostitute when she grows up.’
“These woman are somebody’s daughter, mother, sister,” said Charlene. “There’s always something that causes women to do this — abuse, addiction, something. We realize this is only one part of the issue.”
The highlight of the first year has been the baptism of a baby girl whose mother succeeded in leaving the trade. The mom had been baptized and confirmed in an Anglican church years before and still had the bible given at her confirmation.
“Wherever she’d been in life, this bible went with her.”
Charlene said the team in place to support this project was specially selected using two important criteria: practicing Christians who are non-judgmental.
Home Again Furniture Bank
The second project Charlene presented is called Home Again Furniture Bank (HAFB).
“This was an identified need,” she said. “People find housing, government provides housing, but there is a real need for gently used furniture. There are people sleeping on the floor, they have no tables.”
After Canon David Burrows approached the bishop, the diocese became the founding partner to create HAFB with a $25,000 donation. This enabled it to hire two part-time coordinators. Their early success has led to a federal grant of $160,000, for wages only, so the program expand to two full-time and one part-time employee.
“It started small but the demand is huge,” said Charlene. “There are 45 families on the waiting list.”
The diocese offered office space to HAFB, and it and SHOP even work together at times.
The program runs with the help of Anglican parishes, which are the referral agents. The clergy conduct on-site visits to make sure the need is real, determine what furniture will fit in the rooms and learn what else they might need in the way of support.
“And they’re building relationships with people not connected to any faith community,” she said.
People benefitting are those in transition, escaping violence, leaving jail, the under and un-employed, refugees and those just needing a fresh start. They give only new mattresses, and they have a partnership with a pest control company to eliminate the spread of bedbugs.
From the fall of 2015 to the spring of 2017, HAFB delivered to 320 households and picked up items from 300 donors. It diverted 120 tons of household items from landfill and recruited more than 100 volunteers.
They have federal and provincial government partners and several corporate sponsors. Even the woodworking department in a jail makes dressers for them. In one case, a man who worked on a dresser while in jail ended up getting a dresser when he got out.
Every Friday, volunteers and trucks are dispatched to pick up donations and deliver items to homes. Some of their volunteers are from a company that allows employees to go there to work for the day rather than coming to their regular jobs.
A media company produced a video for HAFB at no cost. You can watch it by clicking here.
And finally, a man who owns a large moving company happened to volunteer one Friday. His deliveries took him to the home of an older woman the same age as his mother. He was struck by the sadness of the situation because this woman had no bed to sleep on. He has gone on to provide warehouse space for HAFB for furniture storage.
Charlene ended her presentation with tips for launching new ministries: know and be connected with your local community; identify areas of need using the expertise of those on the ground; partner with existing community groups and agencies; and finally, forego judgment in favour of compassion.
At the end, Charlene passed out a series of questions to encourage council members to think about projects that could be launched here.
• What community outreach currently exists?
• What are the needs of the community?
• Who are our current partners in ministry?
• Who may a potential partner?
• Where can we start building community relationships? With other parishes? Other faith communities? Local groups?