Sudbury faith: Sudbury churches helping the downtown and its people

Richard Bradley, left, Theresa Lovely and Art Chapais enjoy a burger at a community barbecue hosted by six downtown churches at Christ the King Church in Sudbury, Ont. on Friday June 7, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network John Lappa / John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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About seven years ago Dr. Robin Bolton had the idea of forming a Downtown Churches Group to coordinate the outreach ministries of a group of churches in Sudbury’s downtown area.

Robin’s welcome was a major part of our transitions as we came to serve downtown churches last year. Sadly, Dr. Bolton died this April but the Downtown Churches Group he founded continues its joint ministry.

The group comprises six congregations: All Nations Church (Baptist), Church of Christ the King (Roman Catholic), Church of the Epiphany (Anglican), St. Andrew’s United Church, Paroisse Ste-Anne-des-Pins (Roman Catholic), and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Most of the members of these congregations don’t live in the downtown neighbourhood where they’re situated, but we all understand a calling to “love our neighbours”; some of our downtown neighbours are homeless, others are poor, yet others are addicts, but we all as Christians seek to respond with Christ-like compassion and the churches have sought ways to help them in some way.

Here are some of the activities we have engaged in to support our neighbourhood:

1. A prayer walk around the downtown to pray for the agencies that help the poor, homeless, and addicted, for the people using the services and those who work there.

2. Assisting with the Louis Street after school homework program and their community garden.

3. Making soup for the guests at the Off the Street Shelter.

4. Hosting a free barbecue for people downtown.

5. Collecting personal care items at Christmas for people who use the services of the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth, the Off the Street Shelter, and the Elgin St. Mission.

6. Collecting paperback books for the John Howard Society to provide to inmates at the Sudbury Jail.

7. Providing meals at Out of the Cold dinners at St. Andrews and Epiphany churches.

8. Volunteering at the Elgin St. Mission.

9. Supporting the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth.

10. Raising awareness in our faith communities about issues like poverty, homelessness, policing, and the drug strategy.

Members of the Downtown Churches Group met with our mayor and some of our city councillors to share some of our concerns and our ideas about helping our downtown neighbours. Some of the items we touched on when we met were:

1. Concern about drug needles littering the downtown and our church properties. We requested that more disposal bins be located downtown and offered our church properties as possible sites.

2. The need for a year-round shelter for the homeless, not just one that runs in the winter months.

3. A safe injection site. While we know our parishioners will not be of one mind about this, the leadership of the churches recognizes that safe injection sites can save lives and can lead to people seeking treatment for their addictions.

4. Safe, clean, and publicly accessible washrooms downtown.

Our faith compels us to love and care for our neighbour. In chapter 25 of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus said that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, welcome the stranger, then we are doing it for Jesus himself.

In these ever-changing and especially challenging times, we who are “Christ-presence” in the downtown are called to respond not out of fear, but out of love.

We invited Pastor Brad Hale from the Elgin Street Mission to one of our Downtown Churches Group meetings to share words of wisdom gained from his experience working with and serving downtown residents.

We asked what we can do and where we can start to provide a supportive role downtown, to which he responded (and we paraphrase), “Get to know the people downtown, your neighbours.”

Our downtown churches will continue to work together to love and serve our God and our neighbour.

Rev. Thomas Arth is the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sudbury. Rev. Dave Le Grand is with St. Andrew’s United Church, also in Sudbury.

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