Finding Community… Even In The Storm Drain

Who Cares for the City?

By Kari Bergrud

Welcome to the first edition of the UGM Church Relations InCommon- Community News!

As a department at Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission, our vision is for the Church and communities to be woven together, pursing the Common Good and actively participating in Christ’s call for human flourishing.  By sharing resources and stories we hope to help communities connect in meaningful ways. If you are reading this, you are part of this unfolding story.

Is the term the Common Good familiar?

We understand it to refer to ‘that which benefits the interests of all’.  We experience it when we are in life-giving relationships with each other, creation and our Creator.  When there is economic and racial justice.  When poverty, homelessness, and addictions no longer plague our vulnerable neighbours.  When we “seek the peace of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The best way that we know to experience these things, is to first take notice of them. Let’s start by using the city as the bounded area to take notice in. We might not realize how intricate it is to take care of the city until we explore it. From the permits to operate that keep us safe, to the lawnmowers that tend to our parks which give us room to play soccer or have picnics, to the people that schedule their days around showing up at the same place, at the same time, so that they can say hi and check-in with others. There are so many ways that we care for each other and our physical spaces.

At the same time, there are many ways that we overlook what is being cared for because we are too busy, too distracted, or simply not paying attention. When we walk on cement, we might forget the feeling of earth and beauty of creation. When we drive in our cars, we tend to miss the shops, art and community gathering places between destinations that people have built and created. How often do we fill our ears with plugs to drown out the sounds that surround us, and fill our eyes with distractions, missing the people that are right in from of us?

So what would it take for us to notice?

How are we and others taking care of our city?

Deepa Iyer (Solidarity ls and Building Movement project) has a helpful tool that she has developed called Mapping Our Roles in a Social Change Ecosystem. It outlines the various roles that are needed for social change to happen. Much like the verses in 1 Corinthians that remind us that we are one body with many parts, this tool helps us to take notice of the various ways that each one of us contribute to our communities.

The act of noticing and naming can help us not only pay attention to our roles, but also be grateful for the ways others are taking care of our city. Maybe it starts with leaving our phones in our pockets when we are waiting for our coffee order so that you can listen to the “Visionary” barista share about their dream for the future. Or maybe it is making eye contact and saying “hello” to people that we pass on the street, just in case you come across a “Healer” with kind eyes. Or maybe it’s walking on dirt or grass to feel creation under our feet so that you can better understand the “Builders” that are trying to protect and steward the earth.

When I look out my office window onto East Hastings Street, I often see a “Frontline Responder”, an older gentleman that has his own garbage picker-upper that cleans up around the bus stop. He is not waiting for the bus, just cleaning around the bench. I don’t think that anyone has asked him to clean, he just does it. In fact, I think that he regularly accesses UGM programs for support. In this seemingly simple task, he cares for the city, he is caring for me, and he is caring for you.

There are many ways to care for our city, but first, we must notice it.

So when you intentionally take a look at the city what will you notice?

How do you or will you care?

Photo by Andreea Popa on Unsplash

Caring for my Corner of the City

By: Karen Giesbrecht

“We care for only what we love.  We love only what we know.  We truly know only what we experience.” Steven Bouma-Prediger

I grew up rooted in a neighbourhood in the Fraser Valley.  I remember a vague notion of the boundaries of our yard, but also knew a freedom to climb the trees in my neighbours’ yards or pick a snack from their gardens.  My school was within walking distance, thus most of my friends were, too.  Our church and the stores where we bought most of our food were also nearby.

Since moving to Vancouver, I have not found that same rootedness.  I have lived in five different shared houses (not counting my dorm at UBC), all rented, and thus have been vulnerable to our landlord’s plans.  These places have really felt like home (most of the time) because of friendships with those I shared the space with.  They were a haven after a hard day at work, allowing for shared meals and for belonging in the ordinary rhythms of life.  They were a space to host friends and family, and to celebrate big and small milestones.

But for all that I loved each house and the people in them, I have not felt a sense of permanence.  Because of that, I have not prioritized relationships with my neighbours, nor felt ownership of the land on which my home sits.

Uprooting and moving every few years, has left my peers and I with a lack of needed groundedness.  Recognizing that, I have been thankful for how others have been dialoguing about settling into a place.  I am thankful for those who help me see what contributes to our neighbourhood’s flourishing, and what hinders it.  I am thankful for those who tend their front yards and community gardens, who put benches out on the boulevards in front of their houses. These acts are “incredibly ordinary…” yet, “the starting place for weaving together a fabric of care and for illuminating what’s possible” (New Parish, Page 137).

One simple way those in my household have cared for our place is through Vancouver’s Adopt a Catch Basin program. Catch basins, or storm drains, are “an often overlooked piece of street infrastructure… [which] play a crucial role in removing excess rainwater from our streets and keeping our communities safe from flooding,” according to the city’s website.  Minding what slips into them also helps protect water quality by keeping leaves and debris from flowing directly into our rivers and streams.

My housemates and I have adopted the 3 catch basins on our street.  This may be just a drop in the bucket, given that there are 45, 000 in Vancouver, but we are more conscious of the unseen natural world that we depend on.  We can name each catch basin we adopt, so to motivate ourselves to care just a little more we named ours after housemates that moved away.  Although we no longer see these dear friends every day, we can kick the leaves off their catch basins, still caring in a small way.

The UGM Church Relations team also adopted the four catch basins around our building at 601 East Hastings Street and have committed to checking on them, especially when the trees on this block drop their leaves in the fall.  For readers in Vancouver, we invite you to join us in adopting a catch basin or check your local municipality for similar programs. You can also learn more about our local watershed and helpful ways we can care for the city (and beyond) with this informative piece from A Rocha Canada.

These small acts may not significantly increase our sense of permanence, but they can contribute our connections and creating spaces that cultivate God’s desire for the common good in the places we live.

Book Recommendation

The New Parish by: Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight Friesen

Sharing from their lived experience, Sparks, Soerens, and Friesen pin down where Christendom has gone off the neighborhood map, become disconnected and missed out on being a Christian witness in their specific places. Far from a one-size-fits-all approach, The New Parish tells the story of and offers a field guide towards being a faithful presence in the neighborhood, cultivating creative, transformative action toward Christ’s call for the Common Good.

Podcast Recommendation

Ruby Sales, “Where Does It Hurt?” On Being with Krista Tippet

A civil rights legend, Ruby Sales, discusses why justice work must incorporate outrage by proceeding from agape love, the importance of modern civil rights movements, and how the role of public theology, in the face of today’s Empire, is to recover practices of true intimacy which honor everyone in their particularity as being essential for The Beloved Community.

What’s Happening at UGM

Tis the season to brighten Christmas for struggling families! The holidays can be extra stressful for parents on low-incomes – but YOU can help. Stock the shelves of UGM’s Christmas Hamper Store to provide gifts, grocery gift cards, and other essential household needs for hundreds of families in need! Learn how you can brighten the holidays by clicking here.