Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bus Tour Highlights Mission & Service in Newfoundland

I wrote this article for the February 2016 issue of Mandate, the United Church of Canada's Mission and Service magazine.

If participants in an August 2015 Mission and Service tour of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, had heard of Rawlins Cross before, it was as a well-known Celtic rock band, or as a famous intersection in the St. John’s historic downtown. Now they will think of the hope offered by the ministries of Stella’s Circle, clustered around Rawlins Cross, and one of several community projects in the city supported by M&S.

After the United Church of Canada’s 42nd General Council finished its meeting in Corner Brook on August 15, six commissioners set out to learn more about how Mission and Service is changing lives in St. John’s. Ruth Noble from the General Council Office shepherded the group onto a bus for the trip across Newfoundland. Lunch and hospitality at Faith United Church in Northern Arm fortified the travelers for the rest of the journey. Worship at Gower Street United Church in downtown St. John’s the next morning was followed by lunch and a look at the facilities used for the church’s lunch program.

Stella’s Circle, housed in several buildings around Rawlins Cross, is named after Dr. Stella Burry, a United Church deaconess who founded Emmanuel House in 1945. Tour participants visited Emmanuel House and heard how Mission & Service supports a residential treatment program for at-risk adults. Stella’s Circle has a Real Work strategy to provide job experience in construction, office cleaning, maintenance, and food services. The centerpiece of the food service training program, and of the Rawlins Cross intersection, is the Hungry Heart CafĂ©. Real Work participants receive on-the-job training as cooks, servers, and kitchen staff – and the results are delicious! Tea is served in china cups, because that’s how Stella Burry herself liked it.

Arriving at Naomi Centre on the other side of downtown, tour participants found a secure door that opened to reveal a welcoming environment as an emergency shelter and support service for young women. Naomi Centre is also a Mission & Service recipient.

Bridges to Hope located up the hill (and St. John’s is a hilly city) is another Mission & Service partner. Participants were shown the large kitchen, where cooking classes teach preparation of nutritious, low-cost meals, and the food bank housed in a converted garage. Then it was off to Cochrane Street United Church, where Bridges to Hope volunteers were assembling backpacks full of school supplies for children from low-income families.

Another recipient of Mission &Service is the Jimmy Pratt Memorial Outreach Centre, located at George Street United Church. Most of the church’s lower level is taken up by the drop-in centre, soup kitchen, and used clothing depot. A fire at the nearby Salvation Army building has resulted in shared space with social workers and counsellors working out of the Jimmy Pratt Centre and George Street United Church.

General Council commissioners on the Mission & Service Tour were left with lasting memories of how these community ministries are bringing hope, healing and justice to the heart of Canada’s easternmost and oldest city.

The photos are mine, of the colourful "jelly bean row" houses of downtown St. John's, and the food bank at Bridges to Hope.

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