Who was that group of fifty walking through Peterborough’s downtown streets last night at rush hour? They were wearing blue toques and carrying flashlights. They were smiling and polite. No placards or banners. Just a silent witness to the Hope that fuels our efforts to create Community as the long night fell.
Well, not totally silent.
Kairos Canada had provided the inspiration for the walk. Five of us talked about it. We invited some friends to the idea. Four weeks, two meetings and many emails later, it happened. Our theme was to walk, as Mary and Joseph did centuries ago, in search of Shelter. In Bethlehem, in Peterborough, too many Mary & Joseph’s find closed doors instead of shelter. We wanted to celebrate the doorways that serve them, and bear witness to the cold shoulder too often offered.
The Raging Grannies gave us Christmas Carols with words that bite. Bite into the rear end of Santa Claus Christmases with rage at how many Canadians live with injustices and inequities day to day, hand to mouth. They made us laugh. They made us think. They stirred the rage that fuels the work. They pulled us close to hear their words and so kindled the fire of solidarity that is at the heart of our Hopes.
We were welcomed at Community Living by A.J. McNaught and Jack Gillan and reminded how the gifts of every person are so important as we make this elusive thing we call “community”. A poem from Ben Prins (a man who’s challenged social barriers to find the shelter of Community) entitled “Eternal Hope” touched us in that soul place.
A list of agencies that provide services to people who are homeless, or living on that precarious edge of becoming homeless, was distributed. Carol Winters and Barry Boyce pulled that list together for us. No doubt it’s incomplete. Trying to list all the ways Community gets made, all the ways the gaps in our Social Safety Net get covered, is impossible. We know the list is incomplete – but put it out there hoping others will help us see who’s missing.
At an empty office building on King Street, once housing the services of federal employees, we opened our eyes to the homelessness hidden in plain sight. People without shelter often spend cold hours under the eaves of this building. Aaron, pastor of The Parish congregation, led us in an eyes wide-open prayer. (Interesting to note that The Parish is currently seeking the Shelter of a new home.)
Next stop was the courtyard of Peterborough Square at George and Simcoe. Rick Webster of Third Space led us to consider the constant displacement of the Mary and Joseph story – and how far that is from the celebration of “home and belonging” that is Christmas. His prayer unsettled our comforts and inspired us to keep searching.
At this halfway mark we were getting pretty cold. Good thing Joyce from the Brock Mission had brought us the toques leftover from last year’s Coldest Night event. We were beginning to get just a taste of what it’s like to walk these long blocks in search of shelter. A walk people make every day trying to make ends meet and find what they need to get through another week.
This walk took us up Brock Street to the Lighthouse Drop-in located at St. John’s church and operated by CMHA. Christian Harvey met us with a warm welcome. A circle of drummers roused our flagging hopes and gave us a brief respite from the cold.
City Hall was our last stop. Brenda Dales of the Social Planning Council gave us the latest news of the fight for justice for peoples living in poverty. I offered a prayer that our collective voices and actions might be heard – not only by god – but by the ones we elect to care for our common good.
Finally, it was time for a bowl of chili and making friends. The cooks at George St. church were ready for us. Lyn Miller of St. Andrews brought us a photographic display of the folks in our city who walk that walk of hope every day.
There was a bunch of people I didn’t get to meet. There were people connected in all kinds of ways to this thing we call community. This thing that depends on so many hands to knit it together. Our Walk of Hope and Friendships was, if nothing else, an opportunity to come together to celebrate the efforts of so many, often silent, often invisible, contributions to the cause of community.
Together we shared the Hope that Justice in Canada might look like Shelter for the poorest instead of tax shelters for the richest. That Justice might come like the light of day after the longest of nights for those who love what Jesus loves, who serve the people the spirit of Jesus dwells among.