By Colleen Sym
Published: December 2008
Related Topics: Outreach, Social Justice
On the morning of Saturday, October 18, 2008, a group of about thirty people gathered at St. Christopher's in Burlington to learn about Community Justice Camp: Live the Change you want to see. Over the course of two hours, Anglicans from across the Diocese, from parishes big and small and community justice partners representing agencies and coalitions, secular and faith based, big and small got to know each other and with the help of the Venerable Peter John Hobbs from the Diocese of Ottawa, got to know all about Justice Camp.
Then the exciting work began, we started to explore a vision for our camp. By "our" I mean the camp which is hosted by our Diocese, ours to make of it what we will. Back in May, I dare to say, as Bishop Michael had barely begun the process of discernment for his vision for his Episcopal ministry, he must have known that "justice" would become a central theme for that vision and that Justice Camp would be a way to animate social justice ministry in Niagara.
A few days later, I was back at St. Christopher's for the Trafalgar Regional meeting on the Pursuit of Excellence in Ministry. This was an opportunity to learn more about the Bishop's vision. While the process is still ongoing, I suggest that some themes are emerging relating to a justice focused ministry: themes such as charity vs. justice, education on justice issues, building awareness of the Millennium Development Goals, advocacy, sustainability, poverty reduction, standing in solidarity with the marginalized and a call to take action.
In the book Justice in an Unjust World, Karen Lebacqz writes: "To hear the cry of the oppressed is the first act of justice". Bishop Michael heard the cry for justice from the Bishops from the developing world with whom he connected at Lambeth. And, as hearing alone is not enough, he has responded to the cry by calling for action against injustice here in Niagara by charging each parish to undertake a project for justice.
Over the past year, social activists and Minister Deb Matthews, Chair of the Provincial Government's Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction and many others have been listening to the voices of those who know the experience of poverty in their everyday lives in Ontario. Over 75 public consultations on what a poverty reduction strategy should look like have been hosted by the government or a community coalition called "25 in 5".
"25 in 5" stands for the call for a poverty reduction strategy for Ontario that will result in a 25% reduction in poverty in five years, 50% in ten years, with a view to building a poverty free Ontario. As the Millennium Development Goals are a strategy to eradicate poverty in the developing world, Ontario is developing its strategy to eradicate poverty at home.
On November 5, 2008, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition hosted a forum at Queen's Park – "Poverty, Why have it". The keynote speaker was Peter Clutterbuck, of the Social Planning Network of Ontario and one of the spokespersons for the 25 in 5 coalition. Peter was at the Niagara Justice Camp workshop. The following is a quote from Bishop Michael's June 2008 letter to Minister Matthews endorsing 25 in 5 and advocating for poverty reduction and was included in the keynote address at ISARC:
"In the short term, we realize that charity and compassion are essential when people are suffering and we will continue to respond to the needs of our neighbours. But for too long, faith and community groups, individuals, volunteers and social service agencies and ministries have carried a disproportionate load in meeting the needs of individuals at the local community level through the operation of community centres, daycares, breakfast programs, thrift shops, food banks, overnight shelters, hospitality programs and other social services.
"These temporary measures have not broken the cycle of poverty nor alleviated the diminishment of people's dignity. To do more than respond to emergencies and crises, more resources are needed in our communities.
"We recognize that we all have a role to play to reduce poverty, however, only government can accomplish the structural changes to law, programs and policies that are essential for a successful poverty reduction strategy. Only government can re-allocate the resources of society more equitably through its regulatory and taxing powers and increase its funding of social programs.
"Please hear our communities' call for social justice."
The possible projects that can be undertaken are unlimited.
God's justice begins in response to injustice.