(Jesus said) I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
Maundy Thursday services offer powerful reminders of the truth that what Jesus modelled in his life, death, and resurrection is a love that is embodied in action.
By humbling taking time to wash the feet of those gathered at the Last Supper, individuals who Jesus knew would soon abandon, deny, and betray, Jesus proclaims through actions that love is transformed and transforming in the face-to-face moments.
Communities which respond to human need with loving service through interactive means often recognise how transformative it can be to physically meet, spend time with, and listen to those whom we feel called to serve. Out of these interactions, we may find ourselves feeling called to transform unjust structures of society which leave these friends, these siblings in Christ, needing our help.
This has been the experience of the volunteers at St. Paul’s, Essex especially through our clothing cupboard. Volunteers have frequently shared how humbling it is to get glimpses of the stories of those who benefit from the gifts of the clothing cupboard. They have heard the challenges that have left these individuals vulnerable. They have seen how the system works against efforts to pull oneself up by their bootstraps often because people are denied boots!
These volunteers have expressed their longing to do more to help the couple living in their car, the woman in a play tent at a local park, and the family who are sleeping on the floor because they can’t afford mattresses. Such sharing has touched the hearts of this community in profound ways.
At council meetings we have talked about the barriers that keep people in poverty and named the opportunities we have to make a difference. In doing so, we realised that the upcoming Provincial election can be an important opportunity to seek to transform unjust structures. Taking advantage of this opportunity requires education, we need to know the kinds of questions to ask, and when solutions fail to address prevailing issues.
To support this opportunity, Rev. Andrew Wilson and Sandra Lypps are providing leadership with a team of parishioners and the rector. The journey has begun through a Lenten program that includes a sermon series highlighting the challenges confronting vulnerable people as these relate to the stories and actions of Jesus in the Lenten Gospels.
It began on Ash Wednesday with a mirror reminding all those who pass by that, in God’s eyes, we are enough and then asking who else needs to hear this truth.
The first week of Lent invites consideration for what those in need receive from food banks and what we might do if that was what we had to eat for the week. The image of God as mother hen is illustrated through wings made of a sheet and covering a diversity of individuals.
There are quotes from social media disparaging those begging for money leading to the question of whether we believe people deserve to suffer. There is a scale asking how excuses weight against empathy. There is a display honouring the Trans Day of Remembrance (Mar. 31st) and asking those who pass by to think about how we know we are the gender we claim to be.
The displays continue through Holy Week, challenging and engaging those who pass by, and those who engage through social media and on the website to consider our relationship to those who are vulnerable and how we might know better and ultimately do better.
Our hope is to encourage ourselves and our wider community to learn, reflect, and engage in the electoral process in ways that promote the well being of ALL people, especially those too often left marginalised.
With that in mind we are hosting an all-candidates meeting on May 5 at 7pm. The focus of this event will be to use what we have learned to question the motives and priorities of those hoping to be elected provincially this year. This event will be held at St. Paul’s and livestreamed on our Facebook page with the hope that others might learn from this process and engage their candidates about issues that transform the unjust structures of society which keep people marginalised. For more information check out our website at: https://stpaulstrinity.org/pages/program and our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/stpaulsessex .
We are particularly grateful to Andrew who has been active in transforming pallets for these displays and to all those who have provided the pallets (all of which have been free to us and which we hope to upcycle after Easter into shelving for the many books we have available for donations for our bursary for youth), laminating, and other resources for the displays. May we all think deeply and pray honestly about how we can move from responding to human need with loving service to transforming the unjust structures of society which create human need.
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is the rector at St. Paul's, Essex.