I attend St. Albans Anglican Church in downtown Ottawa. We are lucky to have space in the midst of both the Market, nearby Centretown, and Sandy Hill. We feel as though we are surrounded by busy city life, with event constantly taking place and people coming and going.
It also means our church body lives with neighbours experiencing poverty and homelessness, in fact our church body, itself, has members who find themselves living in shelters or on the streets. It is a stark reality of urban life, and one our congregational is learning to navigate with sensitivity and compassion. It certainly helps that Centre 454, a social service, is located in the lower half of our church building. The folks who work and volunteer there are the same as those you would encounter at OIM–deeply caring and passionate people.
Though we have the pleasure of housing Centre 454 and partnering with them in their ministry, it can be difficult to know how to incorporate our church’s youth into this part of our life together. We have a small but energetic group and as leaders who see Jesus’ strong dedication to social justice we know it is essential to be able to invite our young men, women and children into experiences that can foster understanding.
As a staff member at OIM I knew about our One Homeless Night program, which invites youth to walk for a night in the shoes of one of their peers experiencing homelessness. Though our size did not lend itself to this activity we truly wanted our youth to experience the lessons and principles that this activity offer.
We invited OIM’s Youth Outreach Worker to join us for an evening of discussion, and walk of ‘new perspective’. We traveled around our own neighbourhood, of Sandy Hill, in the rain, trying to see with new insight the individuals and stories of our very own street community. Some of the stories were difficult, and our youth struggled to understand, but more often than not they rose to the occasion with questions and concern. It was unbelievably valuable experience, and one we brought to a close by packing gifts for the Passion 4 Youth participants and, of course, prayer.
It was imperative that we not only see and understand, but that we follow with action.
I hope next year our numbers will grow, or that we might partner with other churches for a full overnight One Homeless Night event. For now, I am grateful that OIM, a place care for dearly, was able to bless my youth with a new perspective for their own homes, and to challenge them how they might invite inclusion and create spaces of safety and support for their neighbours.
If you’re interested in organizing a One Homless Night event with your youth group or school visit our One Homeless Night page for more information.