These past few weeks I have been attentive to the challenges of living in a community with a booming economy. There have been major changes present in the last ten years as Newfoundland and Labrador has adjusted to the wealth that has been brought with the presence of ‘Big Oil.’ There is a positive economic outlook for the province, one which is emphasizing improving and adjusting community infrastructure. There is an influx of wealth and wealthy families. There are numerous housing developments cropping up on the North East Avalon peninsula. There are more amenities available, and larger companies (retail and commercial) are finding their homes with us. We are even being featured on prime time television with the increase in publicity through NL Tourism ads, and The Republic of Doyle. All this promotes a sense of pride and joy when speaking of this place I call home.
There are also the changes that are harder for me to endure, given all this wealth. In the community where I serve, Mount Pearl, there is a vacancy rate that is less than one percent. Families are finding it harder and harder to afford to live, given increases in costs due to inflation. A minimum wage of $10.00/hour is no longer viable for many, and increases set for the near future are not keeping up with the cost of living.
There are huge increases in crime in the province, and communities are trying to tackle the influx of biker gangs and organized crime fueled by the drug trade. There are increases in stress levels in families, and violence against women and against pets seems to be on the rise.
In all of this, I found myself attending a conference on Housing and Homelessness in St. John’s this past month. At the conference I was amazed at the efforts, passion, and ingenuity of many, from many diverse segments of society. Professionals of almost every walk of life were engaging in dialogue, and bringing meaning and action to the table, for the sake of those who seem to be getting lost in the ‘boom’ of Newfoundland and Labrador.
During this conference I was pleased that many of the professionals that gathered were open to engaging with the faith community (multi-faith) in order to address the hardship they saw. We as church are not only invited to listen and observe, but also we are being called to enter into partnership with the community, with the wider world.
These are exciting prospects for the church, I believe, for we have long been caught up with the expansion and upkeep of the physical, concrete structures that we have been entrusted with, as we attempt to provide spiritual and pastoral care to those both within and outside the community of faith. These dual roles at times bring me conflict and stress, for I find it a struggle to operate as manager and pastor. How can I abandon the responsibilities of persons as I deal with the challenges of a facility? How can I let a facility and an organization suffer while caring for individuals and families?
The conundrum seems to me to have some points for us to consider as church. It is no secret that the Anglican Church, like many mainline denominations in Canada, finds itself in the present day to be high on physical infrastructure, and low on membership. There is a necessity for the redistribution of resources for those in need in the St. John’s Region. We need to identify the immediate need, supportive need, and long term need of persons in our area. If persons do not have enough to afford to live, can we not take a look at how we are using our resources? The churches that may have difficulty paying bills because of the escalating costs associated with heating and lighting large expansive spaces, may like to consider sharing space with those in the community who have no fixed address.
We must be a church that models openness and innovation within a community framework. We should remember that our roots are in a child who had no fixed address, who was given a manger when there was no room in an inn. The blessing and heritage of the Christian Story is a story of a redemptive, caring community, founded in the death and resurrection of Jesus, not in the sanctuaries that are adorned with effigies and monuments that so often I see bereft of vibrant, transformative community. We must open our doors, and share our buildings with those who have no place because of the great disparage between wealthy and impoverished in this society.