I know it is summertime and we are all want to coast into the lazy hazy days of light topics and beaches and cold beverages but this is what is on my mind this week....
Poverty. Specifically poverty in Grande Prairie and what we can do about it.
A couple weeks ago I received an invitation to attend 2 half-days of meetings to do some visioning on that very topic. And because this is a very important issue, and because it is an issue the faith community needs to be involved in, I went.
If you were to describe the reality of poverty in Grande prairie what words/phrases/pictures would come to mind? If someone asked you what we could do about poverty in Grande Prairie would you have suggestions?
We started out by defining poverty as (working from memory so the wording might be a bit different) “The lack of secure and sustainable access to basic rights such as food, shelter, education, clothing health, and safety” [I pushed for the use of 'rights' instead of 'needs' because that language pushes us to action]. And then we talked about who in Grande Prairie is impacted by poverty.
Some are directly impacted: those who live pay cheque to pay cheque, those who live on set/fixed incomes, those who experience episodic poverty because of seasonal fluctuations in work (such as break-up). But we also recognized that in the end we are all impacted by poverty. Not only are many (most? all?) families a missed pay cheque or two away from real financial hardship but when we find ways to lift the least of our community out of poverty then we are all healthier.
After defining a vision and mission statement for the Community Action to End Poverty (CAEP) group in Grande Prairie we started to develop a plan. I left to go to another meeting before this was done but I know there were some great ideas out there about what can and needs to be done.
My question now is where do we fit in. Lisa Watson from the City was very clear that she wants the faith communities at the table as this moves forward. There were 3 ministers present this week. At least one of us will likely end up on the committee moving forward. What do we have to share?
I think we have a role in two ways. One is that we are a place where issues get discussed, where hard questions get asked, where information gets shared. Poverty-reduction work is often hampered by assumptions and mis-information, and pre-conceptions so a place for open discussion is vital.
The other big gift I think we have to offer is that we believe in two very key things. One is the possibility of transformation. Repeatedly in our discussion I mentioned that we are taking about transformative work if we are serious about this task. Transforming the culture, transforming the society, transforming the way we interact is the way to eliminate poverty. As followers of the Resurrected One we know that transformation is possible.
We also believe in the centrality of a call to justice. Not just fairness, not just equality but justice. Justice is what makes us demand (and demands of us) that all people have those basic rights met. Justice is not treating everybody the same. Justice means that sometimes you give one person more support to compensate for something else. As spiritual descendants of Amos and Isaiah and Jesus we are people who live into God's justice. This helps us (and requires us) to work to reduce and eliminate poverty.
CAEP is going to continue to work. I am sure we will hear more about what they are doing over the next few months. Governments at all levels will be part of the work. But citizens need to be as well. Only as a whole community can we embrace transformation. Together, we can reduce poverty. I trust that the people of St. Paul's will pray for and support this work as best they can.
A final reflection on these meetings. In our discussion it was noted that when something sudden happens when a major disaster strikes and 1000's of people are left without the basic rights in our poverty definition because of, say a historic flood in Southern Alberta, there is a massive push for voluntary and governmental relief. It can be argued that people living in poverty is an ongoing disaster across the country. Where is the same push for relief?