FIRST UNITED NEWSLETTER

SURPRISED BY JOY

 In his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy, the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis talks about his conversion experience – he noticed a change within himself, a shift from focusing on the negative to focusing on the positive, coming as a result of his unexpected encounters with joy. Since joining the First United team in February 2017, I have witnessed this movement of the Spirit, and have experienced similar unexpected encounters.
Our neighbourhood is often described as Canada’s poorest postal code; it is the epicentre of the converging crises of mental health challenges, addiction, extreme poverty, homelessness and marginalisation. The people coming to our doors for help are people who literally have nowhere else to go – they may have been rejected by other shelters, mental health supports, hospitals, or their families. They are among the most regulated and constricted members of our society.
When people do find transitional or permanent housing it becomes a strategic game of compliance and regulations, certification of sobriety or mental health recovery, and a promise not to have visitors or break the rules. Mental health teams say they cannot help patients who are in active addiction, and addiction recovery resources encourage people to deal with their mental health crises first. When pest-infested single room occupancy suites are charging $450 (out of a monthly $610 income assistance budget), many folks still must spend most of their day in the exhausting shuffle from soup line to soup line in the hopes of receiving enough to eat. And if our community doesn’t manage to navigate these obstacles well, they face further stigma and marginalisation for failing to be grateful for the ‘support’ they receive.
Some days it can all be too much.
And yet every day since I started at First United there has been a moment where I’m surprised by joy. Watching two participants in our weekly Spirit Circle move through hostility to forgiveness. The brother of a young woman who was murdered on the Pickton farm sweeping our steps because he knows the role our staff play in advocating for missing and murdered women in our community. A resident of our shelter washing dishes after supper or sharing what little they have with their neighbour. All of these are welcomed joyful surprises.
When we shift our view of the notorious ‘Downtown Eastside’ from the negative to the positive, we receive the joy of seeing growth and community, not just poverty, addiction and despair. Our staff see the positive every day, and it shows in how they greet the community members who walk through our doors. I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to serve this community, and I hope to be always surprised by joy in this place.
Blessings,
The Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne
Executive Director
First United Church Community Ministry Society

BUILDING TOGETHER OUR COMMUNITY OF CARE

Can you recall a time of unexpected difficulty in your life?

About fourteen years ago, Hendrik Beune found himself unemployed and unhoused. After being self-employed as an oyster farmer in Theodosia Inlet, BC, for many years, Hendrik came to First United, where he stayed for about a year. He remembers the inviting staff at First that was sensitive to his needs and treated him with dignity. He recalls the spacious sleeping arrangements that were (and remain) some of the only places to sleep in the city during the day without being harassed.

For many years now, Hendrik has been volunteering on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He currently sits on the board of many local organisations and has steady work through Megaphone Magazine, a local social enterprise that offers low-barrier employment for vendors selling their publications throughout the city. Recently, Hendrik wrote a piece that was published in the April 2017 edition of Megaphone, describing his social-oriented environmentalist work in the community. In the piece, Hendrik makes a case for revaluing the ‘intangible’ natural assets that surround us such as landscapes and watersheds. He is currently in the process of facilitating a series of workshops that will build toward the creation of a film, documenting these ideas as well as his methods of engaging local community members in respectful and inclusive dialogue.

As we’ve gotten to know Hendrik, it is clear to us that this man is acting with passion and intention to infuse his community with radical acts of care, nurturing, and respect. Hendrik is well on his way toward making his impact on the world, and we find ourselves thinking about the role a place like First United plays in supporting the forward progression of folks like him. Reflecting on our own life experiences, we know that our most challenging times have always come with lessons learned and opportunities for significant growth and personal expansion if we’re open to listening and have the right kinds of support around us. We truly believe that those who have faced the largest obstacles can go on to accomplish amazing things because they’ve had to stare down their fears and move forward bravely. Our hearts are full knowing we are contributing to the support systems First offers to all our community members. Won’t you join us in creating an even stronger community of care in our community?

 

10TH ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT WAS A REAL PAR-TEE!

136 golfers turned out on May 29th to participate in First United’s 10th annual tournament, dinner, and auction at the beautiful University Golf Course. Golfers hit the links in good spirits on a fine sunny day. There was fierce competition at the seventh hole where Buntain Insurance sponsored a $10,000 prize for the first hole-in-one however, there seemed to be more near-misses of the nearby lemonade stand than serious close calls for the prize! Better luck next year everyone…

As evening approached, we gathered inside for a delicious meal after our athletic excursion. There were 104 amazing donations to our silent auction including a beautiful, hand-engraved silver bracelet of Eagle Spirit made by First United’s own Joe Robertson. Attendees were encouraged by event committee member Joanne Barker to outbid their friends and were assured that doing so would definitely not damage any friendships! You’ll be happy to hear we are soaring above our fundraising goals with proceeds still being tallied.

Thanks to everyone who turned out – we’re already looking forward to next year’s tournament!

MEET OUR NEW DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY MINISTRY, JIM HATHERLY!

We are pleased to introduce The Reverend Jim Hatherly, a United Church minister for 34 years. Jim has served in rural, suburban, and overseas ministries and comes most recently from almost seven years of service as a prison chaplain in Manitoba. Jim’s prison ministry focused on interdisciplinary approaches to working with those struggling with mental illness, addictions, and with sex offenders. Jim is very pleased to be with the team at First, tapping back into his family and ministry roots here, including street ministry work on the Downtown Eastside. He is looking forward to helping provide a space for those seeking “safety and dignity for body and soul.” Jim was drawn to this work after a transformative moment on the DTES many years ago:

Something happened to me in the DTES that transformed the way I experienced the world and challenged me to be more honest with myself, to take risks, to abandon many of my notions of where God was safely and predictably housed. I recall a visit one evening many years ago to the Balmoral Hotel with my colleague Henri. I was to meet up with a person whom I had met on the street earlier in the day. He never showed up but Henri and I hung around. A properly dressed woman was sitting at an adjoining table. We discussed together why she would be there and he got up the courage to approach her. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing in this unholy place?” She replied, “young man don’t you know the Holy is everywhere?” I am persuaded that was a moment of conversion for me, made evident time and again including during my years in prison ministry. I expect to find it true again on the street, in the ‘church’, and to be witness to what the Holy One may be up to.

We welcome Jim back to Vancouver and take heart from his reminder that we are all loved and all redeemable. We look forward to connecting over our experiences of the sacred, perhaps in more unexpected places!

SHARE IN THE SPIRIT OF RENEWAL

 

 

Last issue we profiled four wonderful donors – Jean and Larry Matrick and their daughters Diana Matrick and Marylin McPhillips – and were amazed at how many were inspired to become monthly donors! Our monthly donors are a part of what we call the Frontline Giving Program and, since April, we’ve had 5 new donors commit a total of $250! Monthly donors are the heart and soul of First United and are especially important since knowing of incoming funds ahead of time helps us budget, plan ahead, and make the most of every dollar. With regular giving, our community members know they can rely on vital programs such as Spirit Circle, Tax Assistance, Meal Service, and Women’s Group – programs we have heard are sometimes the only thing keeping some community members going day to day. Frontline Givers help those like Hendrik by providing a place of refuge where all are welcome. Plus, we all enjoy the cultivation of familiar relationships forged with our beloved monthly donors who so generously contribute.

Are you feeling inspired? Becoming a Frontline Giver is easy!

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