As we enjoy the last days of summer, we turn our minds and bodies towards fall and preparing for winter. The seasons at First United pass too – although often heightened in intensity. For folks facing extreme poverty and homelessness, both hot and cold weather extremes present increased risk. This fall we are busy planning for winter: discussions with BC Housing to plan extra capacity when there is cold weather, launching the new Roddan Jubilee Lectures you’ll read about later in this newsletter, participating again in the Aviva Community Fund competition, and preparing for year-end fundraising – like our #GivingTuesday matching campaign. And while all that planning and preparation happens, life around us happens too: our community gets or loses housing, friends and community members pass away, and the $100 increase to social assistance is appreciated yet doesn’t begin to change the financial circumstance of those living on social assistance. Knowing that winter is coming makes both the celebrations and the challenges all the more real. As supporters of First United, you are participating in the preparation in many important ways: financial support, donations in kind, volunteering for any number of jobs, or offering advice and a listening ear. When you review our 2016 annual report, please know that it is only through your support that we have been able to have such a deep impact in the community I hope you enjoy this issue of our newsletter – we have our first note from our new Director of Community Ministry, Jim Hatherly, a bunch of exciting updates, and a community profile that is near and dear to my heart. They say “home is where the heart is” – and First United is definitely starting to feel like home. Thank you for keeping our doors open wide to make this true for anyone who wishes to enter here.
The Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne
First United Church Community Ministry Society
There is a T-shirt with the words “Everybody wants a revolution but nobody wants to do the dishes.”
Revolutions, or social transformations, are massive changes to systems that suppress the human spirit and deny dignity to the most vulnerable. It is alluring to focus so much energy on systemic change. Indeed, it is necessary. And we at First United are committed to upholding hope and passion for change.
At the same time, we are facing the significant daily challenges experienced by those who walk through our doors. In part, we are a bit like Martha, the sister of Mary, who, in their home were visited by Jesus as he sought a place of rest and sanctuary from his journey. Martha was in the kitchen while Mary was out in the living room talking about matters of the soul. Martha attended to the food and hospitality. She resented the attention which Jesus seemed to be giving to her more radicalized sister. But without Martha there would be no food, and nobody to do the dishes.
Hospitality and transformation are equally important. People are hungry for both bread and justice. Sometimes the bread wins out because that is what is needed in the moment, along with a bed, clothing, a shower and a place of safety. Behind those, however, are the faces of in/justice that our community faces.
Spiritual Care programs at First United are part of our ongoing conversation around creating a more just community which takes place on the street, in the chapel, over a meal, in the shelter, or at a memorial service. It is being fed by having the ears of hope and the eyes of love.
The Rev. Jim Hatherly
Director of Community Ministry
First United Church Community Ministry Society
And we are in serious need of your votes ! This year we are requesting $50,000 to purchase a passenger van in order to arrange more trips out of the Downtown Eastside. We hear from folks all the time about how much they enjoy spending time in nature. We’d like to boost our ability to increase community wellness in this area, providing more opportunities for folks to reconnect with the land. But we need your help – will you commit to voting for us when the polls open on October 10th? The process is easy: click here to register and cast your 18 votes for us! Voting closes October 19 at 2pm.
On November 21, we are kicking off our three-part Roddan Jubilee Lecture Series, with a generous presenting sponsorship by Ms. Barbara Small. Between November and March, we will be welcoming three international thought leaders to bring together community and societal conversations on issues that matter. The Rev. Dr. Andrew Roddan served as superintendent of First United from 1929-1945, and saw this ministry through both the Great Depression and the years of World War II. Roddan (along with his staff and the congregation) responded to times of global geo-political instability and and saw his community through economic collapse and rebuilding. We are thrilled to offer these inspiring talks that all address society’s largest justice issues. If you are interested in lecture sponsorship, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can participate. To learn more and reserve tickets, visit https://firstunited.ca/roddan-jubilee-lecture-series/.
Giving Tuesday is happening this year on November 28th – make a donation online to First United on this day and your gift will be matched! In an effort to shift focus from consumerism to supporting local communities in more charitable and justice-oriented ways, Giving Tuesday has risen in recent years as an alternative to the string of buying days including Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Donate to your favourite local charity (which we hope will be us!) on November 28th and support the growth of a stronger, more loving and just community! https://firstunited.ca/donate.
It is with great sadness that we lost Jadah Wild on Tuesday, August 22nd, in the morning sunrise. I have known Jadah for over four years and have been delighted to be able to work with her to achieve her goals. Jadah was a woman who was truly selfless and provided friendship, strength and comfort to our community. Jadah’s faith in God gave her immense strength to overcome obstacles that would be unimaginable to many. Jadah spent the last decade of her life homeless, but that never stopped her from lending a hand to anyone who would ask. She spent nearly every day volunteering for First United Church, simply because she wanted to give back.
She was a welcoming and warm smile in this building, whether it was your first time at Spirit Circle or you needed some encouragement to sing with her on Karaoke Wednesday. Jadah loved to walk and study the Bible; she also loved music. Jadah was a singer and loved to enjoy music group on Fridays and would usually take the role of lead singer. Whether it was a top 40 playlist that day or classic rock Jadah was always on board.
Jadah was one of the most caring and genuine people you would have ever met. I know Jadah would want everyone to be safe, happy and live their best life and I am certain she is looking out for all of us from heaven.
“Because someone we love is in heaven, there is a little bit of heaven with us today.
Shelter Case Planner, First United
There’s a woman who stayed with us here at First United and she was quiet for the most part – didn’t say too much. But when she did speak, it was profound. And sometimes really funny.
Jadah had been staying at First for about three years, ever since a friend referred her. As we sat in my office on a hot Wednesday afternoon in August, Jadah had her ankle propped up on a crate and was icing it as we talked. “You see this?” she asked, pointing to her swollen ankle, “I woke up like this!” She laughed and explained how she’d read that saying on a t-shirt recently and joked that it seemed to sum up half her life story.
Jadah was a street preacher and also a dedicated kitchen volunteer here at First. She explained how her eyes had been opened to the dire needs of folks on the Downtown Eastside and how serious she had become about volunteering. She also shared how radically this act of giving so much of her time, even in her own state of vulnerability, had transformed her.
Jadah considered her ability to volunteer a gift. She spoke at length of the spirit that resides in the people around First United and the importance of faith and gratitude. When I asked her what she’d been up to in her life recently, her answer was full: spirit work, writing, studying music, volunteering, participating in programs at First, and meditating – although she pointed out that at that current moment, she was taking a bit of a ‘vacation’. “If all these school kids can take a holiday,” she had reasoned, “then so can I.”
Jadah shared one of the most difficult parts of experiencing homelessness: the sense of isolation and abandonment.
You have to pull up your piece of pavement and remind yourself that home is not always a four-cornered building with the lights on. Sometimes it’s a place on the sidewalk beside this guy or that guy. Homelessness, I think, is a way of society saying that you’re not worth it. It’s like everybody has stopped believing in you.
When asked what makes a place feel like home, Jadah said that it’s complicated but that here at First, “no matter how late it is, there’s always someone who’ll go to the kitchen and fix you a meal! That’s what home is… Everything they do here at First is designed to make you feel like you have a place to come to, you do have a roof over your head, and they do care.”
Jadah considered herself a part of the First United family. She frequently referred to the work and the projects that ‘we’ – First United – get up to in the community. She pointed out how unique First is with the sheer number of meals served each day (400+) and people assisted through our frontline reception area (up to 500).
What agency in their right mind does that and gets away with it? To be quite blunt about it, it’s the insane project that we have kept up for years.
Jadah noted how grateful she was for the ability to share with others, work alongside others, and “appreciate how we are here together in this moment and what it means for us to behold one another.” She expressed a fierce sense of protection over the staff – her ‘guys’ – who might experience difficulty in the community:
I know the staff so well now that I really love sticking close by them. It matters to me that they know I’m in the background and I support them and they know that they can count on me to be there for them. I have a massive calling and a huge heart for their safety and their support. It really matters to me that our staff have good reception in the community.
As you reflect on Jadah’s story and the tremendous impact she had on so many people here at First and in the community, we encourage you to think about your own power to impact your community and create a place that feels like home for those who might not have one. Whether it’s a donation of time or money to one of the particular programs Jadah loved so much, such as Karaoke or the meal program that she dedicated herself to, please give generously this season and help build a community that feels like home for all of us.
To read the full interview, visit our blog at https://firstunited.ca/news/. To learn more about all of our programs and services, visit our website at www.firstunited.ca. To make a donation, visit www.firstunited.ca/donate/. Be sure to follow us @FirstUnitedDTES on all of our social media platforms to hear more stories from our community members!
Last winter we wrote about community member Mary, and her dog Blake (who has since left this world). The story described Mary’s time here at First United, and her plans for the future, which included finishing her diploma and securing permanent housing. Recently, we had the chance to catch up with Mary and hear about how things have been going since we shared her story last year. She is still as driven as ever in her personal development and her work in the community. She is taking good care of herself and those around her. As the head of the tenant advisory council in her current building, she has taken it upon herself to make community dinner for her building every Thursday evening. This week, the meal will be meatloaf with a variety of fresh veggies. Mary still recalls the beet soup here at First United – the best beet soup ever, she still claims, and she eats a lot of beets! When asked what she’s up to in her life these days, Mary explains that she’s still working on herself – “we never finish that work until we’re past this earth,” she notes. This gets her thinking about her friend who recently passed away, Jadah, and how the two of them would discuss at length about their shared belief that people don’t tend to love themselves enough these days. “This is where people are getting into the drug scene, the alcoholic scene, and everything else,” she went on – even homelessness itself. Mary wants people to know that they don’t have to be ashamed to
When asked what she’s up to in her life these days, Mary explains that she’s still working on herself – “we never finish that work until we’re past this earth,” she notes. This gets her thinking about her friend who recently passed away, Jadah, and how the two of them would discuss at length about their shared belief that people don’t tend to love themselves enough these days. “This is where people are getting into the drug scene, the alcoholic scene, and everything else,” she went on – even homelessness itself. Mary wants people to know that they don’t have to be ashamed to suffer from any of these – it can happen to the best of us, but help is out there to find. Mary takes her role in being a support structure for others very seriously – “my door is always open if someone needs to talk…even if it’s 3 am, I’m there,” she explains. Recently, Mary has been acknowledged for the role she played in helping two people move through their addictions – one has been sober since last September and one since last November. Mary continues to rely on First United as an integral part of her own support network – her former case planner here continues to offer guidance and feedback on matters from health care to serving as
Mary continues to rely on First United as an integral part of her own support network – her former case planner here continues to offer guidance and feedback on matters from health care to serving as an emergency contact on government forms. She also comes by to visit regularly – “sometimes you just need a hug or to see a familiar face,” she says. According to Mary, there is something in the air here at First United that keeps pushing her forward, picking her up, making her keep wanting to be who she is. And this something in the air changes other people too, she’s noticed. “When you walk in, peoples’ demeanour changes – they think ‘I’m going inside a church, I have to change my ways,’ – they’re not angry at the world.”
Thank you to all our donors and supporters who help us keep this encouraging air circulating at First United! Together, we are building a community where all of us are cared for.
At First United we offer three different programs for nurturing spirit wellness:
Spirit Focus – Meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from 9-9:45 am in the chapel. This is a safe space for folks to gather and share, in the spirit of respect and mutual support. A small and intimate group of regular attendees welcome newcomers always! Open to those who’d like to come to hear and be heard. Usually, there is a theme such as identity, belonging, grief, or a current community issue. Participants are invited to share their own stories and explore where they might find wisdom and hope in engaging the theme. The focus group aims to find ways of maintaining hope and integrity in the face of the challenges people might be facing.
Spirit Circle – meets Wednesday evenings from 6:30-8 pm and includes dinner. This program is more ritualized than Spirit Focus, beginning with a candle lighting ceremony and focusing on a theme based on scripture or music.
Listening Ministry – Sometimes, the greatest gift is to be heard. Volunteers in the Listening Ministry are here to be present with community members and gently offer their kind presence. They do not offer solutions. They do not seek to fix anyone. They simply listen, without judgement or expectation. If you are interested, please email email@example.com.
As you saw in the overview of our annual report, in 2016 we had 26 new monthly donors. These folks, who provide a regular monthly gift, are what we call our Frontline Givers and they are a huge part of building a stable foundation here at First United. When we can count on a regular incoming monthly cash flow, we can make the necessary plans to provide the programming and services our community members have come to rely on. If you are a once-a-year donor to First United, would you consider becoming a part of Frontline Giving? You need not change the amount of your donation – simply dispersing it throughout the year increases its value to us. Becoming a Frontline Giver is easy: visit our webpage at www.firstunited.ca/donate/, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 604-336-3047.
Follow us @FirstUnitedDTES
First United Church Community Ministry Society
Located on Unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Lands
320 East Hastings Street
Vancouver BC V6A 1P4
CRA#82672 6135 RR0001