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Advocacy Issues

We Need Low Income CERB Amnesty.

Date 10 Mar, 2023

Category Advocacy Issues

Since Canada’s economic relief packages went out, they have refunded clawbacks from seniors, given self-employed Canadians repayment amnesty, and partially provided relief for students. And, despite all that, they are now pursuing low-income Canadians to reclaim their benefits through clawbacks, wage reductions, or impossible-to-repay fines (upwards of $20,000 in some cases). This is not money that was put into a savings account ― people living in poverty need every dollar to meet their own basic needs. This money is gone. Pursuing repayment from people living below, at, or just above the poverty line will only exacerbate poverty and homelessness.

All of this will hurt those in already-difficult situations while the government has a different standard of accountability for businesses who accessed pandemic benefits.

All of this will worsen poverty while the government’s own stated goals are to reduce poverty.

Asking people to repay money they don’t have will only exacerbate poverty and the systemic challenges many already face ― we need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Please join us in supporting low-income CERB repayment amnesty for those who needed the relief the most and will be most impacted by these policies.

*Please hit refresh if the campaign does not appear below

Tell Vancouver City Government we urgently need affordable housing solutions

Date 7 Dec, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues

British Columbia is experiencing an ongoing affordable housing crisis and Vancouver is the epicenter. Low-income, vulnerable, and marginalized populations are particularly at risk: cost of living continues to increase, fires and unsafe conditions continue to displace residents, and extreme cold and weather events make it even more dangerous for those who are underhoused or unhoused to be on the streets. 

The last Metro Vancouver homeless count took place in 2020 and showed that over 2,000 of our neighbours were experiencing homelessness. And, we know that point-in-time counts like these are vast under-representations of the true scope of the issue. On the heels of a global pandemic and soaring cost of living, we fear that significantly more in our community are finding themselves without a stable roof over their heads.

It is time for all levels of government to take bold, urgent action. While the Province and City of Vancouver recently announced they are working together to build 90 units of temporary modular housing by March 2023, with support services in place—more must be done.

There are still hundreds of people living outdoors in encampments and without immediate solutions, they will face another winter in unsafe conditions.

516 individuals signed onto the petition. The contents of the petition can be found below.

Updated January 20th, 2023

Our Position: Drug Policy

Date 7 Sep, 2022

Category Advocacy Issues


The toxic drug overdose crisis has reached a point in British Columbia where bold action is necessary to prevent more deaths. To combat the overdose crisis, we need legal regulation of an accessible safe supply with minimal barriers, to decriminalize drugs, and to actively address intersecting challenges such as poverty and homelessness, racism and prejudice, physical health, mental health, and trauma. People with lived and living experience need to be heard and consulted, and their voices need to be prioritized, as they are the ones who are most impacted by this crisis.

For the past decade, the circulation of toxic drugs has been increasing and has had a grave impact on the community. Since BC declared the overdose crisis on April 14, 2016, over 10,000 people have died of overdose in the province. Death from overdose is now the number one cause of unnatural death in the BC.

Our community in the Downtown Eastside is wrought with intersecting challenges, including poverty and homelessness, mental and physical illness, addiction, racism, trauma and oppression. The stigma faced by people who use substances in the Downtown Eastside is mounted and the hardships are compounded. Although people who use drugs come from all different walks of life, those who use substances in our community are often further marginalized and often face harsher stigma and criminalization.

Each of these individuals who have passed leave behind loved ones and each death greatly affects the community. These deaths could have been prevented with better access to safe supply, and the decriminalization of illicit substances.

The steps that the BC government has taken to fight the overdose crisis are insufficient. In 2022, the provincial government received exemption from Health Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the “possession of some illegal drugs for personal use.” But the action taken will not be enough to curb the alarming amount of toxic drug overdoses, and will continue to criminalize the majority of marginalized people who use substances.

The three-year exemption, starting in January 2023, only decriminalizes those who carry a cumulative threshold of 2.5 grams. Research done by local drug advocates (VANDU) indicated that 4.5 grams is closer to the amount carried by people who use drugs. With the majority of substance users carrying over 2.5 grams per individual substance, the small threshold will only ensure that the majority in the community will continue to be stigmatized and criminalized. This limit further puts those who are unhoused at a disadvantage, as they lack a place to store their drugs for future use and are limited to carrying their substances on them at all times.

FIRST UNITED believes in a multi-pronged approach to sensible, compassionate, and evidence-based drug policy that includes safe supply and legal regulation, decriminalization, and a proactive approach of addressing intersecting challenges.

Safe Supply

Access to safe supply with minimal barriers is necessary to prevent overdose from toxic drugs. It was reported by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) in 2020 that 91% of opioid-containing samples in BC contained fentanyl, analogue, and other substances. While these substances were commonly found in the unregulated drug supply, survey respondents reported not expecting or unintentionally consuming these substances (confirmed by urine samples). The reports also showed that many other unexpected substances were found in the unregulated drug supply, including novel synthetic opioids, benzodiazepines, and synthetic cannabinoids. This is particularly concerning, because benzodiazepines do not respond to naloxone, which makes it harder to reverse overdoses.

With a regulated safer supply, people who use drugs can know exactly what they are getting in their supply and how much.


The seizure of drugs and mistreatment of marginalized substance users by police continues to create stigma, shame, fear around substance use, and cycles of poverty and criminalization. The fear of repercussions from law enforcement can create hesitation in marginalized substance users to seek or obtain the help of services that could potentially their lives.

While the BC government states that police will not arrest, fine, or seize drugs from people carry under 2.5 grams, they still tasked the police with referring people to health and social services. The role of police in this context is unnecessary, considering that the government stated this is a health issue and not a criminal one. Qualified social and health service professionals are much better suited to provide referrals.

Intersecting Issues

While safe supply and decriminalization are necessary, it is crucial to address the intersecting challenges often faced by people who use drugs in the community. Members of the community can face poverty and homelessness, a lack of access to resources, mental health, trauma and addiction, physical health challenges and disability, racism, and prejudice. Proper resources need to be allocated to addressing these issues, as they all play a significant role in this crisis. It is also critical to work in partnership with, and take strategic direction from, people with lived and living experience of these issues and to take actions supporting their expertise and autonomy.


All levels of government need to take quick, decisive, and bold action to stem the tide of deaths by overdose. But the existing approach to drug policy fails to address the issues and experiences of those who are being impacted by this crisis the most. A fully accessible safe supply is needed to combat the toxic drugs in circulation. Along with decriminalization, legal regulation and safe supply, the government also needs to listen to people with lived and living experience. They need to adequately address intersecting challenges faced by marginalized people who use substances, which include racism, mental and physical health challenges, poverty, and homelessness.

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Lenten 2023: Truth-Telling Calendar

Date 17 Feb, 2023

Category Ministry

This year’s theme for Spiritual Care at First United is truth-telling. During Advent, we pondered the truth and reconciliation journey in our podcast, An Uncomfortable Advent. Now, as we approach the Season of Lent, we again focus on truth-telling in our truth and reconciliation journey.

2023 Lenten Calendar:

Lenten Truth-Telling Calendar

Donations are suggested and encouraged but not required. At FIRST UNITED we practice community centric fundraising principles and want to highlight the impact that these organizations are making in the community. We encourage you to check them out and support them as you can.


This calendar will guide you during Lent, focusing on Call to Action #60. Some days have more than one link for you to click. On some Sundays, the link encourages you to share your story with us at FIRST UNITED. Some days are moredifficult than others. But all of the days help you focus on truth and reconciliation.

Although this Call to Action is directed at “leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres,” this Call to Action is really about all of us who make up the Body of Christ. We, as followers of Jesus the Christ, are called to build and sustain a community where we “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8) It is our responsibility to do this work with love and accountability, even when we are overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.

The Lenten Season is where spring begins. Our spiritual lives can reflect that of creation, where the hard but rewarding work of growing can be seen above ground. Explore Call to Action #60 with us at FIRST UNITED.

We would like to thank the Chinook Winds Region’s Journey Towards Indigenous Allyship Toolkit, the United Church of Canada’s 40 Day of Engagement on Anti-Racism, Vancouver Public Library and their awesome Reference Librarians, and Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PCUSA’s 21-day Racial Justice Challenge. These resources and their links to source materials help all of us to the work of justice, the work of being good neighbors, and the work mandated in the Calls to Action.

Pama mine gwabmen,
(Potawatomi for “see y’all again” as there isn’t a word for casual goodbyes)

From FIRST UNITED’ Spiritual Care Team

Chaplain Lauren Sanders
Prairie Band Potawatomi/mshkodéni
Kickapoo Nation of Kansas/kiikaapoa
African American/Black

And Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard
Interim Spiritual Care Director



Blue Christmas Service

Date 21 Dec, 2022

Category Ministry

Blue Christmas Service for those of us feeling grief during the holiday season. Join interim Spiritual Care Director Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplin Lauren Sanders and Patti Powell in this honouring and healing service.

Blue Christmas Service for those of us feeling grief during the holiday season.

Advent Awakening Series: Part 6 Christmas

Date 21 Dec, 2022

Category Ministry

The following liturgy video and podcast episode are part of FIRST UNITED’s Spiritual Care ministry’s Advent Awakening series.

Advent Series – Merry Christmas!

Listen to the last episode from An Uncomfortable Advent podcast series by Lauren Sanders, Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain, and Pastor Peter Sanders, Ordained Clergy with Presbyterian Church USA:

The Arrival of Christmas

Watch the Christmas video by Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard, Interim Spiritual Care Director.

Rev. Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard has evolved a “WTF!? Where’s the Faith” ministry since 2009. Exploring the intersections of faith and other “F”’ words! What started as a youth group of Where’s the Faith, Where’s the Food and Where’s the Fun, has evolved into a philosophy and way of life.

May you have full confidence, belief and trust in the heavenly promises given to you…


Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ( Hebrews 11: 1)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through who we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. ( Romans 5:1-2)

Faith is a belief that is not based on visible proof. It is a trust you can build upon.

Receive the gift of faith.

Rev Jen’s WTF!? Rant. Where’s the faith!? Words that flow.

With this faith, Willing to follow, Willing to fail, Willing to fall

Willing to feel, Wading through Fear,

With this faith, wandering thoughts flow, Watching time fly

Where’s truth found

Why truth first

Why trust faith

wondering thoughts fly

Welcome these Friends

Welcome those feelings

Wondrous things follow

When these fall

Western Theological Frameworks

White things first

Wanting things fast

Waging the fear

Words that frighten

When truth’s first

What’s the future Way to follow

With this faith

Willing to follow

Willing to forgive

Willing to forget

With truth first

Willingly Talk Faith

Words thoughtfully flow

Ways tenderly flourish

Wounds that fester

Welcome truth flowing

Welcome the fellowship

Welcome the feasting

Welcome the force 

I AM, The Way, The Truth, and the life!

Wearing the faith

Welcome the fellow traveler

Welcome the way maker

Welcome the friend we find in Jesus.

Welcome the Folx we meet here at First United.

Welcome the feelings of Hope, peace, joy, love, which live here.

Where’s the Faith!?

Amidst and amongst the people.

Where’s the faith!? With and for the people. All the people

 Where’s the faith!? Incarnation! God with us. The breath of life.

Wow! That’s fantastic.

Why truth first!? Because TRUTH Matters!

Here at First United and around the world.

Where’s the faith!? In you, with you, for you!

Born in us this day!

Amen and Merry Christmas. With love from Rev Jen!

Lighting the Advent Wreath: The Way Maker

Leader: Advent is the season of preparation and waiting.

(Light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love)

All: We have prayerful work to do.

Leader: The Advent season has ended.

All: With hope, peace, joy and love, the Christmas Season has arrived.

(Light the Christ Candle)

The light of Christ shines for all. A light of hope, peace, joy, and love for all. We will go and shine our Christ light in and for the world.

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Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks: March 2023

Date 17 Mar, 2023

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

At our March 2023 Toast Talks, Interim Executive Director Amanda Burrows shares highlights from our last fiscal year and The Reverend Jennifer Goddard-Sheppard talks about Spiritual Care.

Toast Talks: October 2022

Date 31 Oct, 2022

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

In our October 2022 edition of Toast Talks, Interim Executive Director Amanda Burrows shares some updates, including some brief updates on the status of the redevelopment of our building. Staff Lawyer Sarah Marsden also joined us to share about all about our new eviction mapping project. 

Watch the recording below!

We’ve also included the digital version of the fall edition of our First Things First newsletter below:

First United Fall 2022 Newsletter

Toast Talks: June 2022

Date 5 Jul, 2022

Category Newsletters & Toast Talks

Toast Talks are a series of information sessions during which members of the FIRST UNITED team offer updates, insights, and information about our work to our communities of faith, volunteers, donors, stakeholders, and friends. To make sure you never miss out on invitations to Toast Talks, subscribe to our emails.

In our June 2022 edition of Toast Talks, Acting Executive Director Amanda Burrows shared the latest updates on the building redevelopment, including how we said goodbye to the 320 East Hastings building. She also shared an exciting update on our Executive Director, the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne’s nomination for Moderator of the United Church of Canada. We also heard from Didi Dufresne, First United Advocacy Manager, on some updates from our Advocacy program.

Watch the recording below!

We’ve also included the digital version of the summer edition of our First Things First newsletter below:

First United Summer 2022 Newsletter

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Reconciliation in Action

On Residential Schools

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

Take a moment to read a poem by Dr. Cheryl Bear, First United’s Director of Community Ministry. Cheryl wrote the poem in response to the bodies of 215 children discovered in May 2021 at Kamloops Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory.

CW: residential schools, trauma, grief

take your time take days sit with the grief of these daunting days sit with her and let her weep let her crawl into bed way too early and out of bed way too late let her cancel all the shopping trips all the plans and just sit with her stroke her hair and tell her, reassure her that things will get, no are getting better even if they are only won in court battles or through shaming the government into action (shame, shame on them) all of this work was not in vain every lecture every slide every chart exposed the truth and now everyone can see it took all of us to get here, to heal to change now it will take all of us again to get there to heal to change so our grandbabies can truly be free and can have better days and lives and deaths

…words spoken on a tear soaked day, still reeling from the news and praying for our courageous and powerful Elders, our Residential School Survivors – for my late mom, my Aunties and Uncles, grandparents, for all our relations.

Sunday May 30, 2021

In peace, Cheryl (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation) Director of Community Ministry, First United

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

September 30 is Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a day we honour the lost children, the 150,000+ children who attended residential schools and those who have died since.

September 30 is a now federal statutory holiday and the leadership at FIRST decided to recognize it as well, to enable staff to have time to reflect, learn and deepen their own understanding.

Although the stories of unmarked graves are no longer making headlines, we recognize there are now confirmations of well over 6,000 graves across the country – surely with many more thousands to come.

Wear Orange

On Orange Shirt Day, which also takes place today, we remember those children who were taken from their families and recognize the impact it’s still having today.

Orange Shirt Day is based on the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who arrived on her first day of residential school dressed in a new orange shirt.

Her orange shirt was taken away from her and has become a symbol of how freedom, culture and self-esteem were systemically taken away from our Indigenous children and their families over generations.

On September 29, we held a community engagement event and handed out free orange shirts to community members – designed by one of our staff, Joseph Robertson (Haisla First Nation) – so that anyone in our community who wanted to wear an orange shirt today had access to one.

Our truth and reconciliation priorities

So where do we go from here? We see today as a rallying cry to focus on changing priorities and encouraging our leaders to take action.

FIRST is working toward reconciliation in action, and an important part of that is acknowledging the histories of colonization, systemic racism and the impacts of residential schools, the 60’s Scoop, and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in non-Indigenous foster care.

We advocate for the enactment of all 94 of the TRC Calls to Action and the 423 recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the implementation of 231 ‘imperative changes’ called for by the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

We have signed on to an open letter to the BC Government with other members of the MMIWG2S+ Coalition calling for more protection for Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people.

We encourage you in your learning journey and to educate your children in the TRC Calls to Action.

We’re committed to deepening our practice of reconciliation and the pursuit of justice, today and every day. Let’s do this together, as a community and as a nation.

Truth and Reconciliation, a Living History

Date 9 Nov, 2021

Category Reconciliation in Action

This op-ed was originally published in The Tyee on June 14, 2021. You can find the op-ed on The Tyee’s website.

By the Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne (Heiltsuk First Nation) Executive Director; Dr. Cheryl Bear (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation) Director of Community Ministry; and Lauren Sanders (Prairie Band Potawatomi and Kickapoo Nation of Kansas) Indigenous Spiritual Care Chaplain.


Reconciliation has been a buzzword since the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015. Everyone wants to know how to “walk in reconciliation” but doesn’t often want to hear the answer. Many of our Indigenous Chiefs and leaders have said Canada uses those words to distract us while they are busy carrying on with business as usual behind the scenes.

The phrase “truth and reconciliation” was chosen by residential school survivors based on the South African model. They could have just asked for truth, but instead the victims of some of the most horrendous crimes in Canada asked for reconciliation.

One of our Grand Chiefs said that everything we as Indigenous people have today, we won in the court. It’s not reconciliation if it had to be won through the courts.

The news of the 215 unmarked graves of children in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc territory did not surprise any Indigenous people. We all knew because we listened to the stories of the residential school survivors, and we believed them. Sadly, many in Canada did not. Now there is proof. And there will be more proof.

We also need you to grieve with us, and not only to grieve but to act, to change, so that our descendants can have a better future.

We are all deeply grieving. One Elder we know, a residential school survivor, ended up in the hospital with chest pains after hearing this daunting news. It has brought up memories of the trauma we have all experienced as Indigenous people directly connected to these schools.

We have been leaning into ceremony, gathering, trying our best to grieve these children — our lost babies. We need prayer, yes. But we also need you to grieve with us, and not only to grieve but to act, to change, so that our descendants can have a better future.

The late May confirmation of the mass grave has shocked us back into a state of realization that truth and reconciliation is not just a question of a dead history whose remains have been forgotten. There is important work that needs doing. As Indigenous people, we need all Canadians to witness and participate in that work.

As Indigenous people, we need all Canadians to witness and participate in the work of deconstructing the myth of “dead history” and engage with truth and reconciliation as a living history. All Canadians must listen to the truth-telling of residential school survivors and accept that the trauma of residential schools is ongoing and continues to impact Indigenous communities.

All Canadians must ask themselves who benefits from seeing residential schools as a “dead history,” and who benefits from the understanding that residential schools and truth and reconciliation is a living history.

Truth-telling is not an Indigenous-only practice. Truth-telling requires non-Indigenous people to accept the truths being told with respect, to apologize and to accept responsibility. These 215 babies now have the chance to tell the truth. The grief of Indigenous peoples helps them tell it.

For non-Indigenous people, the bodies of 215 children were unearthed from a dead history. For Indigenous people, this history was never dead — a history that all Indigenous people are currently, and have never stopped, living.

Now it is the turn of non-Indigenous people. The framework has been given. The protocol from the TRC has to be followed. Acceptance of the truth, apology and taking ownership of responsibility are the steps.

Call to Action number 58 is for “the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of Indigenous peoples. To date, the Anglican Church and the United Church have issued apologies and have both committed to the full adoption of the TRC Calls to Action, making structural and staffing changes in order to continue the work of the truth and reconciliation journey.

While the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has again issued a statement of “deep sorrow,” they continue to uphold the 2018 position of the Vatican not to offer an apology when it was requested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017.

Repentance is a core value of the Christian faith commonly understood as an expression of remorse or regret. In this sense, we believe the statement of deep sorrow from our Roman Catholic brothers in leadership. Another faithful biblical interpretation of repentance is the act of turning around in a return to right relationship — right relationships with the Creator, with each other, with the whole of creation. It is all our responsibility to continuously pursue repentance in our relationships with God and all that God has created; otherwise, absolution would be unnecessary.

As Indigenous women who are in ministry leadership, we pray that the discovery of the bodies of these children remind everyone that their legacy lives on. We pray the Pope chooses to hear the cries of the spirits of these 215 babies, change the Vatican’s previous decision, and make the apology requested by the survivors of Canadian residential schools.


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Recent Updates

17 Mar, 2023
Toast Talks: March 2023
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10 Mar, 2023
We Need Low Income CERB Amnesty.
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17 Feb, 2023
Lenten 2023: Truth-Telling Calendar
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