The Gifts and Stewardship of the People of All Saints’
People who have nothing to their name have provided our city of Toronto with a potent message, even if the voice in which they express this content is most often passive and sometimes self-effacing. The continuity of the presence of the community of low-income singles in downtown Toronto from its beginnings along the Skid Row of Church Street and Queen Street East a hundred years ago to today has formed a protest that continues to impact our urban life. A significant portion of our society has taken and is continuing to take a position that does not concur with the norms under which most of us live.
Despite the commitments of several hundred social agencies and government programs to address their issues and to eradicate poverty, why is it that we still have today, after so many decades, the visible poor on our streets of downtown? Their persistent presence punches holes in the overriding template that directs the behaviours and actions of most people. That established pattern asserts that competitive, capitalist drive to get ahead is good thing because it promotes efficiency, innovation, productivity, progress and scientific advancement. But the abiding endurance of those who have been displaced by the “striving to get ahead” produces a critique of the notion that success entails having to look out after number one.
Observers of street poverty can begin to question if the drive to success has to be so ruthless as to push others aside and out of the running. Why must we feel compelled at all times to look to private gain for ourselves and our families? Yet others turn back such unsettling questions on those individuals on the street whom they have just observed and to whom they then assign the blame for such disquiet in what had been their ordered view of things. So they are belittled as “misfits”, “bums”, “lay abouts,” “lazy,” “junkies,” “cons.” The bitterness of these labels that street people find applied to themselves they often turn inward, making their destitution even more devastating.
I would not want to romanticize or play down the desperation of those who gather daily at All Saints’ Church-Community Centre drop-ins. At the same time, I want to give full credit to their constancy and determination. For all the exhausting drudgery of bureaucratic tangles and mistakes, despite the violence drawn upon them by their vulnerabilities, even with the condescension and demeaning words and behavior of some of their service providers, this community of low-income single people around Dundas and Sherbourne Street is still here after all these years. They have not wasted away, and there is energy and spirit here that astonishes, given the austerity.
Even though I would not choose such a life for myself (and I have had the opportunities that meant I was not forced to have such way of life for myself!) there is an accomplishment in the concerns that so many have for each other in the Dundas-Sherbourne neighbourhood. A sense of community constantly emerges from amid the hardship and deprivation. We staff people and volunteers from outside this area constantly find ourselves amazed by the creativity and caring that residents here have.
So we see stewardship and giving within the community at All Saints’ not simply in the terms of what outsiders bring here to help fill the gaps in services and goods. Stewardship arises through offerings of people sharing with each other or through the contribution of volunteer labour. Volunteers help unload the relief trucks from Second Harvest and Daily Bread food depots. They help staff behind the counter with serving guests. They do cleaning, mop the floors, pick up the garbage around the church.
A most remarkable example of stewardship from the local congregation began in the spring of 2015. Some members of the All Saints’, Sherbourne congregation created a vegetable garden in the church parking lot. The vegetable garden at All Saints’ has flourished, and now for a second season has provided food for all the Drop-Ins as well as take-outs for the Sunday community. The gardeners obtained the donations of bags of earth and the seeds, did the landscaping, the sowing, the weeding, and the watering. One of the main workers is a day labourer who lives in a nearby rooming house.
Some people feared the garden would be vandalized or looted, but instead people in the neighbourhood have kept an eye on it at nights and on weekends. Passersby drop by to admire it or they join worshippers when Sunday services take place there in the summer . This year these volunteers have tidied up and planted another corner of the parking lot in addition to the main garden.
The widows in first-century Palestine were often among the poorest, most vulnerable, and voiceless in society with no security, no claim on property, no protection, and few resources—just like those who come to All Saints’ drop-ins and who are members of our congregation. When Jesus and his disciples sit near the Temple and see an impoverished widow put in two coins that may seem not worth much, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood. ”(Mark 12:21-24)
On the one hand, Jesus contrasts favorably the portion of her income the woman gives to that of the wealthy, who gave more money but a much smaller percentage of their total income than the woman gave. But, as well, just before this scene in the temple, Jesus had been warning the disciples to be wary of those who use their social location, power, and wealth only for themselves—the entrepreneurs of the religious establishment, who “as a pretext” to fleecing the poor and the vulnerable “recite lengthy prayers.
What Jesus observed in his day continues to challenge us at All Saints’ today — that those with the least continue to give more, by percentage of their resources, than we who are far wealthier! At the same time, their actions and Jesus’ words compel us to see the structures that allow these inequities in our society and the our faith communities to happen– such that the poor’s gifts remain largely unrecognized while we wealthier often benefit from the low esteem we seem to give to the impoverished.
315 Dundas Street East (The southeast corner of Sherbourne & Dundas) Toronto, ON M5A 2A2
GET IN TOUCH!
Want to learn more about our amazing community? Fill out the form below or give us a call!
©All Saints Church-Community Centre 2020. Designed by Agent Brand. Photography by Michael Hudson