All posts by Karen Stiller

My morning on Ottawa’s streets. The start of a Faith Today story

When we first moved to Ottawa in January, a brand new city for us,  we didn’t know much of anything about living in the area. A fun group of parishioners from our new church who live in the same neighbourhood as we do had a get-together to welcome us and answer questions. They filled scrapbook pages with tips on things like where to get the best thai food and cupcakes (those ‘must-know’ bits of information).

Later, on the “Day Trip” page, I  noticed one woman had written, “Shadow me on the sidewalks of downtown Ottawa and minister to the poor.” And she doodled a smiley face in blue marker beside her invitation.

Last Thursday, I took her up on it. We met at our downtown church at 7:30am and fuelled ourselves with coffee and breakfast at a nearby diner, where I heard her heart for this ministry of presence on the streets of the nation’s capital. Then we wandered the sidewalks to reach out to the homeless we came upon. My friend Jill is executive director with  Urban Christian Outreach Ottawa. She spends usually two days a week doing what we did last week, prayerfully walking down the sidewalks of downtown Ottawa, trying to be salt and light to those who need her.

We ducked into a courtroom to see if any of Jill’s friends were there. We wandered through a mall where many of them used to hang out to see if anyone needed her there. We stopped and spoke to men (because it was just men on that day), who were panhandling and offered to get them water or coffee. In one case, Jill bought breakfast for a veteran who was sitting in a wheelchair, cup out for donations.

We sat in McDonald’s, while Jill tried to help one of the men we met that day.

The story he told us was sad and complicated, and hinted at the maze like process veterans have to navigate, sometimes alone, to get the help they may need. In the end, our friend wheeled away from us in frustration, assuming we were just another dead end. Undaunted, Jill pulled out her phone to make calls to see if she could still find out anything that would help the man find a home.
Continue reading My morning on Ottawa’s streets. The start of a Faith Today story

Reconciliation involves listening. Blanket Exercise makes that easy.

I participated in my first Blanket Exercise recently on Parliament Hill.

The largest Blanket Exercise in Canada was held recently on Parliament Hill

I had heard of it only once before, when the earnest son of a friend, newly sensitized to Aboriginal issues, tried to walk his extended family through it at a barbecue, to mixed results. I knew it involved blankets and a history lesson, and in my friend’s case, an annoyed grandpa.

But it was much more than that.

Kairos Canada, who helps facilitate the exercise, describes it as a “participatory popular education methodology” with the goal of  building “understanding about our shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada by walking through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance.” If you show up, you can be involved. The colourful blankets, in my case spread out beneath the stairs that lead up to the front doors of Parliament, represent pre-colonized Canada.

You’re invited to take your place on the blankets, and there it begins, a moving and enlightening walk-through of Canada’s history with our First Nations.

What struck me most, besides of course the realization of how much I don’t actually know  (or have forgotten) about my country’s own history, was the kindness of the facilitators. Volunteers strolled through the crowd offering kleenex to those moved to tears by the experience. Then, in a move that reminded me of Psalm 56:8 (God gathering our tears in a bottle), they collected the tissues back up again, because the tears were so important and not to be carelessly tossed aside.

Participants were warned they might find the exercise upsetting, learning in more detail than perhaps ever before about the harsh and sometimes fatal treatment of Indigenous peoples by the hand of government, Church, and history in general. But we were very kindly and gently asked to not feel shame or guilt, but to enter and exit the exercise with a healthy sense of hope and love for each other. It was about reconciliation. That beautiful spirit touched me as much as the actual shifting and sorting and bunching up of blankets that told this part of our history that we’d probably rather forget. But true reconciliation means remembering.

Next week, on Wednesday June 21, it is Aboriginal Day. If you can find some event in your community — maybe even a Blanket Exercise — to show your commitment to reconciliation and hope and love, try to attend.

Here at Faith Today, our Jul/Aug issue features an interview with Christine MacMillan, World Evangelical Alliance’s associate secretary general for public engagement. Here’s part of what she said about reconciliation in that soon to be published interview: “It’s being patient. It’s listening to the point where listening even of itself be- comes peace and reconciliation. It’s exploring “what will it take to bring peace?” – and as you explore in that way reconciliation starts to happen. The process is as important as the outcome. [Reconciliation doesn’t begin] until you get people feeling the trust in the room that allows them to tell the layers of their story. The Church must be that safe place, as well as that public place.”

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If you are faith-based group sponsoring refugees, you are doing them a great service

Privately-sponsored refugees are more likely than government-sponsored refugees to have Canadian friends for the long haul. That was one of the insights presented about immigration and refugees at the “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th” conference, held recently in Ottawa.

If you are part of a faith group sponsoring refugees, this will ring true for you, as private sponsors are normally very involved, at least in the beginning months, of a newcomer’s settlement experience into Canada. Driving someone to the dentist, going grocery shopping with them and helping their kids adjust to a new school are all potential ingredients for a life-long bond. Plus, you care.

“Faith and Settlement Partnership: Setting Immigrants and Canada Up for Success” was the name of one workshop offered at the conference. A panel presented some of the initial findings of a multi-partner research project (of the same name as the workshop) going on now in Canada by the Centre for Community-Based Research.

The research is tackling three main questions:

  • To what extent are faith/settlement partnerships viewed positively?
  • What types of partnerships presently exist and how could they be improved?
  • How can effective partnerships be better facilitated?

Initial results show that faith groups tend to work better with short term focused projects. They are very effective at mobilizing for immediate action. Sometimes faith groups give out inaccurate information to newcomers, and settlement agencies have to clear things up when needed.

The research is showing that there needs to be more collaboration between government and faith groups, in order for faith groups to be more integrated in the world of sponsoring refugees in Canada, and for the sake of the refugee. Trust is key. A recurring theme to the research into partnerships between faith based groups and settlement agencies was the need to be friends, and nurture that relationship. And collaboration is key to responding to service gaps. Faith based services and organizations should be part of the settlement supports offered newcomers, suggest the research. Faith helps people overcome challenges and find meaning in difficulties. Faith is significant for the integration of newcomers, so clergy and faith based groups can and should be part of the settlement process. Settlement brings a lot of stressors, faith can be used to mitigate many of them.

The researchers feel there is energy and excitement around the prospect of a closer partnership. And incase you wondered, Mississauga, Ont.,  is the third most attractive city (after Montreal and Toronto) for recent immigrants born in Syria.

And, not surprisingly, less bureaucratic red tape would help everyone.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Read about the experience of some churches settling refugees in Canada for the first time. Subscribe today

Fear of parents is a factor in abortions

Last week the March for Life wound its way through downtown Ottawa. Thousands of people filled the streets carrying pro-life signs and banners. As I thought about the issue of the day, I couldn’t help but reflect on the two situations involving abortions I have been closely involved with in my life.

One was a friend years and years ago, when we were barely out of our teens, the other was more recently with another young woman. In both situations, but particularly the most recent one now that I’ve had children of my own and know more about the issue, I worked hard to try to present alternatives to abortion. Ultimately, I failed. I arranged a meeting between the young woman and a crisis pregnancy centre worker in my living room. I met with her myself whenever she’d let me, trying to listen and to gently persuade her to walk the path of courage and sacrifice and yes, what seemed to her to be the more difficult path, — and not have the abortion.

In the end, though, she did.
Continue reading Fear of parents is a factor in abortions

Why the Parent Cafe works so well

Ask most parents what they most need within their busy schedules, and they might say an occasional safe place to talk and share and be supported in what is one of the most difficult jobs in the world: being a good parent.

Here is an early poster for the Parent Cafe, welcoming harried parents to a night of learning and mutual support.

The May/Jun Faith Today features a story about an innovative and effective ministry to meet this need created by New Song Church in Port Perry, Ont., a congregation of the Anglican Network in Canada. In the spirit of full disclosure, that was the church where my husband served for the last five years. I was involved in the Parent Cafe ministry from the beginning, and I’m convinced this elegant idea can easily be transplanted into other congregations, especially in areas where there might not be visible social problems to help solve, but more hidden needs, like support and community for busy parents and families stretched in 100 directions.

The idea is simple: When parents get better, the whole family gets better. Parenting is one of the most difficult (and most rewarding!) things in the world and it’s easier and better when parents support each other and freely share their knowledge and experience.
Continue reading Why the Parent Cafe works so well

Our Whole Society conference brings old and new friends together

I knew that I knew her from somewhere. The woman at the end of my row in a workshop at the “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th” in Ottawa was eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her.

I caught a glimpse at her name tag and did a quick google. I discovered we shared one Facebook friend, and that was an old elementary school friend of mine, who was later my university roommate.

I realized with a jolt of surprise that this woman was the mother of my old friend. It had been at least 28 years since I had seen her, and now here we were at a conference dedicated to thinking about the role of religion in our country.

After I introduced myself, we exclaimed and embraced, and I thought how interesting it was to be at a faith-based-and-centered conference with my friend’s mother, who I had always known as the “Mormon Mother.” They were the family who didn’t drink tea and were very mysterious and somewhat exotic, with a host of other rules and practices that back then I did not understand, or even try to, quite honestly.  Back then,  I just knew that my friend came from a very religious family, and that we were different. I never, ever would have thought I would someday find myself at the same conference with her family.

But all of the faiths present at this conference, and there are several, share concerns about the topics being addressed at the conference, which include religious freedom, solidarity in diversity, reconciliation, and immigration and refugees. We are here together.
Continue reading Our Whole Society conference brings old and new friends together

Making peace with creation: the story behind the new film out of Regent College

In “Making Peace with Creation” poet and theologian Loren Wilkinson presents a compelling and compassionate vision for life in the 21st century.

by Iwan Russell-Jones

I knew that I had to make this film after my wife, Amanda, and I took part in the ‘Boat Course’, a remarkable educational experience that Loren and Mary Ruth Wilkinson devised and have been offering at Regent College for many years.

From the Wilkinson’s home on Galiano students and teachers set off together in two rowing boats on an 8-day voyage around the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, to think, study, discuss and meditate on the meaning of life on this our beautiful and fragile planet – to ponder Technology, Wilderness and Creation (to give the course its correct title).

It was an unforgettable trip – shipping our oars while a pod of Orcas crossed the channel just metres in front of us, standing in wonder on the beach in the dead of night as the sea was lit up by millions of plankton working their miracle of bioluminescence, reading the Scriptures and praying together using the rhythms of Celtic daily prayer in the stunning setting of the Pacific Northwest, contemplating the devastating long-term impact of the acidification of the oceans …  And weaving it all together with insight, poetry and passion was Loren himself, who has spent decades of his life thinking and teaching about the human experience and its relationship to a biblical understanding of creation.

Continue reading Making peace with creation: the story behind the new film out of Regent College

My conversation with a man whose wife died by assisted suicide

The other day I met a man whose wife had died by assisted suicide earlier this year. We sat beside each other on an airplane and struck up conversation, as people do. We discovered we were both writers of a sort, and that was our starting point.

I don’t really remember how it came up, but I must have asked him about his wife. He was an elderly man and something he said made me think he was widowed fairly recently. Then he told me this really enormous thing: that his wife had fought cancer for years and had entered a new, final phase of not winning the fight anymore and so she had chosen assisted suicide about four months ago, with his support.

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This seemed like a huge disclosure, a big, sad, tragic thing to share. I don’t know if the ease of his disclosure is a statement about how writers tend to go deep quickly with each other, or maybe it’s more a statement about the potential “ordinariness” of what we are now doing in Canada, by having assisted suicide.

Or, maybe, he was just sad and it was recent and so he blurted it out to a stranger. Then, almost right after he told me, this kind, quiet man asked me what kind of writing I do.

So, I told him I wrote mostly about faith things, and religious things, and that my husband is a minister. I’m not sure why I added that bit about my husband, but I think I said it because I wanted to assure him that I understood grief, and he was clearly grieving.
Continue reading My conversation with a man whose wife died by assisted suicide

The latest issue of Faith Today is out in the world

Politics is on everyone’s mind these days. It’s almost impossible to avoid, and why would we? As Christians we know we are citizens of another Kingdom, one we will welcome someday in its fullness. But in the meantime we are called to be good citizens here, engaged in caring for our neighbours, our communities and creation.

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Our cover article in the Mar/Apr issue of Faith Today provides challenging insights from a handful of different theologians on how our faith should not — and cannot — be separated from our politics. Canadians too easily assume politics is public and faith is private, but this article is a timely reminder to avoid that mistake.

Our interview with Loren Wilkinson presents another facet of citizenship — our call to care for creation. The B.C. poet and theologian, together with his wife Mary-Ruth Wilkinson, has devoted years to opening their home on Galiano Island to students who come to visit, feast together and get their hands dirty in creation’s soil around the island.

If the coming of spring isn’t already getting you thinking about gardening around your church, you probably will be after hearing from Wilkinson — and you’ll be reminded of its spiritual importance.

And that applies to sending kids to summer camp, as our advertising feature will no doubt remind you.
Continue reading The latest issue of Faith Today is out in the world

What if your love language stinks?

Years ago, at a marriage retreat we were attending, the couple leading the talk made reference to the hugely bestselling book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman. They listed off the love languages — words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service or physical touch. Then they quickly added that neither of them had the love language of  receiving gifts. As if that was a bad thing (to have that love language) and a good thing (to not have that love language).

Happy 25th Anniversary to the book that has taught a lot of couples how to love each other even better. Watch for our “mini-interview” with author Gary Chapman in May/Jun Faith Today.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and glanced at my husband. Because … my name is Karen and receiving gifts is my love language.

I remember when we first completed the love language profile, the results rolled in and it felt like of all the love languages, I managed to get the most superficial, materialistic, greedy needy one. Of course, that is not how Gary Chapman intended it to be understood. He writes: “A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say ‘Look, he was thinking of me,’ or ‘She remembered me.’ The gift itself is a symbol of that thought. It doesn’t matter whether it costs money. What is important is you thought of him.”

But still, it has always felt funny.  Continue reading What if your love language stinks?