College Street is not easy to navigate these days. Because of all the construction, getting to St. Stephen-in-the-Fields has been a bit tricky. So, to get there in good time I left home early. As fate would have it, there was no traffic, no delays and a parking spot was open just in front of the church. When I arrived, all was quiet at the encampment. And there was Mother Maggie along with a few others, cleaning up debris from the night before to ensure that the sidewalks were clear. Wanting to be helpful, I joined in the fray, filling garbage bags with bits of this and that and placing bags by the side of the road.
Just after nine in the morning, Timothy Schmaltz arrived. He is the sculptor who created the life-sized Christ figure begging, a statue situated outside St. Stephen’s. The figure captures the essence of Matthew 25.40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” In the back of the sculptor’s pickup truck was a prison cell, made of steel, that would be placed over the bronze image. It symbolizes the tension, strain and injustice of a moment. There by the west door of the church, an encampment has formed because a vulnerable homeless community has nowhere else to go. And hovering over the temporary shelter is the constant threat of it being dismantled by the city because of by-law infractions.
By 9:30 in the morning, a small choir from the Mennonite community was practicing by the firehall. The TV cameras were being set up and a crowd began to form. There were clerics and lay leaders, outreach workers and volunteers, even a few folks serving coffee and sandwiches to give sustenance and warmth. In all, there were some 100 people present. You can read more about the event from the perspective of our own Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant, Elin Goulden. After the formalities and speeches, we heard the encouraging news that there would be no dismantling today or tomorrow… But what about the next day? Navigating the needs of this fragile situation is not an easy thing to do. Please keep Mother Maggie and her community in your prayers.
The crisis of affordable housing is real. It is no surprise to me that an encampment has arrived at the west door of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields. The community has served the poor and the vulnerable for years and built relationships of trust, honouring the dignity of every human being. Where else would you go, if your options were few? Like the inn keeper who offers what little space they had to Mary and Joseph and the Christ child, we are called to do likewise.
As the crowd was beginning to dissipate, I conversed with Mary Jo Leddy, the celebrated founder of Romero House, and spoke with her about the event and her work with refugees. And she said to me, “You know, whenever we have these kinds of events, you can always count on the Anglicans to show up!”
Let us continue to show up, for Christ’s sake.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto