By Carolyn Purden
Leah Watkiss says she has found the perfect job with the Diocese of Toronto. With a strong background in religion and social justice, she was recently hired on a one-year contract as an intern with the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy department.
“I’m loving it,” she said recently in an interview. “This is the kind of position I’ve always wanted to do.”
She has two key assignments. The Social Justice and Advocacy department is coordinating meetings between Anglicans and MPPs on social justice issues, and Ms. Watkiss will be finding an Anglican coordinator in each riding who will take the lead on the meetings.
She is also developing background information on the three main actions that the politicians will be asked to take: raise the minimum wage, index social assistance to the inflation rate and bring in a housing benefit plan. The meetings between Anglicans and the MPPs will take place in December and January, prior to the government’s presentation of its budget.
Ms. Watkiss is also helping to organize the week-long Shalom Justice Camp, to be held in Peterborough from Aug. 19 to 24. A national gathering that moves to a different diocese each year, the camp’s aim is to engage every part of a person—mind, heart and hands—to better understand every part of social justice.
Organizers hope to attract 100 attendees from across Canada, with half of them between the ages of 16 and 35. Participants will be able to choose from one of 10 immersion programs, such as poverty and food, or water quality, and will hear from experts in these areas and meet with local groups engaged in the same work. There will also be opportunities to network with people working on other social justice issues.
Ms. Watkiss says she feels called to do justice work. “That’s where I feel my vocation is,” she says. “I see social justice as really doing the work of the Gospel.” After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s College, the University of Western Ontario, she obtained her Master’s degree in Peace and Justice from the University of San Diego, California.
During her studies, she spent a summer taking a cross-cultural program in Ecuador, and she served as an intern in applied non-violence at Berkeley. “I’ve always focused my studies on the interplay between social justice and religion, specifically focusing on Christian social teaching, non-violence and religious conflict resolution,” she says.
Although she is not an Anglican, Ms. Watkiss says it has been “exciting and eye-opening” to learn about what Anglicans are doing in the field of social justice. As an example, she cites a visit to All Saints, Sherbourne Street, where she was astonished when she entered the church to find the pews pulled to one side and their space taken up with tables and chairs for the morning drop-in program.
“It was really moving to me to go into the church and see the pews pushed aside for God’s people,” she says. “It’s what a church is meant for. This is ministry.”
Ms. Watkiss is available for public speaking engagements about non-violence and religious conflict resolution. She can be reached at email@example.com.
See also Social Justice and Advocacy.