Category Archives: Resources for Faith Communities

Tools, ideas, practices and liturgical elements to help people of faith to consider the call to Hospitality and Compassion for Edmonton’s most vulnerable citizens.

Ministry Profile: Millbourne Community Life Centre

Many faith communities wonder how they might go deeper in relationship, and in helping address needs in their local neighbourhood.  Often they will have their own building, and wonder what might be possible if they could just open their doors a little wider.

MIllbourne Community Life Centre, supported by the South Edmonton Alliance Church provides some great food for thought on this front.  They are a faith community who pursued the community centre model of engagement.
Millbourne Community Life Centre is a busy place!
Close to twenty local partners collaborate with the centre to provide a dizzying array of programming and opportunities in service to both the immediate and larger community in Millwoods.  The local community they minister to is very diverse, and is home to people from a vast range of faiths and cultures, such as, Punjabi, Urdu, Latino, Chinese, Filipino, Hindi, and Arabic.  The socio-economic needs of the surrounding community are also significant, with over 1,400 households that fall within the lowest income bracket, as well as 2,500 subsidized housing units within the eleven communities that make up Millwoods.
Working to respond to those needs, the Millbourne Community Life Centre has become a hot spot in the local community, with many partners coming together to provide: immigration support services, a youth ministry centre, We-can food baskets, conversational cafes to aid in learning conversational English, Pre-natal classes, a food pantry and food bank outlet, a refugee medical clinic, a Community mother’s drop-in, a summer community sports camp, cultural fluency seminars, long distance seminary courses in Cantonese, and cross-cultural internships with the University of Hong Kong.
It is also home to three church communities: City South Church (Pentecostal) – 10am-12pm on Sundays, The Multicultural Alliance Church – starting at 12:15pm, and the Light of Life Filipino church, worshipping at 4pm.
It is open seven days a week, and is a hub for all kinds of help and services embedded in the local community. 

So how did this happen?

Ten years ago, the large brick building at 2101 Millbourne Road was home to the Millbourne Alliance Church.  The congregation had met together for over fifty years, and done much good work together, but they had become an ageing and dwindling congregation.  It was becoming clear the time was upon them to close their doors.
Local Alliance Churches began meeting to consider what to do with the building.  After a time, South Edmonton Alliance Church stepped up to sponsor the building as a community outreach, and in 2011 opened it as a community centre for the very diverse neighbourhood.  From the start, they elected to treat any potential organizations as partners, rather than renters.  They decided all their partners would have a seat at the table, and that they would meet regularly.  Together with new partners, they could help to address challenges faced by people in the community.

As the Centre found its’ feet, those partners gradually came to the table.  One of their anchor partners is Youth Unlimited, who run a youth ministry centre out of the basement.  A few years ago, as a partner they renovated the space as a venue for concerts and other types of programming for their youth, many of whom are from immigrant families and learning together under their Christian mentors, how to be Canadian, and caring citizens in their new home.

There were certainly some difficult transitional moments.  One of those was the decision to take down the large cross that was on the outside of the building.  There were strong feelings on both sides of the decision.  The purpose for doing so, was to facilitate the coming and going for Muslims and other groups who could access ministries in their building.  Those serving today in the MCLC facility are very mindful and deeply appreciative of the tremendous work and sacrifice of those from the original church family, Millbourne Alliance Church!
One significant shift that happened was in how they saw the building.  Tim Cook, the director at MCLC describes this change as moving from a posture of “protecting our stuff,” to “let’s use this building together.”  That posture has made so much possible, with partners willing to invest in upgrades and some renovations.

Certainly, not everything is simple.  The centre is self-sustaining in operating costs, but currently the building needs some larger repairs, including a new roof and parking lot, and investments to make the upstairs accessible.  Finding the money and resources to effect those major repairs is still in the works, but these are normal challenges.  It is likely solutions to this will be generated out of the continuing fruit of the relationships and partnerships built.  Perhaps they will be able to tell that story too in the days to come.

Where is the heart that drives a community ministry like Millbourne community Life Centre?
That heart is expressed well in their vision statement:  “Millbourne Community Life Centre is a place where all, regardless of ethnic or economic background can come to receive an expression of God’s love and find hope that comes through knowing the gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

      This vision fuels a spirit of warmth and welcome that permeates the place.  There is no pressure employed, or any strings attached to any of the help.  But sometimes prayers are shared, and if anyone wants to understand the heart that drives their hospitality, there are several partners there to walk with them on that journey.

Creating Community for People in Prison

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…  I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   – Jesus  (Matthew 25:36, 40)

When Jesus identifies himself with the person who is hungry, weak, the prisoner, or the stranger, he challenges his followers to always see another person’s potential, value, and humanity, and to respond in tenacious faith to what God may do in the life of their neighbour.  Yesterday and today, that belief drives Christians to invest themselves in the lives of their neighbours, even in prison.

On Sunday nights from 6:00-7:30,

       A team of women and (even a few men) from Beulah Alliance Church and West Edmonton Christian Assembly go to visit with women in a prison on the west end, here in Edmonton.  About thirty-five women from the prison come out to join them for coffee and snacks, and to experience the Alpha program.  They eat together, pray together, share stories, and learn about the Christian Faith.  One woman attended the program 3 or 4 times without showing any desire to embrace Christianity.  When asked why, she said, ‘Because I feel cared for.’
       That honest statement points to the genuine heart of why those doing this ministry do what they do:  To support these women in their struggle to heal, to confront some of the darkness and pain they carry, and find answers to who they are so that they may succeed.  In these gatherings, caring relationships are formed, some of which are able to carry on after a woman is discharged into the community.
      Marilyn Johnson, one of the leaders in the team has observed that it is very good to have men participate in these visits as well, so that the women have an opportunity to have a healthy relationship with a male presence.
      Because of the success of the program and the trust earned, mentors in the program have earned escort privileges to take some of the women to church on a Sunday morning.  (If a women is from the medium security end, then she would also be escorted by two guards.)  But this means so much to the women, to have the opportunity to get out of prison and be welcomed by a church community.  They have hard deadlines that do not budge, of course.  The women must be back by 10:00 am, sharp!  But the efforts of these churches gives them an experience of belonging, which means a lot.
      Their efforts have been very well-received by both the women, and by their families, who have expressed profound gratitude; even from a father from Manitoba, who was all in tears.

Prison can be a place of restoration

I am glad God brought me into prison.  If I was still out there, I would probably be dead!”
      This statement by a woman visiting the program reinforces an observation made by Marilyn others that many of the stories told by the women had a common theme:  Wrong place!  Wrong time!  Wrong friends!
      For many of the women, prison can offer them an opportunity; a solid interruption to unhealthy choices, circumstances and relationships.  Many of the women are eager to use this opportunity, and having people come into the prison to walk that road with them, is really valuable.

Challenges On the Outside

      Much work goes into helping a women succeed on the outside, but the challenges following release are significant.  Generally the women will find themselves immersed in the same set of circumstances and troubled relationships that fuelled their wrong choices and bad behaviors.  A top indicator for whether a person succeeds or fails on the outside is whether or not they have healthy supportive community.  But finding this can be very hard.
      The organizers of the program really want to support the women once they are on the outside, but there are major challenges.  One simple difficulty is to keep in contact with women once they have left the prison.  Their home communities are all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, so many are simply separated by distance.  Many are sent to half-way houses, and may not even know where they are headed a week ahead of time.
       For the women who stay locally, they may have some success for a while and stay in regular contact.  But then they might do something that they are ashamed to admit, and pull back.  As well, the team is forced to keep some distance in relationships, and they struggle with whether to open their homes and give out personal information.  One reason for that caution is that some of the women can be manipulative.  When volunteers begin this work, they take a course on what they are or are not allowed to do; including sharing personal information.  Many of those guidelines continue to apply even on the outside.
       But within those guidelines, there is much that can be done.

What can we do to provide supportive community to people coming out of prison?

1. Run support groups like celebrate recovery that can provide both support and accountability.
2. Get together socially!  Meet for coffee or get food at a restaurant. Go for walks, or get out to have fun together.
3. Provide work opportunities.  There are businesses that are willing to work with people coming out of prison, and do much to provide that supportive community environment.

These activities may take some organizing, but this engagement is very meaningful to anyone trying to pull their life back together after prison.

A Success story:  A woman in her fifties formed a relationship with the group while she was still in prison.  She had killed someone many years ago.  Now she has been out for two years and is doing really well.  She calls up Marilyn and others from the program to get together, and she is so excited when she gets to be with them.

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with Marilyn Johnson    

A Catholic Reflection: Spiritual Grounding in Bridging Societal Divides

Article first published in the Western Catholic Reporter on September 16, 2013

Last month I attended an afternoon meeting at the Marian Centre in inner city Edmonton. At the end of the meeting, I was invited to join with the Marian Centre staff for the 5:15 pm Mass at St. Benedict’s Chapel at Edmonton’s City Centre Mall.

The walk of only four blocks was a jarring experience of contrasts.  Coming out of the alley, we passed by Immigration Hall, a newly-renovated, 41-unit housing complex operated by Hope Mission that provides transitional and long-term housing for formerly homeless men and women making important life transitions.  On the next block we passed by the Spady Centre, a community-run street-level detox facility where two peace officers were interrogating a man in the lineup outside of the centre. Just a little bit further, we passed by the main entrance of the EPCOR office tower where crowds of well-dressed people were hurrying out at the end of their workday. A block further, we passed through the lobby of an upscale downtown hotel to gain access to an elevated pedway which led to a side entrance into Edmonton City Centre Mall.  Once in the mall we passed by a jewelry store with beautiful expansive displays. One floor up on the escalator, we entered the sacred space of St. Benedict’s Chapel.

While most of us know there are homeless people in Edmonton, usually they are at a distance from us. That afternoon, the distance was literally only a couple dozen metres on one hand, and yet half a world away on the other.

Two nights later I was far from the inner city at St. Thomas More Church Hall in Riverbend, attending a community meeting debating a proposed 60-unit supportive housing project for men, women and families making the transition from an earlier experience of homelessness to a new situation of stable, affordable apartments.
Here the visible and societal distance between those with and without homes was narrowing rapidly. The hall was crowded. People spoke with great passion and often with anger. Most who spoke were opposed to the proposed housing project.

Many questions were raised about the building site in Terwillegar Towne, the size of the project, availability of support services and the potential risks posed to the local neighbourhood by the new residents.

Underlying public conversations like this is a strong sense of fear, frustration and vulnerability. Some in our Catholic parishes regularly cross this societal divide when they give generously of their time and money and encounter those who are hungry, homeless or poor at the Marian Centre or Inner City Pastoral Ministry in inner city Edmonton or in community or church halls in other parts of the archdiocese.

This is often a spiritually and personally transforming experience for those who give of themselves in this way. However, there is a certain intentionality and clear limits and boundaries in these encounters. There are usually clear time expectations, assigned roles and tasks, and experienced mentors. At the end of the encounter, it is possible to leave and go back to our own homes and communities often a safe distance away.

What is most challenging and often creates fear is when this social divide is crossed unexpectedly without pre-set time and space boundaries. Think of encountering a person begging on the sidewalk or a new service agency or social housing complex on our block.

For Christians, one key reference point is our internal spiritual disposition. In our deepest heart of hearts, is our spiritual grounding: one of love, inclusion, hospitality, solidarity and freedom? Jesus in the Gospel stories provides a perfect model for this. Fear and anger can present obstacles for us to be able to respond from the strength of this spiritual foundation.

As we grow in our discipleship journey following Christ ever more closely, we learn to respond more fully from an internal disposition of love. This does not mean we surrender our responsibility to exercise prudence, wisdom and discernment as we face difficult debates on controversial community projects or when we navigate inner city sidewalks. But it does mean that we start from a spiritual grounding of love, solidarity and welcome, especially to those who are vulnerable and on the margins.


I Need Help! Who Do I Call?

Whether this is you, someone you know, or a neighbour battling in the cold; here are a few key resources to help you get help.

If this is an emergency, call 911!

If you see someone in distress, and you are concerned their life may be threatened in any way, don’t mess around; call 911 Emergency to summon immediate help.

If this is not an emergency, and someone’s life is not visibly threatened, call 211!

This service is able to mobilize many different kinds of responses, including the 24/7 Crisis response teams, which can help someone in a non-emergency situation.  The 211 service is also able to connect or refer you to places that will be able to provide help.

If you need more long-term help for yourself or a neighbour and don’t know where to go, here is a resource with good information on different frontline service providers.

The Winter Emergency Response Guide 2016/2017   winter-emergency-response-resource-guide-2016-17-final-d

It explains what services are provided, hours of operation, contact information, etc.  These places provide everything from simple shelter from the cold or a safe place to sleep, to helps with identification, doing taxes and finding housing.

Hospitality in Islam

A guest  (Muslim or non Muslim) enjoys a special place in Islam.

In Islam all actions performed daily can be raised to the status of worship simply by doing them to seek the pleasure of God. Having a guest is an opportunity to earn God’s pleasure by showing moral excellence in how we treat our guests. Before all else, believers must offer respect, love, peace, and cordiality to each guest. A welcome merely based on food offered, without showing any love, respect, or peace, would not be pleasing.

Prophet Muhammad treated his guests with utmost respect and generosity.  He anticipated their needs offered them the most comfortable room, the choicest food, took interest in their conversation and gave them his full attention.  In Islam hospitality is a right rather than a gift, and the duty to supply it is a duty to God.

There are several examples in the Quran about hospitality. One is about a Prophet’s companion, Abu Talha who welcomed a hungry traveler into his home even though they had very little to eat. He asked his wife to bring whatever they had and gave it to the guest.  While the guest ate his meal, they pretended to eat in the dim candlelight.  The following day Prophet Muhammad gave them the great news that God had revealed a verse about them and their generosity.   islamic-tea

Prophet Mohammed also gave the example of Prophet Abraham, how he treated his guests, which displays an important feature of hospitality. The Qur’an portrays this incident in the following manner:

“Has the story reached you of the honored guests of Abraham? Behold, they entered his presence and said: “Peace!” He said: “Peace!” (and thought: “They seem unusual people.”) Then he turned quickly to his household, brought out a roasted fattened calf, and placed it before them. He said: “Will you not eat?” [Surat adh-Dhariyat: 24-27]

The above paragraph from the Quran is an example of how Prophet Abraham, entertained his visitors. He reciprocated their greeting, despite the fact that they were strangers to him. Furthermore, he quickly and discretely arranged for a meal without asking, if they would care for anything. The meal consisted of the best he could offer. Once the meal was ready, he placed it close to them and refrained from ordering them to eat; instead, subtly invited them to partake in the meal. There are similar stories in the bible on hospitality.

In Islam the guest too has responsibilities.  One of them is to announce their visit in advance whenever possible and not to over stay or ask for anything which might cause hardship or be a burden on the host. Another is to hasten to taste the refreshments offered and to pray for and ask blessings upon the host.

In Islam the extension of hospitality and sharing of meals offer opportunities to embody remembrance of God. Sharing of food among Muslims is a very important feature of their social life.

Submitted by Sofia Yaqub, Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities


The Westmount Presbyterian Story

Recognizing the need for affordable housing options, especially for large families, Westmount Presbyterian partnered to redevelop their land and church facility to make room for 16 units of affordable housing in a townhouse setting.


Twice over the past five years, 25 faith community leaders have come together through the Capital Region Housing Initiative to sign a public statement expressing their support for Edmonton’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.

In this statement, the faith leaders committed their faith communities “to find new and creative ways . . . to address the issues of homelessness and affordable housing in our communities.” The churches and faith communities signing this statement have found different ways to put the words of this public commitment into action over the past five years.

However, one local Edmonton congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, a signer of the Edmonton interfaith statement, has come up with an especially creative approach.

Westmount Presbyterian Church, in the North Glenora neighbourhood in Edmonton, found itself in a situation similar to that of many churches today. Their congregation was shrinking in size, their 60-year-old church building was in need of costly repairs, and their high energy bills were becoming an increasing financial burden.

The members of the congregation started a process to plan for the future. The congregation had a history of supporting refugee families and hoped that this support could be continued and even expanded in the future.


The congregation identified and recruited community partners: Peter Amerongen from Habitat Studios, a local innovative company pioneering the construction of zero-energy homes, Intermet Housing Society, an experienced non-profit housing provider, and the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.

Together, they came up with a plan. The church would provide the land on a long-term lease at nominal cost for a 16-unit townhouse development providing affordable housing for large immigrant families.

The other organizational partners would bring expertise in innovative building design and construction, non-profit housing management and support services for families of newly-arrived immigrants.

This would be a sustainable “net zero” project, with geothermal and solar energy, so that year by year the renewable energy produced would be equal to the total energy consumed.


The present church would be demolished and replaced by a smaller energy-efficient church building, with space for a day care, and community space for tenant support and other community activities.

The project sponsors organized a consultation process with the local community league and residents and incorporated their concerns and suggestions into the design and development of this project with the result that the local community became supporters.

One local neighbourhood benefit of this project is that the school across the street threatened with closure because of low student enrollments will benefit from the influx of school-age children.

When the project sponsors went to City Hall in October for rezoning and project approval, city council approved the proposal unanimously. Construction is slated to start in the next few months.

Often when older church lands and buildings can no longer be maintained and supported by a congregation, they are sold with the financial proceeds used to support continuing church works.

Westmount Presbyterian shows another approach of being creative and faithful stewards of church physical and human resources, that of supporting both the long-term future of the Church membership and the good of those in the wider community in urgent need of affordable housing and support services.


Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), says that as we draw near to those experiencing new forms of poverty and vulnerability, “we are called to recognize the suffering Christ” in our midst.

Thinking especially of the situations of migrants and refugees, he encourages all to be open and welcoming to newcomers in their communities: “How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development” (n. 210). Might he have been thinking of a project like this?


The Westmount Presbyterian Site Redevelopment is an impressive example of what is possible with imaginative long-term visioning, creative partnerships, innovative models of stewardship and a shared concern for social justice and the environment.

One hopes this project can stir the creativity and imagination of other congregations and churches facing difficult decisions about the future of church lands and buildings to “think outside the box.”

(Bob McKeon:

As published by the Western Catholic Reporter on February 8, 2016

Building for a Healthy Conversation

For those of us trying to plan community meetings where we can discuss complex subjects, we regularly find ourselves scratching our heads at how to best do this.

Great conversations don’t usually just happen on their own.  Anyone who has tried to talk through something of significance will likely also be able to share with you a time a conversation went off the rails.  Things were said.  People were hurt, and relationships took a big hit!

It is one of the primary responsibilities of our Housing Ambassador to help local neighbourhoods learn how to plan a great conversation, and then practice running one in their neighbourhood.  To assist in that work, we are developing a Community Conversation Toolkit that we hope will be finished shortly.

But while we’re polishing that up, we’d like you to see some alternative models for conversation.  It will help give you some ideas as to how else you might be able to set the table for a good conversation in your neighbourhood; a conversation where everyone has a chance to be heard, where we have time and place to really discuss things of significance, and where we can together work towards the wisest and best decision.

Check out the following link on our website:  “Great Ways to Talk it Through”

To help you take one step further, here are some solid rules with a great track record of success for establishing a safe and patient space for neighbours to really hear each other.   (From ICA Associates)   Great conversations are totally doable.  Let’s learn how to do this together!

rules full version

What can I do?

“We get it!”  Housing is not affordable for so many people!  Rents are high; times are hard; money is tight; and supports are few.   It is a struggle for our seniors, our young families, for people battling addictions or mental illnesses, and our young people …but we don’t have a lot extra ourselves.  How can we help make things better?

It’s always the number one question we hear?  What can I do?  How can I make a difference in helping our community create better options for our most vulnerable people?  On this site, we’ll do our best to highlight particular initiatives and opportunities to help out and make a difference.  So please tune in with us to hear more.

But here is the link to the resource we’ve put together to help answer the big question.  This is the full-meal-deal answer with numerous ideas for how people from faith communities (or just concerned Edmonton neighbours) can get involved.  Come join us in the work.  We can totally do this!

2015 Congregational Housing Guideaction guide 2015

A Prayer for Children

Composed by Ina Hughs from the Carnegie community (Downtown Eastside) in Vancouver.  (15/4/98)

We pray for children… who put chocolate fingers everywhere, who like to be tickled, Who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants, who sneak popsicles before supper, who erase holes in math workbooks, who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those… Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire, who can’t bounce down the street in a new pair of sneakers, who never ‘counted potatoes,’ who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead, who never go to the circus, who live in an x-rated world.

We pray for children… who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions, who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish, who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money, who cover themselves in Band-Aids and sing off-key, who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink.  Who slurp their soup.

And we pray for those… who never get dessert, who have no safe blanket to drag behind them, who watch their parents watch them die, who can’t find any bread to steal.  Who don’t have rooms to clean up, whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser, whose monsters are real.

We pray for children… who spend all their allowance before Tuesday, who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food, who like ghost stories, who shove dirty clothes under the bed, who never rinse out the tub, who get visits from the tooth fairy, who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool, who squirm in church and scream in the phone, whose tears we sometimes laugh at, and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those… whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything, who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep, who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must.  For those we never give up on, and for those who don’t have a second chance.  For those we smother… and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Reprinted with permission from The Heart of the Community: the Best of the Carnegie Newsletter; Edited by Paul Taylor.  Anthology Copyright 2003, Carnegie Community Centre