Working with faith-based groups in St. Vital
Recently, a resident emailed to complain about a small grant I had approved relating to a particular church. It was a respectful conversation though at the end we agreed to disagree. As February 1-7 is the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, it seems an appropriate time to write about the issue of the City Council support for, and word with, faith-based groups.
One of the more difficult balancing acts as a Councillor is deciding on the appropriate relationship with various church or religious groups in St. Vital. While the city should not prefer any religion over another, I also feel that we should not ignore the community-building efforts of various churches in the ward. Most, if not all, of the places of worship in St. Vital play host to several community groups, whether it is Girl Guides at St. Mary Mag, or youth badminton in the gym at the Hindu Temple.
During my time as Councillor I have helped a number of churches, including Faith Lutheran, St. Mary's Rd United, Christ the King (school), New Testament Church of God, Gudawara Nanaksar, and St. Anne’s Road Hindu Temple with grants to repair leaky roofs or other renovation projects. I have also been able to assist some churches with small grants to help with youth programming (Evangel Chapel/ New Beginnings, Sterling Mennonite), or drop in centres (St. Mary Magdalene). And, I have been honoured to attend anniversary celebrations, including the 100th anniversary for St Mark's Anglican in 2014, and the 40th anniversary event at the Pioneer (Hazelwood) mosque.
In some cases, other levels of government have been funding partners, such as the St. Mary Magdalene daycare project which received Federal, Provincial and City support. The cooperation of different levels of government was particularly evident at the opening of the Salvation Army Barbara Mitchell Resource Centre on Morrow Avenue, one of the lowest income areas in St. Vital ward, where Shelly Glover (then MP) and Nancy Allan (then MLA) played key roles in making the project happen. While I do not share all of the theological views of the Salvation Army, I have been impressed with the work being done at the Barbara Mitchell Centre.
The multi-faith effort in St. Vital should also be commended, especially the Habitat project from 2016 which I supported with some funding, which included individuals from many St. Vital faiths. Councillor Scott Gillingham and I are both supporters of the “Faith 150” effort, a multi-faith group formed to celebrate all faiths in Canada’s 150 anniversary year. We hope to see a Faith 150 multi-faith event in Winnipeg later this year.
I agree that individuals with no religion should also be recognized (I am not personally a member of any church or denomination). Once a year, each Councillor gets to open a council meeting with a prayer, and I used my turn in 2014 for a moment of silent reflection to acknowledge this important point. In the past I have variously used a Hindu prayer, a Lutheran hymn, and a reading from the Koran for my turns.
The relation of church and City Council is open to debate, but the efforts of the St. Vital places of worship to help with poverty, immigration and other challenges has been an important learning experience for me as a Councillor.