Nearly 10 years after Edmonton launched an ambitious plan to end homelessness, faith leaders shared prayerful reflections on the progress made—and the work ahead—in helping the city’s most vulnerable people.
“It seemed like the spirit of God was in this place, and it was obvious that everybody came and felt free to express—in their own words, according to their own tradition—their prayer for this effort,” said Michael Van Boom, co-organizer of the Interfaith Work and Prayer Gathering event at City Hall on March 27.
Edmonton’s homeless population has dropped significantly since the start of the plan, from 3,079 people in 2008 to 1,752 people in 2016. However, the city has not reached its goal to end homelessness completely.
More than 30 representatives from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Unitarian communities met at the council chamber steps in to pray according to their own traditions. The event was organized by the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI), founded in 2011 to engage faith communities in the mission to end homelessness.
“We all believe and we all agree in the need to love our neighbour, to care for our neighbour, to serve our neighbour, and that’s common ground,” said Van Boom, the ambassador for CRIHI and a Christian Reformed pastor.
Julien Hammond, ecumenical officer at the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, was pleased to see the diversity of the groups invited to pray at city hall for an important cause.
“Housing resonates with each of the faith communities, and it’s easy enough to find common ground on that front,” said Hammond.
The prayer gathering was first suggested by five Anglican and Moravian churches wanting to honour Holy Week with a day of prayer for Edmonton and its homeless community.
“We understand the world so very differently, but we all have this call on our hearts because of our faith to do this important work together, and I think that’s a really powerful witness to one another as well as to the city at large,” said Rev. Nick Trussel, an Anglican priest and event organizer.
Trussel approached Van Boom and CRIHI to help organize the event, and Van Boom said he immediately jumped at the opportunity.
“I said, ‘You know what, we need God, the spirit of God to flow through these efforts, to really help them move forward,’” said Van Boom.
John Dowds, a former Presbyterian minister who has served as chaplain for the City of Edmonton for 12 years, says the relationship with the interfaith community is necessary to end homelessness.
“One of the things we recognize more and more is the tremendous value in the city partnering with all kinds of different community groups,” said Dowds.
“I think the partnership between the churches to some degree over the years has been lacking, but we’re recognizing how important it is to have that partnership and to continue to build on it.”
After Nalina Kumar and two other members the Hindu Sai Baba centre led the gathering in a traditional prayer song, Kumar said she felt deep admiration for how other faith traditions prayed.
“One thing that struck me was the Catholic prayer about how you go to each room and bless (objects) and pray. That is so much like my own Hinduism. I see the similarities in all the religions,” said Kumar.
Trussel emphasizes that religious communities are committed to help others because of their faith.
“It’s not something we do apart from prayer, it’s because we are prayerful that we do this work,” he said.
Hammond said the faith communities bring a unique perspective to the mission of ending homeless.
“It’s important to reflect that we are in fact faith communities coming together to do this work; we’re not just social agencies,” he said. “Praying together is one way in which we can show that.”