WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Pastor Rick Chapman of the Community of Emmanuel, conducts a welcoming service each Sunday for his inner city parishioners.
It's Sunday morning and, as usual, the Bissell Centre's drop-in centre is full of people attending the ecumenical worship service. They sit at round tables, which they will later use to eat lunch.
At the front is the altar, which had been wheeled in just before the service. Dressed in white clergy gear, Pastor Rick Chapman, the Anglican pastor of the Community of Emmanuel for the past five years, opens the service by announcing the stabbing death of a young member of the congregation.
Tina looks nervous and shifty during the service, looking everywhere as if she was desperately trying to find somebody in the crowd.
Suddenly, she leaves the premises only to reappear 20 minutes later when lunch was being served. The 100 or so attending the service were called first to line up for the lunch.
Outside there was another line and they were allowed in in small groups. A total of 300 enjoyed a nutritious lunch consisting of sandwiches, fresh vegetables and fruits and dessert. New socks were distributed to everybody.
Volunteers from about 90 parishes and churches of various denominations take turns to prepare and serve the meal throughout the year.
Some come once a year; some two or three times a year.
Tina didn't eat right away. She wanted to go outside for a smoke.
The bubbly middle-age woman is a regular at the drop-in centre and is well known by the staff of the Inner City Pastoral Centre (ICPM), the ecumenical ministry that puts on the worship service and lunch every Sunday at 11 a.m.
"I feel at home here, very at home," says Tina, who didn't want to give her last name. "I've been coming here probably about 15 years. I come to supplement my groceries during the week and (on Sundays) I come to pray for my daughter.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
The Community of Emmanuel's parishioners look for nourishment in Pastor Rick's homily.
"I haven't seen her in six years. She works the streets so I look for her. I'm hoping I'll run into her one day."
In many ways, Tina is typical of the Sunday congregation here; namely people who may be unemployed, homeless or battling mental issues and addictions. Some live in rooming houses in the immediate area.
Suffering with bipolar disorder and agoraphobia, an anxiety disease that can keep her confined to her home for months at a time, Tina hasn't worked for years and is on social assistance.
"I'm nothing; I don't work anymore," she says puffing nervously on her cigarette.
Tina says "Pastor Rick" is helping her to locate her daughter, who she thinks might be somewhere in B.C.
"He is a very nice man," she says. "He is very helpful to all the community and people that are down and out, eh? He's helped me very much to pick myself back up, get myself on the right track."
Chapman is totally at ease with his congregation, touching people on the shoulder, asking them how their day is going. During the sign of peace segment of the service he shook hands with virtually everybody.
"I love it," Chapman says of the Sunday service. "It's what keeps me going; like through the week you get to talk to people about their pastoral needs and you are building relationships.
"But on Sunday it all comes together, right? And there are the people that you met through the week coming to a service of worship, the Gospel is being preached, the poor are being fed. It's just like a highlight of the week and I believe in the ministry; everything feeds back into the Community of Emmanuel.
"What you do during the week is celebrated on the Sunday morning."
Chapman, a father of two, is still amazed at how volunteers transform the drop-in centre into a church every Sunday for the past 33 years.
"During the week the space over here is used as a drop-in for people who are homeless or who are transient or who live in the supported housing in the area or seniors who are low income," he explains.
"So the drop-in offers food everyday in the mornings and all kinds of employment services, etc. But on Sunday we open that space as sacred space from 11 a.m. until noon for the worship service and then we provide a Sunday lunch afterwards."
People don't have to come to the service to be at the meal.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Sr. Marion Garneau, left, and Linda Winski perform a variety of welcoming tasks.
"But many come to the service because you don't have to dress up to come to the service," the pastor points out.
"They are comfortable here because this is their community base. It's the place where they relax within the community and it's a safe place and so they use the Community of Emmanuel as their church."
There is a fairly consistent group of people that attend the service on a weekly basis, around 60 per cent. The other 40 per cent are transient "because the community does have a certain transient nature to it."
A high number of Chapman's congregation is aboriginal, many of them from rural areas, Metis settlements or reserves around Edmonton.
"So we honour the aboriginal people," the pastor says, noting there are certain prayers in the community's worship book that speak of the "four directions" and honour the Creator.
Apart from the Sunday service and the meal, the ICPM provides a ministry of presence for folks in the inner city throughout the week. It has an office in the Bissell Centre. But the staff spends little time at the office.
Bob McKeon, chair of the ICPM board for the past two years, says, "The ICPM is almost like a chaplaincy in the inner city of being present at the drop-in centres, on the street, the shelters, visits to the courthouse or hospitals.
"It's just a spiritual presence for folks in the inner city."
Members of the United Church launched the Inner City Pastoral Ministry in 1978 as they recognized the need for a church in the inner city - a place where those who lived in the community and on the streets would feel welcome.
Soon the Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches joined in and the ministry became ecumenical. All four churches are represented on the ICPM board.
"This ministry is important because there is a ghetto in this city of Edmonton called the inner city, a ghetto area where all sorts of supports have been created and therefore where disenfranchised people gather," Chapman says.
"You need a full-time presence amongst those people, not a transient presence. One, to assist the people that you minister amongst and, two, to bring the message to the wider community of churches of the needs that are present there; otherwise, they are simply blocked out."
In philosophical terms, the ICPM "is a place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the people on the street come together in word and deed," McKeon says.
"It's a wonderful way we can speak of churches being present to the people of the inner city in a respectful way and biblical way."
Being so close to the Bissell Centre creates a bit of branding problem but overall it's has been a fruitful partnership, Chapman says.
"So we honour the partnership. We have all the benefits of the partnership and then we offer the pastoral care of the people."
The ecumenical board sets policy, takes care of fundraising and appoints ICPM staff, which includes Chapman and two pastoral associates: Linda Winski, formerly of the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission, and Sister Marion Garneau, a Sister of Charity of the Immaculate Conception.
Once a week Winski and Garneau go down to the Women's Emergency Accommodation Centre (WEAC) to visit the women, and maybe do a gathering or a prayer service with them.
They might stop by Operation Friendship or just be on the street; especially when the weather is good there are a lot of folks outside.
Garneau and Winski, with the assistance of a social worker, also run a monthly women's program in the community, which culminates in an annual retreat at the Star of the North in St. Albert.
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Practicalities such as new socks are included.
The ICPM also has an aboriginal focus and lately it has been organizing and leading gatherings for reconciliation and healing in the inner city and citywide.
"Basically it's to be in conversation; it is more keeping relationships, supporting people who are struggling with addictions, mental illness, homelessness, unemployment and helping as it is appropriate because there are social agencies so they are not social workers in that sense but they are a pastoral ministry presence," explained McKeon, who has volunteered with the ICPM for over a decade.
Garneau, who has been active with the ICPM for 15 years or so, was eventually hired by the Edmonton Archdiocese to work 20 hours a week for the ministry.
Her inner city residence serves as a partial pantry for the ICPM so she has to be at the drop-in centre at 7:30 a.m. on Sundays. She stays at the drop-in all morning helping.
During the service, she leads the community in song. Then she heads to the Women's Federal Prison for a religious service and to visit the inmates.
Winski is paid for 16 hours a week. On Sundays she is at the drop-in centre for at least five hours, basically receiving the food brought in by the various churches and then setting up the hall for lunch. During the service she assists Chapman and then helps serve the lunch and clean up.
"I'm here on Mondays as well. I'm basically available to people who drop in to have a conversation or need something or I go visit the drop-in centre," Winski says.
Sometimes she and Garneau attend funerals of congregation members. They are available and present to anybody who wants to talk.
"I think this ministry is important because it really gives witness to the fact that we believe that we meet Christ in the marginalized, in those who are invisible and pushed aside and not really included in mainstream society or Church," Winski said.