Canada: A Ministry of Presence in Inner-city Edmonton
Gail (not her real name) lives in Edmonton’s inner city, a poor neighborhood in the oil-rich province of Alberta in western Canada. She suffers from mental health issues and lives in assisted housing.
When she had to attend a meeting about her accommodation, she was worried and turned to Rev. Rick Chapman of the Inner City Pastoral Ministry (ICPM).
“She came to me one day after Sunday service and mentioned she was having to go before the housing board. She looked so nervous so I offered to go with her,” Chapman recalls.
By being present and, often, offering a prayer before such meetings, the Anglican pastor is able to “walk with those in need” during trying, and often difficult, situations. “These are individuals who might otherwise fall through the cracks,” he says. “They can’t protect themselves from our laws. So I walk with them.” With Chapman’s support, Gail was able to deal with her housing situation.
Since 1978, ICPM, an interdenominational outreach program, has been providing both spiritual and physical nourishment to those in need in inner-city Edmonton. A partnership of Lutheran, Anglican, United and Roman Catholic churches, ICPM offers Sunday morning worship followed by nutritious lunches for more than 300 people. Volunteers from Edmonton’s 100-plus area churches serve the hearty meal, catering to many who would otherwise go without.
Chapman, one of ICPM’s three pastoral team members, oversees the ministry in a role that was previously sustained by pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). The ELCIC encourages partnerships within the Lutheran communion and ecumenically as part of its concerted efforts to boost its outreach to needy communities.
ICPM reaches those living in the deepest levels of poverty in the community. Over half of the families living in the neighborhoods served by the program live below the poverty line.
But not everyone knows about the ministry that takes place during the rest of the week. “It’s a ministry of presence,” says Chapman.
Not only does ICPM seek to serve those who make the effort to come through the doors seeking refuge and relief from the streets, but the program literally and spiritually shares bread on a daily basis with individuals in the community by offering human contact and compassion, care and support in Christ’s name.
Chapman explains that it is about “building relationships with people.” He walks with them when others may have given up or disappointed them. He is an advocate providing support to those who may otherwise fall through the cracks in the system.
While there are many success stories, the pastoral team prefers to see their work in terms of the relationships they have fostered, the real meaning of the “ministry of presence.”
Human contact, spiritual trust and the affirmation that grows out of these contacts are the real success stories, rather than getting people “off the streets” or “overcoming addictions."