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Religious groups work together in 2015 for a common purpose

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2015 (457 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When it comes to religion, it's easy to spot the bad signs: empty churches, diminishing coffers and declining institutions.

But this is the time of year when people of faith look for the glimmers of light, inklings of peace and signs of hope.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files
Mark Tiessen-Dyck of Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church in Winnipeg with a sign advocating for an all-weather road for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files Mark Tiessen-Dyck of Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church in Winnipeg with a sign advocating for an all-weather road for Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. Purchase Photo Print

As 2015 draws to a close, here are some examples of those qualities in Winnipeg's faith communities:


Freedom Road

For several weeks last fall, church signs all over the city said the same thing: We Support Freedom Road. Mobilized by singer/songwriter Steve Bell, churches across the denominational spectrum publicly declared their support for an all-weather road connecting Shoal Lake 40 First Nation to the Trans-Canada Highway.

About the same time, Winnipeg minister Lynda Trono and Hindu artist Manju Lodha launched an interfaith campaign, gathering signatures on petitions and cards, and raising awareness about the plight of the people of Shoal Lake 40.

On Dec. 17, that road moved closer to reality when three levels of government committed $30 million for the project. Later that day, a full house at the Centennial Concert Hall applauded Bell's efforts for Shoal Lake 40 at his concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

"When it needed an extra push, we could give it an extra push," Bell says of the campaign he led to bring attention to the plight of the people of Shoal Lake 40.

"At the concert, people realized something significant had happened."

One of those significant things is the building the road, but much more happened here. Winnipeggers from many religions worked together to help their First Nations neighbours, and Bell discovered his voice as an advocate for social justice.


Shift in thinking

Winnipeg has its share of cavernous worship halls, many hitting or surpassing the century mark in age, and all of them requiring significant cash to keep going. One of those large Christian churches -- St. Matthew's Anglican -- has already been transformed into low-cost apartments for 25 families.

A few other churches may soon follow its lead in developing their parish halls, sanctuaries or adjacent green space into other sorts of uses, including apartments and condos. All Saints' Anglican, located at the busy corner of Broadway and Osborne Street, is working on a design that could incorporate housing, community services and commercial developments.

But before shovels hit the ground, people of faith have to shift their ideas about how they use their money, time and buildings, explains Rev. Brent Neumann, interim priest at All Saints'.

"Our task now is to think of different ways of doing the work (of the church) that's equally meaningful, and making it more relevant to the society as it is now," he says.


Showing compassion

In October, Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis spoke to a packed room about compassionate policing at the World Parliament of Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah -- marking the first time law enforcement officers addressed the large international gathering.

That quest for compassion continues in Winnipeg and across the country as individuals, churches and faith groups continue to work together to welcome Syrian refugees, raising money and hustling up household goods for families already trickling in and for more coming in 2016.

The congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are committed to sponsoring 500 refugees in the next two years as a way to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant refugees. The United Church of Canada has raised $3 million to resettle Syrian families in Canada, and other denominations and faith groups are also preparing to welcome refugees into their midst.

Let's hope for more signs of hope, glimmers of light, and inklings of peace in the New Year.


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Updated on Saturday, December 26, 2015 at 9:32 AM CST: Changes picture.

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