Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Religious groups join campaign to raise welfare rates

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Prepare to see an economic -- and spiritual -- sign of the times when you drive by a house of worship over the next few weeks.

Some of the city's churches, mosques, and temples and gurdwaras plan to display the same message on their outdoor signs: Love your neighbour as yourself -- raise welfare rates. "God calls us to love your neighbour," says Ken DeLisle, minister at Fort Garry United Church, which sported that message on its sign for most of February.

"If you have two coats, you give one away."

That same message of neighbourliness will also be posted at the outdoor sign of the Singh Sabha Sikh Gurdwarda on Sturgeon Road, says president Jagpal Johal.

Although this current campaign is directed at the specific issue of raising Employment and Income Assistance rates, people of faith have long advocated for justice and compassion for the less fortunate, says a member of Make Poverty History Manitoba, the organization running the sign campaign.

"I know that people from all faith communities are people of compassion," says Lynda Trono of West Broadway Community Ministry, a drop-in centre for people in need.

"One thing that all people agree on is that no one should go hungry."

That point of agreement may lead to more co-operation between faith groups advocating for changes to public policy around welfare rates and poverty, says the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association.

"This is what faith should be about," says Idris Elbakri.

"We should go from interfaith relationships to interfaith collaboration."

That collaboration could extend to faith groups working with community organizations working toward the same goals, says Rev. Bob Gilbert of Augustine United Church.

"We have a lot of common values and common aims with people who are not religious and it makes sense for us to join forces with them to affect change," says Gilbert, a member of Make Poverty History coalition.

The two-week campaign by Make Poverty History Manitoba ( includes a petition to raise basic rates, establish a working group to implement EIA rate review improvements and create a new disability benefit for people unable to work because of long term disabilities.

"That means that people can live with dignity and their needs are met and they don't have to beg for every scrap of food," says Gilbert.

Lobbying the provincial government to raise welfare rates may seem like a political move for some, but for members of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, it's just about being faithful.

"For us, it is a big part of what Christ asked us to do, to look after each other and look after our neighbours," says Norena Robson, member of the congregation's housing committee.

Robson and her committee members plan to ask their fellow parishioners to sign the petition after each of the six weekend masses at the River Heights church.

Manitoba's largest Muslim organization also chose to support the campaign because care of the neighbour is integral to Islam, says Elbakri.

"The Prophet Muhammad taught that if you went to bed at night and you knew your neighbour was hungry, your faith was not complete," he says.

Elbakri says the petition is posted on the Grand Mosque's bulletin boards and on their Facebook page. The Waverley Street mosque does not have an outdoor reader sign.

For Oakbank United Church, exploring the issues of poverty and injustice right here in Manitoba was a first step to action for the largely commuter church just east of Winnipeg, says Rev. Cathy Kinsman.

"This was the beginning of us saying "Who is my neighbour?" It's not just us sitting in the pews," she says.

"I think this initiative can be a wonderful and growing opportunity to see there are lots of needs out there."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 D15


Updated on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 11:59 AM CST: Fixed photo caption.

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