Henry Falkner walked into Holy Trinity Church in downtown Winnipeg his first Sunday in Canada and he hasn’t looked back for 27 years. It wasn’t long before his infectious smile and positive attitude landed him in the role of verger and caretaker of the space.
Like many newcomers to Canada, Father Henry was surprised by the poverty and outright hunger he began running into on a daily basis after moving into a suite attached to the church. What began as regularly sharing a sandwich with his needy neighbours turned into the Holy Trinity Mission, which today feeds 150 hungry Winnipeggers a day, hosts a clothing room, and gives out over 70 food hampers each Christmas, primarily to new refugee families.
For Father Henry, meeting the needs of his inner city neighbours is in his blood. Growing up in his native Jamaica, his rural farming family was accustomed to going without. He remembers a time of famine when the family had no food. His mother put on a pot of water and waited for God to provide. Sure enough, a neighbour soon came knocking with some potatoes. “It wasn’t just my parents who raised me” he explains, “it was a village.”
Ordained 17 years ago about the time the Mission began, Father Henry is still unsure how he ended up becoming a priest. The Bishop just asked him to move toward ordination, and so he did. Perhaps it is that spirit of humility which draws people to him. “Father Henry,” remarked one woman, “you put a face on Jesus.”
Yet the past 20 years of wrestling with hunger in Winnipeg’s downtown have been no tea party. It is discouraging for Father Henry and his 48 volunteers to find that, not only is the hunger problem not disappearing, it is getting worse and diversifying in the populations it affects. Hunger does not seem to discriminate, he says, “We have every colour and culture of people in our soup lines.” Quick to point out the positive, he explains that such diversity is important because we learn from one another. “I wouldn’t be part of a black church,” he remarks. “I’m part of a church where there are people.”
For Father Henry, the sacramental life of the Church and the daily needs of the people cannot be separated. About a year ago, the Mission ran out of bread for making sandwiches and they didn’t know where more would come from. He held up the host while praying the Eucharistic Prayer and exclaimed, “Lord, we need bread!” Shortly thereafter, they received more bread, and ever since they have had more than enough for sharing.
In many ways, the people he serves are more than volunteers or patrons to Father Henry – they are his family. They chose him to become their leader because of his care for the poor, his sacrificial love, and a sense of trust that is rare in communities today. May each of our communities be blessed with such hope in God’s goodness.