It began, as most good things do, with coffee and conversation.
On a cold Thursday in 2008 when I was volunteering at Agape Table, I sat down to have coffee and a conversation with one of the guests, who I’ll call Paul. Paul began the conversation by asking me what I thought of the new holiday, Louis Riel Day.
Paul is Aboriginal, so I assumed he was asking me what I thought of naming a day in Louis Riel’s honour, and so I answered truthfully that if we were going to have a new holiday, then it was fitting to honour a man like Riel.
Well, Paul said, “I hate it. In fact I hate all holidays.”
I was completely taken aback and asked Paul, “Why?”
“Holidays are no help to the homeless,” he said. “Everything is closed. The libraries are closed, the stores are closed, and there is no where to go to keep warm. And it was really cold on Monday.”
In that one conversation Paul completely changed my thinking about Riel Day. It hadn’t occurred to me that the holiday had further complicated the already complicated lives of homeless people like Paul.
I chose to start volunteering at Agape Table as a part of my commitment to House Blend Ministries, an intentional Christian community in West Broadway that I helped to found in 2007. We love our neighbourhood, and as part of our commitment to help build up its strengths, we all volunteer with local organizations.
House Blend exists because we are passionate about creating caring communities through whole life discipleship, with and among people who are poor. We do this through three key areas of focus: our in-house community, our broader community, and education.
Our community owns a home in West Broadway where we can invite people into a unique experience of becoming community by living together. People who are homeless or at risk of homelessness are our favourite tenants, and we’ve learned a lot by sharing our daily lives with them.
This extends beyond the people living in our community house to include others living in the neighbourhood who join us weekly for a potluck meal and time of prayer, as well as a variety of other celebrations and activities throughout the year.
We are learning so much through these experiences that we want to share them with our broader church family. We love to meet with people for coffee, speak with groups, or have individuals intern with us or participate in special projects. Members of House Blend don’t view themselves as better than the institutional church or separate from it — we all belong to local congregations. We do, however, believe that our small size and community focus allow us to do some things that larger, more traditional parishes can’t do, while at the same time realising that if the larger Church wasn’t supporting us, we wouldn’t exist. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
For almost a year after we met, I could not get that conversation with Paul out of my mind. Gradually, a plan began to form. Through conversations with the staff at Agape Table (which meets in All Saints Anglican Church) and leaders of local congregations (including st benedict’s table) we were able to invite our homeless friends to celebrate Riel Day in safety and style in 2009. We had food, board games, and live music throughout the day. Over 800 guests and 80 volunteers came together that first year and we have been holding this event every year since.
In 2015, Louis Riel Day will be Monday, February 16th and House Blend will once again be partnering with local churches
and Agape Table to provide a safe, warm space where people can go to enjoy the day. You can help with this event by organizing a team to sign up for a shift and volunteer, by collecting socks or warm weather gear, by praying for those involved, or by making a financial donation. It’s a great cause, but it’s also a lot of fun, so I hope you’ll consider getting involved. Contact us for more information, to volunteer, or to just meet for coffee.
Rachel Twigg Boyce is Director of House Blend Ministries and a Spiritual Director. To get in touch with her, send her an