Bringing Church to Cameron House
Bringing church to Cameron House
by Rev. Cathy Stone
The Rural Outreach Committee (ROC), of which I am Executive Director, works very closely with Cameron House, a shelter for women in Peterborough, Ontario, owned and operated by the Brock Mission. Cameron House staff answer ROC’s emergency crisis line evenings, weekends and statutory holidays. It is not uncommon for us to share cases and also at times to debrief with each other.
During one debrief, a Cameron House staff person mentioned to me that it would be wonderful if I could “bring church to Cameron House.” I asked permission from Brock Mission’s Executive Director, Bill McNabb, as well as Trent Durham Bishop, Linda Nicholls and was given the “green light”.
We began on Mother’s Day 2008. In the beginning I met with a group of 6 to 8 ladies at the women’s shelter and asked them what they thought was needed in the way of spiritual nourishment. They all expressed a strong desire to learn more about Jesus and God. Although a few had attended church in the past, they really had no idea of why they were Christians. They acknowledged that they were burnt out, sad, and hoped that there was something “out there” in the way of spirituality that might help them.
We began with a Christianity 101 Course, which I adapted especially for our group. We took time for prayer, worship, bible study and discussion. Through these discussions it was revealed to me that most (if not all) of the ladies had suffered from sexual, physical or emotional abuse as children, and also later as adults. Many had addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. They had families that either they could not connect with, or who didn’t wish to connect with them. Many had been “hurt” by the church, and didn’t trust the corporate church system or “church people.”
I wondered how I was going to bring Christianity into their lives, and also be a practical help to their many ailments, both physical and emotional. After much thought and discussion with Cameron House staff, we settled on working our way through “The Twelve Steps for Christians,” and “The Life Recovery Bible.” I spoke to a Christian friend of mine and she offered to buy 12 Life Recovery Bibles. By that time our group had grown to 10.
The results have been wonderful and we have seen God’s work over the last year and a half. We began holding our group around the table in the dining room at Cameron House (not always perfect because other residents tended to walk in and out to use the fridge), but now we have our own beautiful room. An individual donated a large pine table and chairs, and the ladies and I feel as if it is our “God space.” The house itself has changed. Where it was once quite messy and dirty, we now see women helping each other to organize rooms and tidy things up. Instead of blank stares or frowns, I notice smiling faces when I drive up to what has now become my second family. They are so full of love and so in need of someone to love them.
We have had some success stories… One woman who was homeless and poverty ridden when I met her in 2008 has now received funding to complete her Masters of Social Work; three of those who met with us have been baptized at St. Barnabas; another requested that her new apartment be blessed; still another revealed to me recently that she has stopped drinking and smoking and will be attending a program, as well as continuing on with our group. She thanked me for coming every week and said“I know I couldn’t do this without Jesus.”
It is not just the ladies in residence we help, but those who find other shelter continue to come back on Wednesday evenings to share our mutual love for Jesus and our desire to learn more about God’s word and how it is relevant in our everyday lives. We share very intimate things around the table and what is said in the room stays in the room. This has built a strong bond and trust with each other. We laugh, cry, pray, discuss theology, study the bible and sing worship songs.
Through our study of The Twelve Steps for Christians we have come to learn that every one of us suffers from addictions. It doesn’t have to be substances, it can be computers, work, selfishness, pride, religion…anything that separates us from God. This revelation helped the ladies to understand that they are not alone with their problems, and that, although society views them as outcasts, God loves them unconditionally and gives them hope for a brighter future.
When I first told the women that I was an Anglican Deacon they were amazed. Sadly our “Anglican” name doesn’t have the appeal it once had in society. However, they have opened their minds and have learned not to judge by a few who might have hurt or misled them, and to realize that within every group there are “good” and “bad.”
Usually I wear my collar, out of respect for them…but one day I didn’t have time to change into my clergy shirt. One lady said to me: “I think you look better without the collar.” I laughed and said, “I’m the same person, with or without.” During one session we were discussing what a “blessing” is. They looked at me in unity and one said: “Cathy you are a blessing…to us.” I was extremely humbled. They are such a blessing to me that it never occurred to me that I might be a blessing to them.
On one particular Sunday I took one of them to church upon her request. On the drive in she revealed to me that she was a crack addict and had only stopped using two nights ago, but she still wanted to go to church. We no sooner arrived when she needed to use the washroom to vomit. I helped her up from her knees, washed her face and took her up to church, but she was just too sick to stay so I drove her home. Afterwards, when I returned to church and the coffee hour, one parishioner revealed to me her own problem with alcohol, and another spoke of an adult son with addictions. Our Cameron House lady’s presence at church helped others open up about their own struggles.
This fresh expression of church can help not only society’s outcasts, but also society itself, by offering those who live on the edge a second chance to become healthy members of society and to bring to them the “Good News” of Jesus Christ in a safe environment.
The church family at Cameron House is a beautiful thing to witness and I feel blessed to be a part of their lives.
Rev. Cathy Stone is a deacon in the Diocese of Toronto and Executive Director of the Rural Outreach Committee.