Ottawa churches mark Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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Patricia Hassard, a board member of Cornerstone Housing for Women-a community ministry of the diocese of Ottawa-offers prayers for liberation from bondage, symbolized by chains. Photo: Art Babych

Representatives of five social justice ministries in Ottawa took turns offering prayers for liberation from bondage at an ecumenical worship service January 21 marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an international Christian ecumenical event observed annually January 18 to 25.

Among them was Patricia Hassard, a board member of Cornerstone Housing for Women, a community ministry of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

In her prayer, Hassard called on God to help women in crisis and to “open our hearts, Lord, to feel the chains which bind women who find themselves in situations of vulnerability, and violence.”

While housing is important, she said, “Liberation from bondage for women in crisis is much more than shelters. It is a sanctuary for healing hurt, [and] restoring the ability and willingness to trust.”

Cornerstone provides emergency shelter and safe, supportive housing in four communities for women in Ottawa.

Other agencies offering prayers for liberation from bondage were The Ottawa Mission, Multifaith Housing Initiative, Ottawa Mennonite Refugee Assistance (OMRA) Shelter Alternatives Corporation and the Centretown Churches Social Action Committee.

All of the justice groups’ representatives spoke from a podium behind a display of silver-coloured chains, symbolizing bondage. The congregation responded after each of the prayers.

The service, held at Knox Presbyterian Church near Parliament Hill, was sponsored by the Christian Council of the Capital Area (CCCA).

Canon John Wilker-Blakley, who is president of the CCCA and an Anglican priest in the diocese of Ottawa, noted in his greeting that the resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity had been prepared by the churches of the Caribbean.

The 2018 theme was taken from the Book of Exodus 15:6: “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power.”

In his homily, the Rev. Ken MacLaren, executive director of Ottawa Innercity Ministries (OIM), said, “The basic component of justice is just this: doing the right thing.” It can start with “small things,” he said. “But first we can look at ourselves and our assumptions.”

MacLaren said when he was young and saw a homeless person, he might assume the person could get a job. “I could justify my response by my assumptions and I could walk away totally guilt-free.”

But it is important to get to know the person, and listen to their story, instead of making assumptions, he suggested, giving as an example a “First Nations man who became my friend.” The man, whom he called “Rudy,” was three years old when he and his parents were involved in a car accident. Rudy’s parents died in the mishap, and he was sent to live with his grandmother, his sole surviving relative.

“When he was six years of age, his grandmother went to get wood outside and she never came back,” said MacLaren. “Two days later he went out and found her frozen in the snow.”

Rudy then lived in “10 or 11” foster homes, was sexually abused in all of them and had a drinking problem, he said.

“Check yourself and your assumptions first,” said MacLaren. “Don’t paint the homeless with a broad brush.”

The offerings from ecumenical worship service were presented to the OIM, whose mission statement affirms: “We are called to come alongside people experiencing poverty and homelessness, demonstrate the message of Christ in deed and word, show compassion, build self-esteem and empower individuals through a strength based approach.”

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Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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