Works in Action | United Church of Canada Foundation

Works in Action

Case studies and lessons learned from previous grant recipients

The United Church of Canada Foundation has been supporting effective ministry since our inception in 2002. These inspirational case studies and lessons learned are possible because of the generosity of donors to the Foundation and are clear examples of gifts making a lasting change in the United Church.

United, we are taking kids to Camp Bimini

United Church of Canada camps are a community of acceptance and inclusivity, where children and youth can come together to have fun while experiencing God. Camp is a place to make new friends, reconnect with old one, and explore nature. For many campers, UCC camps are the only opportunity to engage in religious learning or worship. That is why, when the COVID-19 pandemic suspended summer camp programs across Ontario, the organizers of Camp Bimini were driven to provide a virtual camp experience for their would-be campers. The United Church Foundation supported this virtual camp program.

The importance of camp – and the connectedness that the experience brings – was more important in 2020 than it has ever been, Camp Bimini says. Camp has the potential to help children deal with the incredible amounts of isolation and stress brought on by the pandemic.

Camp counsellors used technology to record their typical camp activities, including camp songs, crafts, worship, and bedtime stories, and uploaded those videos to social media for the children to interact and connect with. In this way, children were able to take part in activities together.

“Bimini Connects is a program that was invaluable in filling the void that was created when overnight camp and sports were all cancelled in 2020,” wrote one parent. “They consistently produced high-quality, engaging video swith fun activities and meaningful messages.

“I cannot say thank you enough to Camp Bimini for adapting to bring camp to our home during these difficult times!”

Key lessons from the program

Maximize preparation time and understand how much work is happening.
June and early July were very hectic as staff and volunteers planned the entire 8-week virtual camp, recording and broadcasting the first sessions very quickly. Running the 8-week program consecutively did not allow a break for production for both participants and volunteers. Camp is normally a busy time for staff, but producing and recording a virtual camp program ended up being even more exhausting! A mini break would have re-energized all.

Understand your demographic.
As participants ages ran from 5 to 14 years old, more age-specific activities may have been more popular than the planned age-inclusive activities.

United, we build connections with First Nations neighbours in London

In 2015, the results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission challenged Canadians to build better, respectful relationships with our First Nations neighbours. For one United Church organization – the Lambton United Church Centre – the calls to action served as the prompt needed to begin to connect First Nations communities through their programming. In 2020, they connected with Mike Beachey, a local advisor with the Matachewan First Nation, and established a sweat lodge to educate youth about First Nations culture and traditions.

Rick Boerkamp, the Executive Director of Lambton Centre, summed up the importance of connecting with their neighbours of the Attawandaran and Anishinaabe of Kettle and Stony Point. “We are mindful of broken convents and the need to strive to make right relations with all of our neighbours,” he said. “The project will respect and support the rights of the indigenous peoples to develop, practice, and teach their own traditions.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the number of youth and elders who were able to participate in and contribute to the program, Rick still believes the program was a success. “For aboriginal youth participating in the program, it helped to strengthen pride in their culture and respect from the other non-indigenous youth,” he said.

Most importantly, the relationships built over the course of this program will continue to enrich all the involved communities in the future.

Key lessons from the program

There is a true interest in the indigenous community to build connections and to help people better appreciate and understand the first nations culture.
In order to ensure that we can run the project each week of the summer, it will benecessary to bring together several elders and teachers from the surrounding First Nation communities.

Build relationships to build the program.
When developing a program, it is easy to get focused on the physical details like supplies, schedules, and delivery of the program. But when the project is about building connections and community, it is important to be relationship-focused. It is important to take the time to listen to stories and to foster the relationships of trust and respect with our indigenous neighbours.This is really what the project is about


United, we are welcoming new Canadians into the Church in Surrey

Churches exist to serve the needs of their community as it grows through Christ. In the case of Cloverdale United Church in Surrey, B.C., the congregation realized that they could do much more to support a growing segment of their community: newcomers to Canada and young immigrant families. Establishing a new life in a new country is difficult, and fellowship in their congregation could help smooth the rough transition.

With support from their local presbytery, and then by the United Church of Canada Foundation, Cloverdale United Church offers a wide variety of programs including ESL groups and Bible studies targeted specifically for newcomers to Canada. Many of these programs were created for youth and children, as the congregation understood that many of the new families had young children that other churches in the area were not catering their programs to. The goal was to create a truly multicultural and multigeneration community of faith in Surrey.

The congregation at Cloverdale quickly learned that being a welcoming environment is a two-way street. “We became aware of the good things our new friends had to teach us about generosity and patience, kindness and humour,” one long-time member of the church said. “And we gave them room to give their gifts of music and hospitality and pastoral care.”

One such example was the growth of Cloverdale’s choirs. The ranks swelled so quickly that there weren’t enough robes for the choir to wear. The new members of the choir introduced some Korean hymns into worship, contributing to the welcoming environment of the church.

It took conscientious effort, but Cloverdale today is one where new cultures are integrated – not assimilated – into the church, a vibrant example of a beautiful cultural mosaic.

Key lessons from the program

Relationships require work on both ends, which requires courage and mindful work.
“Our new friends told stories of going to other churches and receiving warm handshakes and easy hellos but no real interest in knowing them better or sharing the connection which they really desired. So, we learned to give a bit more of ourselves, We learned not to be condescending.

The incredible power of letting go of long-held traditions of what “church” is and learning what we can become together.
“This was a project that saw so many of us broaden our experience of culture and expand our circle of friendships. Especially among our elders prejudice fell away and community blossomed.

It is not an overstatement to say we were transformed.”

United, we provide spiritual care on the streets of Vancouver

Pastoral and spiritual caregivers are not an uncommon sight inside the walls of hospitals, but in 2017, the care at Vancouver General Hospital was extended outside into the community and into Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Rev. Doug Longstaffe, the spiritual care and multifaith leader in the hospital, teamed up with the Vancouver School of Theology to run the Downtown Eastside Spiritual Empowerment Program. The Foundation supported the project.

Collaborators identified, trained, and supervised six clinical pastoral education students fit for this unique outreach. Interns worked from a base with partners at First Community United Church and visited specific parks, streets, health clinics, injection sites, and community agencies. Among the participants was one Indigenous student.

People on the care team met at least seven people for every eight hours of work on the street or in the agencies, making at least 1,100 encounters. Some meetings were life-saving: in light of the current opioid crisis, students carried naloxone which can prevent overdose. Students used naloxone kits on at least five separate occasions.

Key lessons from the program

When working with extremely vulnerable populations, take extra care to screen and prepare people in leadership or service roles
The project coordinator screened and interviewed candidates. Still, one person was unable to successfully complete the placement because of pressures associated with the environment. As a result, Rev. Longstaffe recommended that in future similar projects, a psychological fitness test would be appropriate.

Collaboration and information-sharing with community is key
The project reported that Interns were able to provide a type of service that was useful to the clinics and appreciated by health care teams once they knew the program was interfaith and well-supervised. Allied health providers in the clinics became supportive of the interns’ presence and work. Consciousness of what interfaith spiritual care was, and what it could provide, was raised from minimal awareness to a growing appreciation among those other services.

Spiritual and emotional care can touch the root of people’s core issues
One of the project interns shared a story that illustrated how spiritual care matters.

A resident, in his mid-40s, has been living in the Downtown Eastside for more than a decade. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol but wanted a better life. He had left his home country but ended up in Germany before immigrating to Canada. The first ten years in Canada was good but eventually he began drinking to excess and ended up living in the Downtown Eastside.

“Based on dialogues with this man,” wrote Rev. Longstaffe, “it became clear that the Downtown Eastside was his imaginary or ‘second’ refugee camp in which he felt common understanding and acceptance by his peers in the community.” Through the experience of building rapport and dialogue with a pastoral care intern, “he shared his spiritual values in seeing his life as a gift from God.”

“He was empowered to have hope for his future although it did not seem bright at the time. This man’s growing hope was evidenced in how he came to the point where he wanted to see his two children again after he became clean from drugs.”

United, we are mending clothes and hearts in Guelph

The Chalmers Community Services Centre provided a mending service to the neighbourhoods surrounding their downtown Guelph, Ontario location, helping people on limited incomes extend the life of their clothes. In 2017, after seeing the service’s popularity and success, Chalmers sought to offer the service at a second location, Chalmers West, which is located behind Three Willows United Church. The Foundation supported the project.

“The project was not carried out in the way we planned, but the results are exactly what we had hoped for, and more,” says Sarah Demer, program and volunteer coordinator at the Centre.

All told, volunteers worked more than 1,500 hours mending clothes; sewing volunteer Pearl mended 83 items herself over the course of the project. The experiences of the project volunteers led Chalmers to create a lasting partnership with Immigrant Services, partly in response to the needs presented at the mending clinic. The partnership includes the formation of an English as a Second Language conversation circle at Chalmers.

Key lessons from the program

Acknowledge changing circumstances or barriers
Early on, the details of sharing space with the church began to emerge as a problem. Chalmers had intended to set up racks of clothing for guests to browse in a space at the church as they waited for mending, partly as a way of encouraging engagement with volunteers. But the service agency and church could not come to an agreement about storing clothes and racks.

As a result, the community-building that Chalmers hoped would occur really was not happening. Meanwhile, Chalmers was receiving more and more guests accessing the food pantry on Thursday mornings.

Attend to both feedback and needs of volunteers and clients
Volunteers were having difficulty managing all of the food pantry guests. Guests were lining up for hours, worried that food would run out. One morning, volunteers served over 200 guests, with guests lining up and out into the parking lot.

One volunteer reported that by the end of the morning, he and his fellow volunteers were facing empty shelves and disgruntled guests. Everyone was exhausted. As a result, the project began to explore ways to relieve volunteers of the stress of serving so many guests at once, while also ensuring guests felt welcomed.

Develop a plan to respond to newly emerging needs and information
Chalmers revised the original plan: instead of moving clothing into the church, where the mending happened, Chalmers moved food pantry registration inside.

As a result, guests could go inside first to register with a volunteer. There, under shelter and with some hospitality, they could sit with each other. When a guests’ number was called, they would walk to the portable to access food and clothing.

Organizers trained new volunteers. They bought a laptop to facilitate registration and set up a computerized number system. They also bought more coffee, juice, and nutritious snacks to serve.


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