Katelyn, SP staff in Canada, offers snapshots of how God is building family and belonging within her faith community in Downtown Eastside Vancouver.
“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” Brene Brown
Servant Partners Vancouver has been partnering with Strathcona Vineyard Church for two years now, and this community has really felt like a family! It’s the type of family I’m proud to introduce to my friends.
Last year, I was going for a Sunday morning run, and I met a couple who’d been spending the nights sleeping in the park. We connected well—the sort of connection where your spirits smile at each other. I felt I could be bold; I asked to pray together, and then I invited them to join us for church in the park later that morning. They agreed and met me there.
The service wasn’t seamless—they never are! The music was hard to hear outdoors, the kids were fighting, the prayers were awkward, and the wasps were trying to participate in the potluck. Yet after all this chaos, when my new friends I met that morning packed up to leave, she hugged me and said, “Yup, this is it. This is the family we’ll journey with.”
Our community is just bursting at the seams with amazing people, full of vibrancy, intrigue, and something valuable to offer when their voices are heard.
For the second year in a row, I facilitated our Christmas Story Cafe as an extension of our church community. This low-key talent showcase invites everyone to share a gift with the crowd. The night had a real family feel as we shared snacks made by the youth group, rolled our eyes at cheesy jokes, giggled at the kids’ adorable sock puppet pageant, clapped along to songs, and snapped our respect to poets. We even had some colourful family bickering break out. This is real life folks!
A highlight for me was when my 13 year-old neighbour, Robert, approached me during the intermission and said timidly, “people keep telling me I should share the reflection I wrote in our writing project, but I don’t want to.” I assured him, “That’s a great idea! And I think you wouldn’t be telling me this if a small part of you didn’t want to share it, even just a little.”
So he got up bravely, and eloquently shared a reflection he had written about a day in his life in downtown eastside. His simple words bore a depth of meaning to which everyone in the crowd could relate. The beautiful community we call home is a glimpse of God with us:
I wake up from my sleep in my old room with very little space. I walk downstairs where I see my dad cooking breakfast. Steve is leaving with his travel mug possibly going to visit his girlfriend, Vicki. I turn and notice Bill on the couch sipping his coffee casually.
I am walking around the neighborhood with my dad who is on his scooter and we are going grocery shopping at our local marketplace. The market is named Sunrise Market. As we pass by I see old houses, tall, rough looking trees, and some large complexes and buildings. I encounter the people who make up my neighborhood and they are diverse, from various backgrounds. I see poor, homeless, disabled and forgotten people. People, who are hurt, broken and injured on the streets, trying their best to survive. I see them because they make up my community.
I also see them helping one another. How do they help each other? I see a young child waiting in a food line to get breakfast at the Union Gospel Mission. He is waiting to get food to help his family who cannot afford groceries. I am inspired by how kind he is because he decided to allow an elderly woman to get into the lineup. He decided to give up his grocery ticket in order to help this woman.
I get a sense from observing all these things that my community is my home. There are moments of warmth, comfort, a sense of home and community, and for that I have faith and hope in God.
As we all shared our silly and creative sides at the Christmas Cafe, I felt like I was right beside my neighbours declaring our belonging together. I felt deeply loved and cared for by the community as we created this safe space together where gifts could be shared and voices, usually unheard, could be elevated.