Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Street Hope Saint John

For several years now our parish has been supporting an outreach ministry on the other side of the
The Street Hope meeting space in the basement at Stone Church

country, in Saint John, New Brunswick. This ministry is called ‘Street Hope Saint John’; it operates under the auspices of Threshold Ministries (formerly known as the Church Army in Canada) and is led by Reed Fleming. Last week, while I was down in Saint John attending a meeting of the Threshold Ministries national board, I was privileged to spend a weekend with Reed and his wife Linda and the Street Hope community, and I want to try to share with you what an incredible experience it was for me.

I have known Reed since 1978; he was commissioned as an evangelist in the Church Army in 1980 and has served in many positions since then. He and his wife Linda (also a Church Army evangelist) worked for several years in an isolated Cree community on James Bay, and they ran a western ministry centre in rural Manitoba. Reed served as Church Army field secretary, giving support and pastoral care to Church Army evangelists across Canada, and he also served on the staff of Taylor College of Evangelism in Saint John for several years.

It was during his time at Taylor College that Reed noticed a need for a Christian outreach to people in inner city Saint John. Stone Church had a strong ministry of preaching and teaching, but was not really connecting with the inner city people who lived close by. Reed had a habit of walking the neighbourhood and counting things, and one day he decided to count laundry outlets. He only saw three, and he wondered how the local people did their laundry. The answer was that they didn’t; they picked up clothes at the Salvation Army, wore them until they were unwearable, and then returned them and got some more. So Reed went to the vestry at Stone Church with an idea, and the result was the establishment of a laundry facility in the basement of the church hall. Out of this laundry ministry grew a little congregation, Uptown Church, that met on Sunday evenings for several years.

Today, Reed and Linda continue to serve the people of the uptown area in Saint John through Street Hope. Many of these folks have spent time in prison; most of them have addiction problems, and many struggle with mental illnesses of one kind or another. Most of them have had experiences of God, and many of them have been genuinely converted to Christ. However, many of these genuine Christian folk have had subsequent encounters with the law and found themselves back in jail again. As Reed said to me last week, when ordinary middle class Christians backslide in their faith, the results aren’t usually obvious to the world around them, but when ex-cons backslide, it’s an entirely different matter.

In 2012 Reed left his teaching responsibilities at Taylor College and set up Street Hope, a Christian ministry to and with the inner city people of the uptown area of Saint John. The intent was to walk alongside these folk, help them find new life and strength in Christ, form community with them, and give them opportunities to reach out and serve others. Part of the funding for this comes through Threshold Ministries and part from Reed’s work as a part-time community chaplain with Corrections Canada, which involves him in basically the same kind of work as he is doing with Street Hope. However, the Threshold Ministries portion is self-funded as Reed, like many other Threshold evangelists, is responsible for raising his own financial support.

On the table at the Street Hope meeting room in the basement of the parish hall of Stone Church, there is a ‘menu’ which sets out their weekly schedule. It includes the following items:

Monday – Wednesday: Prayer & Study with Reed – 10 a.m. This is a little gathering of about six to eight people who come in, help themselves to coffee, and then sit down for half an hour to read the Bible together and apply it to their lives. Reed does the teaching which is very practical, but of course it is conversational as well. Currently they are going through the letter to the Romans at the rate of a few verses a week.

Tuesday: Recover: 7 p.m. This is a teaching evening, taking people through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and explaining them so that people are better able to apply them to their lives.

Every Friday: Friday Night Drop In: 7-9 p.m. This is a fellowship time.

1st & 3rd Saturday of the month: Street Hope Fellowship Breakfast, cost $2/person – 9 a.m. This is a simple pancake and sausage breakfast prepared by Reed and Linda; as few as five and as many as twenty people show up.

1st Sunday of the month: ‘Hopeful’ - 6:30 p.m. This is a simple worship time, including singing, scripture reading/preaching, and prayer. Prayer at Street Hope always ends with the Lord’s Prayer, which these folks all know. This little service, along with ‘Purposeful’ (see below), is the successor to ‘Uptown Church’.

Discovering creativity
1st Thursday of the month: “Discovering Creativity” led by acclaimed Maritime artist Ed Coleman – 2 p.m. Ed Coleman was also trained as a Church Army evangelist and is now a priest, but he is also a well-known New Brunswick artist and loves to pass on the joy of painting to others. I saw some of their paintings when I was at Street Hope.

3rd Thursday of the month: Spaghetti & a Western - 5:30 p.m. Again, this is a fellowship time.

3rd Sunday of the month: Purposeful - 6:30 p.m. This is a time of intentional teaching about what the life of discipleship means.

4th Wednesday of the month: Reel Hope: Street Hope Movie Night - 7p.m. Again, a fellowship and community building time.

Along with these activities, Reed meets regularly with individuals in a pastoral way, and mentors people in their Christian lives.

One of the more recent Street Hope projects has been the establishment of a community garden. Reed 
The community garden

mentioned to us when he visited us last year that although the Bible says that God’s power is plain to all people from the things he has made, those things aren’t necessarily very obvious to people who live in the inner city. So he was able to obtain the use of a patch of land, and with financial help from Street Hope supporters the community worked together to plant the garden, which is now in its second year. Most of these people have never had an opportunity to be involved in anything like this before, and I could see how pleased they were about it. Other projects that Reed has initiated included a backpack program, in which money was raised to provide backpacks full of winter necessities for people, and also an electric blanket drive, as many of the locals live in boarding houses with inadequate heat.

During the few days I spent at Street Hope I got to know some of the people, and I can tell you that Street Hope is making an incredible difference in their lives. This is not just about Reed and Linda; it’s also about the community they are helping to create. That word ‘community’ was one I heard often when I talked to people and listened to their stories; they all expressed appreciation for the support they got from one another under Reed’s leadership.

It is an incredible experience to hear these people pray. They don’t pray polished prayers in correct language; their prayers are cries from the heart, coming from their experience of complete and utter dependence on God and on one another. As I listened to them, I felt as if I was very much a beginner in Christ’s school of prayer.

Folks gathered for 'Hopeful' on Sunday June 7th
I came back from my visit at Street Hope greatly encouraged about our support for this little ministry, which is making a huge difference in the lives of the people it touches. If you’d like to keep up with what’s going on there, one of the best ways is to check Reed’s blog every Friday; his posts often touch on the work and what God is doing in the lives of the people of Street Hope. Check it out at www.reedfleming.com. You can also check out the Street Hope Saint John page on the Threshold Ministries website at http://thresholdministries.ca/esr/reed-fleming/, and if you would like to give Reed some additional financial support you can do so through that page.

No comments: