Special place but the need for generosity remains

I moved to the Beach just two months ago to serve as priest at St Aidan’s Anglican Church, while my husband serves Grace Anglican Church in Scarborough.

We moved here from Victoria, BC, but prior to that we had lived for 17 years in Guelph, so Toronto was not unknown to us. But the Beach was, and what a surprise!

For the first week we both walked around with goofy smiles on our faces, unable to believe our good fortune to be living in such a place – and in a rectory one block from the lake, to boot! The weather was superb, the lake inviting, the area neighbourly and welcoming (thank you, Willow Avenue street party organizers, for a great barbecue and opportunity to meet neighbours on our second weekend here), and the ubiquity of dogs made us stop wondering about whether to get a dog and instead head straight down to the Humane Society to adopt one. If there is such a phenomenon as Beach Bliss, we had it.

But I also want to learn about where the hurts and the problems are in the Beach. This isn’t heaven, lovely as it looks, and Christians are always called by God to engage with those who are suffering, and to see and serve Christ in them. If we are living a comfortable life in a beautiful area, gratitude is an important first response, but two further steps are called for: compassionate generosity and active justice-making, as we reach out to the suffering and seek to transform the conditions that cause suffering.

At St Aidan’s, the Out of the Cold program is gearing up for its sixth year of offering hospitality, food, shelter and respect to those living on the margins. Many members of our congregation and of the wider community volunteer their time and energy to make this possible, and had to stand firm in the face of some hostile opposition when the program was launched. It is now one well-established way for Beach area residents to engage compassionately with those who are not living the dream.

There are many other ways to practise generosity. Christians have long had a tradition of tithing – giving away the first 10% of their income. Ten per cent, whether rich or poor, is given away with thanksgiving and trust. And then there is the giving of time, energy, skills, or simply one’s presence or prayers. We all have something to give, and giving – along with gratitude – is so good for the soul, as well as for society.

The needs of this world are enormous, and working bit by bit to bring a little more justice, more peace, more care, more love into the world is the holy step of transformation. Christians believe that God is constantly working to bring goodness out of evil, life out of death, hope out of despair – and we are invited and called to work with God in that vast project.

As with the practice of compassionate generosity, this work can take many forms: political activism, community actions, advocacy, volunteer work. One of the children at St Aidan’s told me recently that her school class was writing letters to Mayor Ford about the need for more affordable housing in the city. Now that’s justice work begun early!

Yes, the Beach is lovely and we’re privileged to live here. But we also have a threefold calling: to gratitude, to compassionate generosity and to the hard but divine work of transformation.

Lucy Reid is Priest-in-charge at St Aidan’s Anglican Church

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