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May/June 2006 Issue

THE GATHERING PLACE:
The Ottawa Manifesto
By Bruce J. Clemenger

Add your name to the Ottawa Manifesto: www.streetlevel.ca/manifesto

The media headlines had announced the decline of poverty in Canada. Meanwhile, this April a group of 325 front-line workers, who grapple daily with the effects of homelessness in our country, boldly called upon the Canadian Church and the new government to make addressing homelessness a priority. They said homelessness is getting worse in Canada!

A contradiction? Not at all. Even if poverty rates have marginally declined, more needs to be done. Many people still do not have adequate housing, sufficient incomes or food. These are the people on the margins of the economy who are captured by the statistics.

However, the conference was about homelessness. People without homes fall between the cracks of government programs and don’t appear in statistical summaries. They don’t have phones or addresses from which to be surveyed and they don’t have incomes to report. They are invisible, or conveniently ignored. Yet, they are the most vulnerable — without safe relationships, proper care, dwelling, income or hope. The stories of their lives are heartbreaking, socially complex and cry out for compassion and justice. They are the poorest of the poor.

According to the front-line workers who attended the StreetLevel conference in Ottawa, numbers are rising and the agencies that seek to help are expanding — not contracting. StreetLevel was planned by the evangelical organizations that comprise the National Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness, one of the roundtables the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada serves. The 13 member organizations have 437 full-time and 310 part-time staff. Together they have close to 35,000 volunteers who contribute 337,000 hours per year to care for poor and vulnerable people. They feel compelled to expand their work. And they believe it is time to add a public voice to the work they and other agencies do.

The theme of the conference was “Truthtellers and Peacemakers.” Attendees acted on that theme by signing and releasing the Ottawa Manifesto, which was published in the Ottawa Citizen. (The full manifesto has been inserted with this copy of Faith Today). It was reported on by various media outlets including the CBC, CTV and the Toronto Star.

In summary, the committed signatories urge: As Truthtellers and Peacemakers, it is critical that we: Understand the issues in all their complexity. Bring clarity to those issues and communicate them to others. Speak with boldness the truth about poverty, homelessness and our responsibility to act justly in these matters. Affirm the dignity of all participants in such conversations and activities. Speak and act with humility as we advocate for the powerless in the corridors of power. Behave generously as we build bridges between people or groups with opposing views.

Will each of us commit to learning about the deficits that enable poverty and homelessness to persist? Will we act to address these deficits? Together will we create homes and speak on behalf of those whose voices are not heard? The manifesto invites us all to these commitments in places of work and service, in communities of faith and in our personal lives.

In his letter to the Galatians (2:10), Paul says that, when he and Barnabas were released to bring the good news to the Gentiles, they were asked only one thing: to remember the poor. This was something Paul says he was eager to do. It was not meant as an afterthought but a reminder of a core expression of the gospel. That is the message of the Ottawa Manifesto, both to the church and to government. I have signed it and committed to learn, act, speak and cooperate with others so committed. Will you join me?

Bruce Clemenger is the president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Other Articles
May/June 2006 Issue

Cover Story
God, Glory, Gold: Athletes Who Believe

Featured Articles
The Missional Church: Getting Back to the Core of Our Identity

Helping Congregations Be More Missional

Where Does This "Missional Church" Talk Come From?

Being Neighbourly, Being Missional

From the Editor
Our Cover and More

The Gathering Place
The Ottawa Manifesto

   
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