The most fundamental need of people affected by poverty is something that most people take for granted; – a meaningful place in a healthy community, a sense of belonging.
Without it, drug rehab, housing or employment programs have little effect. Without it, people remain trapped in a lifestyle that is difficult to escape. When people don't feel like they belong, they just can't seem to recover.
For most people at street level, their experiences of community have been dysfunctional at best. Rather than simply duplicating social services, Sanctuary provides a unique, healthy community – a safe place. And hopefully… a place to call 'home'.
We say: "If you're willing to share your life with us, we'll share ours with you. We'll encourage you when you mess up, help you find direction when you're not sure which way to go, hold you when you're hurting, and help you discover, strengthen and focus your gifts and abilities. We're here for the long haul." It's not uncommon for people in the Sanctuary community to tell us, "You're the closest thing that I have to family."
"At Sanctuary, we are becoming
a healthy, welcoming community
where people who are poor or
excluded are particularly valued.
This community is an expression
of the good news embodied
in Jesus Christ."
Community is not easy. It's not a system or a philosophy we follow. It involves love. It is messy. It involves learning about one another and finding out how to share our unique stories. Yet, we do see different levels of involvement. Each level is invitational towards the next level of involvement. The levels are fluid and in constant change – growth in love and moving away in fear or pain. And the levels become “circular” in that communities keep inviting, keep learning, and hence the cycle continues.
Uninvolved Complacency: A lack of concern about the others in the community. This is where we start. When we are not concerned about the others in our community, life quickly becomes "all about me". We are numb to the needs of others because we are so wrapped up in our own lives. As Neil Postman calls it, we are "amusing ourselves to death".
Seeing and learning: Educating oneself about the others in the community. We are tentative to get involved with one another. So, we offer 'information' about each other. You are poor. You have a job. You go to school. We are all looking to fit somewhere. We begin to think that we need to respond to the others in this community. Our first step is to learn information about 'them'.
Serving/Receiving: Getting involved with the community. We begin to move from our areas of comfort into another community and share our resources with those who have less. Those with less tend to just receive. We all remain emotionally distant. Serving maintains distance. I can serve you and give you something and not know anything about you personally. The servants stay in power/control over the people we are serving. Those receiving stay dependent upon the ones providing. Yet, at the level of service/receiving, we are involved with one another. We get to know each other. Their stories begin to shape us and we hear the invitation towards a greater response.
Friendship: Allowing the members of the community to enter your life. This is the key move for us at Sanctuary – to move past service/receiving to authentic friendship. In service, we maintain a relationship that is basically one sided. I serve you. I know your story. BUT I don’t let you into my life. That’s the difference with friendship. I begin to let the other person in. I begin to need them. I begin to honour them for all they can offer to me (and the world). In short, “I” becomes “we.” In friendship, we are entering into what scripture calls “embodiment” or “incarnation.” I admit my weakness beside the other person and together in community we seek God for salvation. We all admit we are poor in some way. We are all addicted to something. We all need each other. We all need healing.
Engaging: Asking and attempting to answer, “Why is the community in pain?” There comes a time when friendship is not enough. If I truly love the other people in our community, their plight becomes mine. We begin to ask: Why are our friends at street level? Why did I have a traumatic experience and not end up on the streets? What causes such great pain and disconnection? Can I see the relationship between my pain and theirs? What is the role of family? …of other social service agencies? …of God? And we need to seek these answers together.
Multiplying: Understanding our community beyond her borders and getting involved. And then we look out, beyond ourselves…and see this disconnection is not just in our community, or even among the poor – but across the city, across the country, and even across the globe. We are called to partner with those who are living among those in oppression – of all forms. We are called to mobilize our communities towards that end. This is God’s dream!