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Mennonite—Salvation Army Partnership
A unique approach to inner city ministry in the heart of Toronto is making a positive difference in the lives of St. Jamestown residents.

"If we cannot prevail with men for God, then we will, at least, prevail with God for men," said 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon before a congregation of nearly 25,000 at London's Crystal Palace. He routinely drew 5,000 weekly to his Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit including Prime Minister Gladstone, the royal family, Florence Nightingale, even U.S. General James Garfield (later President).

Kevin Moore preaches a sermon at 614 St. Jamestown.

It's little wonder Tara Bishop, associate pastor at Toronto's St. Jamestown's 614 project, quotes his work at the foot of all her correspondence.

614 St. Jamestown, like its sister project in nearby Regent Park, was established on the concept of Isaiah 61:4—a message of rebuild, restore, renew—a philosophy Tara Bishop shares with her senior pastor, The Salvation Army's Kevin Moore. Bishop and Moore have come together in this unique approach to inner-city ministry from very different backgrounds. Bishop represents the Mennonite Brethren (MB) while Moore represents The Salvation Army.

Mennonite teachings differ from those of the Army in a few key areas such as performing baptisms, but, like the Army, Mennonite missionaries have served Christianity and basic human needs worldwide since the 18th century.

However, Bishop explains MB overseas and local missions have been principally in rural regions. "We have very little inner-city experience and the need here is so great," says Bishop. "We have resources and people, but we don't have experience; that's why teaming up with The Salvation Army seemed like the obvious thing to do."

The Army's Kevin Moore says," While at first glance this Mennonite/Army partnership, the first of its kind anywhere, is a bit like the 'odd couple', the fact is that Tara shares our passion for the people of our neighbourhood. Like my family, she lives right here."

If the stereotype of The Salvation Army is the bell-ringing, uniformed, trumpet-playing kettle collector, then the Mennonite stereotype has got to be the buggy-driving, 18th-century-clothed family living on a collective farm lit by candles and oil-burning lamps.

Bishop's laughter recedes to a broad smile when this Mennonite picture is painted. "Hey. I'm 32. I was an opera and arts administration major at Laurier. I don't know much about farming and I wear jeans like everyone else," she says. "Like The Salvation Army, the Mennonite stereotype is based on a very small portion of our followers, probably less than one percent."

Bishop made her point at a June 2006 St. Jamestown Festival when a Mennonite mission team of more than 120 (ages two to 20), arrived from all over Ontario early in the morning to serve at the festival by cleaning the streets, erecting booths and tables, and greeting crowds. For many, it was their first foray into urban ministry.

Unlike 614 Regent Park, St. Jamestown services a large number of newcomers to Canada, people whose first language may be other than English and need a helping hand in getting a new life started.

614 St. Jamestown occupies modest office and counselling space at 562 Sherbourne Street but the real work is on the streets and at the informal Saturday evening worship service in the basement of an apartment building at 650 Parliament Street. It's there that Moore and Bishop join with other supporters such as community chaplain Al Stewart in an evening of music, Bible study and coffee.

Tara Bishop leads a service.

This 614 project represents wide-ranging Christian views. That's why each Saturday worship is preceded by a meeting of staff and volunteers to be certain, as Bishop puts it, "that we're all reading from the same page."

Moore points out, however, that not everyone is interested in Bible study. "Fact is," he says, " We have Buddhists, Muslims and others who come simply to meet their neighbours and to practice their English in an accepting and loving environment."

One Saturday evening, April 2006, Moore and Bishop were joined by W. Clayton Rowe, national manager for World Vision Canadian programs. "I guess most people know us for sending aid to tsunami victims. We do that but we do this too," Rowe explains.

Also present that Saturday were a number of Mennonite missionaries from Germany and elsewhere, learning first-hand from Moore and Bishop, just what it takes to make a positive difference in urban lives.

Moore is quick to let visitors know he is there to help restore and build lives: "We do that by helping them feel secure in Canada, in this community, with speaking and writing English, with a job, family income budgeting, social services, and much more. Formal Christian worship is actually a small part of what we do. But everyone gets to know us and Christian values of love, acceptance and a helping hand."

Moore is an ordained minister but Bishop is still studying.

"I have always resonated with the call to serve the last, the lost, and the least", Bishop says. "I guess it's because the chasm society has constructed between 'us' and 'them' is really more of a small crack in the sidewalk. That's actually from a socio-economic viewpoint. Once the us's bring the name of Jesus in, then the them's become us and it becomes really hard for me not to point out the hypocrisy of not serving all.

"I spent time in a suburban upper middle class church. It was really great to serve there, but I was needed here. Part of what I've learned over the last few months is that if you name it, you have to own responsibility for it. If you say, 'Wow, there are a lot of drug dealers that hang out at the park across from my office', it isn't enough to let that just hang in the air. I don't see that I have a choice when it comes to God—we both know who's going to win. If we personally are going to claim the message of reconciliation He offers, then we also need to embrace that we have responsibility to effect reconciliation to those around us."

Peter Restivo is a Toronto-based writer.

Originally published on the Salvation Army website, May 31, 2006.




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