The email came in with a short invitation: I am planning a gathering and wonder if you are available and interested in helping me to lead a circle?
The purpose of the night was around the Bridge Mat Shelter Program that has been going on in several communities just outside Vancouver. The program is operated by the Hope For Freedom Society using host church facilities on a rotating basis. And because of their activism a permanent shelter and transition housing is currently being built and will be ready later this year.
The minister of one of the host churches recognized that after 8 years of hosting the Mat Shelter Program (and their last hosting month completed), it was time to come together to hear some of the amazing stories of their experience. So that through their stories they could both celebrate their contributions as well as discover what they have learned about themselves and their community.
Thirty two people – volunteers, shelter guests, and community organizers and me – came together for a one-of-a-kind evening. We gathered in circle and began with a short check-in to meet who had accepted the invitation to join the evening, and one word on how people were feeling. We heard words like excited, grateful, hopeful, curious, fulfilled, happy and thankful. After our check-in we shifted to the stories. To think about a moment from the Mat Shelter Program where you were impacted. Many people around the circle shared stories of how they were touched, changed, moved or were different as a result of the Mat Shelter Program. We agreed to hold the specific stories in confidence, but release the collective wisdom from what we heard.
To close our circle, we invited people to share something they heard tonight that they want to carry forward – for themselves personally or for their community. We heard themes of gratitude, hope, appreciation, insight, unity, and energy for doing more – that shelters are not the end goal but for homelessness and poverty to be unacceptable in our society.
It was an honour to be part of this special night. To offer circle as a container to hold the gift of their listening, witnessing, stories and reflections. I am excited for what may come next for their community!
For more information on the Mat Shelter Program, please see:
- Beyond Soup and Socks – video about St. Andrew’s United’s involvement in the Mat Shelter Program.
- Interview with Doreen Carter – video with Doreen Carter, who was a guest at the Shelter Program in the Tri-Cities and speaks about the challenges she faced, the assistance she received and how her life has changed.
- Why Justice – video on the question of what motivates people to be engaged in loving their neighbours and trying to change the world.