St. Monica, Toronto has had a heart for local mission since the early 1900s. Following in the steps of the early missioners, my task has been to get to know the neighbours, find out what their dreams and challenges are, and see how St. Monica’s can bless the neighbourhood. Since we do not have a building within the parish bounds, we engage in “missional initiatives” where we try various things and see the response.
On Oct. 18, we held a prayer vigil for climate change as one of these missional initiatives. We held it in a local park as part of our series on creation and creation care. A neighbourhood Facebook group started a conversation about current practices and efforts that impact climate change, so it seemed like a perfect time to do the vigil. There was lots of support for it – more so than for many other initiatives we’ve tried.
Yet, on the night of the vigil, I sat in prayer surrounded only by candles.
I decided to hold the vigil anyway. One person asked if we could do it again so that he could attend. A young boy and his father wanted to know why I had candles lit. I was able to have a lengthy conversation with them. The father had worked in the wildlife field and shared his insights, as well as the need to pray and work to halt climate change. I gave the young boy one of our candles, a simple gesture that made him very excited.
The missional initiative of the vigil certainly did not yield the results that I was expecting. It did, however, teach me a few things:
Be prepared for God to surprise you. The vigil did not go the way I had planned, but I am convinced that God was at work in the conversations I had with the three people that night.
Do it anyway. It is tempting to give up if there is no or low attendance. If I had left when I thought about leaving, I would not have had the conversations that I had. In other missional initiatives, I have found that people tend not to come out for the first event. Instead, they wish to see what it is all about before they commit. Sometimes sharing pictures and stories make people more comfortable in coming out next time.
Be present in the neighbourhood. Missional work starts at the ground level of simply being present in the neighbourhood and meeting people outside the church doors. People want to know that you actually care about them and the neighbourhood, not that you care about them to get them to come to your program or fill the pews in church. The vigil was just one way that St. Monica’s was able to say that we care about the same things that other people in the neighbourhood do.
Elizabeth Achimah is St. Monica’s lay pastor and missioner.