Conference focuses on social justice

Two men looking at a laptop screen.
The Rev. Kyn Barker, a deacon at St. Matthew the Apostle, Oriole, shows how to send an email to Toronto’s city council, urging support for the city’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
 on December 1, 2015
Michael Hudson

Under the theme “Loving in Deed and in Truth,” taken from 1 John 3: 17-18, about 90 Anglicans from across the diocese gathered for the annual Outreach & Advocacy Conference at Holy Trinity School, Richmond Hill, on Oct. 17 for a day of learning, networking and worship.

The day’s events opened with a passionate keynote address from Dr. Alex Himelfarb, former Clerk of the Privy Council, former ambassador, and co-editor of the book Tax is Not a Four-letter Word. “The consequences of austerity fall most heavily on the vulnerable,” Dr. Himelfarb told the audience. “When the consequences fall most heavily on the vulnerable, we are all diminished by it. We’re diminished in our shared humanity. We’re diminished in our society.”

Dr. Himelfarb reminded conference attendees that taxes are an important way in which citizens contribute to the public good and that tax cuts always come with a cost. “I don’t think there was ever a golden age where we jumped up and down with joy to pay taxes,” he confessed. But he has seen increased resistance to any taxation programs over the last 20 years, with real impacts on essential services. “A lot of our success is on the backs of generations more willing than we are to pay taxes. We have to ask ourselves: is it time that we paid it forward? What are we leaving for future generations?”

The drive towards lower taxes at all costs, he suggested, is because we have come to see ourselves as “consumers before we are citizens.” While consumers seek out advantages over their neighbours, citizens are called to pursue the public good. “Everyone benefits equally from the streetlights, the fire brigade, medicare,” he said. It is the work of citizens to preserve these programs that directly impact the lives of everyone, especially the most vulnerable, he added.

Following his address, conference attendees spread out to small workshops throughout the school to learn more about how they could take up the call for active citizenship in relation to key current social justice issues. This included an exploration of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, a visual examination of the root causes of poverty, a conversation about the intersection of mission and social justice, and a discussion of the relationship between disability and sacrament. Workshop facilitators included diocesan staff and clergy, as well as representatives from organizations as diverse as Citizens for Public Justice, Put Food in the Budget, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network.

Throughout the day, those present were able to visit information tables from several FaithWorks ministry partners such as the Anglican-United Refugee Alliance, Couchiching Jubilee House, and The Bridge Prison Ministries. During lunch, those from Toronto were encouraged to contact city council to support the passing of the City of Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy.

As the busy day wound down, attendees once again gathered in the theatre where they were addressed by Archbishop Colin Johnson, who reminded those present that they were engaged in following the call of the gospels and that they must remain persistent and patient as they carried out this work. The day closed with a brief worship before folks returned to their home communities to share what they had learned at the conference.


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