Deacon Elizabeth Cummings is the coordinator of the Open Hours Program at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square in Toronto. This interview took place on April 29.
The Open Hours Program and the People Presence Volunteers work together to keep the church sanctuary open six days a week for all the different kinds of people who come through Trinity Square, which is close to Yonge-Dundas Square and the Eaton Centre. We create a uniquely welcoming and relaxing space in a part of the city that is only getting busier and more closed off. We also partner with the monthly Homeless Memorial, which remembers the growing number of people who have died un-housed in the city. At the start of this year, we recorded the 1,000th name.
During this time of COVID-19, food and other survival supplies are always at the top of my mind. Crisis situations like this not only reveal current inequalities and failures in our social imagination, but also dangerously exacerbates them. We have seen a quadrupling of the number of people who we serve daily, and an intensifying of need. While there is always some small hope on the horizon, people have lost most of the systems they depended on for food and all the indoor spaces where they could sit down out of the elements. Like every other Canadian, they are scared, but they have nowhere safe to retreat to. Our second focus is connecting our wider communities with ways that they can make a meaningful difference. Watching these social injustices unfold, even from isolation, is extremely difficult. For many of our older volunteers, the people who I am serving are their friends and family. Staying connected, supporting one another, and advocating to all levels of government has become even more crucial at this time.
The best and worst part of working right now have to be the same thing, which is being an essential worker during COVID-19. I’ve changed my daily commute so that I don’t have to actually touch anything besides my subway seat. That said, staying home and watching the growing need from afar would be equally stressful. I’m extremely grateful for the way that the team at Holy Trinity has come together to support each other, making sure each of us feels valued, and providing us with the tools to remain as safe as possible.
Originally from the (United) States, I needed a change after university and decided to hike the southern half of the Appalachian trail and then move north for a few years. Starting out only knowing my roommate, I quickly found a community in Toronto to call home, and now can’t imagine living anywhere else. While my father worked as a coordinator in a similar program while I was growing up, I never imagined following in his footsteps.
Graduating with a BA in graphic design, I really enjoyed working in that industry for a number of years, both as a freelancer and in-house. Growing climate anxiety started to leave me more dissatisfied with my chosen occupation and I decided to transition to something less carbon intensive. Dovetailing with my discernment process, I sought out more opportunities in the drop-in related sector and eventually found myself at Holy Trinity.
When I moved north to Toronto, I was definitely in a place of spiritual questioning. Very religious, my family had moved around a lot and attended many different Christian churches, but I wasn’t sure if Christianity had anything more to offer me going forward. When I decided to attend St. Stephen in-the-Fields here in Toronto, it was only because a friend had recommended it and I was wondering if the more Anglo-Catholic tradition was what I needed. The physicality of the smells, bells, bowing and liturgical calendar had always intrigued me – a potential bridge between the more cerebral ways I had known God before and the physicality of the day to day. This insight proved largely correct and, combined with the high level of preaching and teaching I was receiving, I decided to start attending church regularly for the first time of my own volition.
Always drawn to the issues of social justice, I had never heard of the position of deacon in the Anglican Church before a few years ago. It took at least another year of thinking about it before I decided to officially discern. The process brought plenty of hoops to jump through and fears of not being good enough, but it’s also taught me a lot about myself and pushed me in my spiritual development.
Becoming a deacon was hugely affirming and I would encourage everyone to become more familiar with the Community of Deacons. The office of deacon is still relatively unknown in many corners of the Church, which is a limitation on how people understand the mission of the Church, not to mention a concern that some may be missing out on their vocation. The Diocese of Toronto’s website includes a short synopsis of the process on the page “Diaconate Ministry,” with a more in-depth overview entitled “The Iona Report” available through the national church’s website.
Five years from now, I hope to be serving God and my neighbour. At this point in time, I have a hard time trying to figure out what the world will exactly look like in five years, but of that I can be sure.
I am similarly bad at picking favourite passages from scripture, but I often return to the book of Amos. One of the prophets of the First Testament, I am always struck by how pertinent and timely it feels even now.