The Rev. Beverley Williams is the executive director of Flemingdon Park Ministry in Toronto.
Flemingdon Park Ministry (FPM) is a Canon 29 ministry of the Diocese of Toronto. We are a boots-on-the-ground gospel mission in one of Toronto’s most diverse neighbourhoods, and we live out the promises made in our baptism in a tangible way. We serve and love all of God’s people, we clothe the naked and feed the hungry, and we seek justice and the well-being of all of God’s people and God’s creation in all we do.
As ED, my primary responsibilities are visioning and program planning, human resources and offering leadership to our small staff team, fundraising and grant writing, as well as pastoral and spiritual care. Despite the fact that each of the seven staff members have various roles, we truly operate as a team. Each of us will pitch in as needed and I would never ask the staff to do something that I myself would not do. I keep rubber shoes under my desk so when the toilet gets plugged and overflows, as it always does in an old building open to the public, I go in and clean up. It’s all part of what is in our ordination vows – “and to carry out other duties as assigned.”
FPM’s mission is to fight food insecurity and the barriers of social isolation, and we do that through various projects and programs. We have some new programming for seniors and others for health and wellness that will bring people together and out of the isolation of their apartments. But I am most excited for our urban farm and market project, The Common Table. It launched in 2017 and in 2019 we became a fully functioning urban farm with over 32 beds, producing almost 3,000kg of fresh vegetables. This year we are launching The Common Table Learning Hub. We will be offering new programs as well as a couple of weeks of kids’ camp, all geared around urban farming, ways to grow your own food, nutrition, and maybe even a little cooking. There will also be new discipleship opportunities as we explore the themes of growing, planting and feeding in the scriptures.
Another exciting endeavour we are undertaking at FPM is providing leadership and oversight of the community gardens in Flemingdon Park. The city wanted to plow the 72 plots under because they were becoming unmanageable and unkempt. We were able to convince the city to give us a shot and the garden plots were saved. These urban farmers will be able to continue to grow their own food! We are currently putting together a resident-led steering committee, but FPM will continue to walk alongside the residents to offer help in grant applications, administrative work and conflict resolution. But the farmers will self-govern. Very exciting!
The best part of my job is the people. People from all over the world walk through our doors – refugees, new immigrants, asylum seekers and folks who have lived here for generations. We hear their stories and learn first-hand what is happening beyond our Canadian borders. Our community is made up of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and Agnostics, just to name a few. We strive to find our common ground and not dwell on our differences. One Muslim brother described Jesus as “the soul of God” and to me, that’s simply beautiful and ever so close to incarnation. This too is the best part of my job at FPM.
The hardest part of my job is dealing with hurt and fear. When Islamophobia rears its ugly head, especially after some event that has hit the news, the people here hurt. They are afraid. They isolate themselves further. This is why we strive for our common ground when it comes to faith and remind our friends and neighbours that we are all God’s children. We are all made in God’s image. We want people to know that they are loved and that they gain a sense of hope and belonging.
I came to FPM in 2016. My prayer was to serve a community where I would get my hands dirty as we lived out our gospel call. I had no idea that it would lead me to literally getting my hands dirty in farm work, but it has truly been a blessing to serve here. And this is what keeps me here. How we live out our baptismal promises and my call to service in my ordination is grounding and tangible. Many of my Sundays are spent preaching at different churches and I do miss being part of a regular worshipping community, but I’m hoping to find a home base very soon.
I have lived and worked around the GTA my whole life. I was raised in the Pentecostal Church but began worshipping in an Anglican church when I was about to be married in 1990. This is where I first learned of God’s unconditional love. From the pulpit of an Anglican church, I first heard of God’s unconditional love for me. I was blown away. I had always thought I had to be perfect and to earn God’s love but there it was. God loved me with all of my faults and foibles. In 2006, I was ordained a priest and have served in the Diocese of Toronto since that day. The journey between the years of 1990 and 2006 is a very long story but one filled with joy, uncertainty as well as affirmation as I discerned the call to ordained ministry. I am so very grateful to mentors and friends who walked alongside me during that time.
Without sounding too pious and uber-spiritual, five years from now I hope to still be serving in a capacity in which God has called me. As far as FPM goes, when I do leave this posting, I hope to leave a thriving mission that is financially sound with a solid and hopeful future that the next director can just take, put their own mark on it and make it soar. FPM is a beacon of God’s light and I am confident that the next director will make it shine even brighter.
My favourite passage (from scripture) by far is John 4 and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. The story is so layered with cultural and gender divides and yet Jesus breaks through all of that and speaks directly to the heart of the woman. He shouldn’t have been there talking to a woman, and she was only there at that time of day because she was an outcast in her community. She was a sinner. She was “one of those women” and yet Jesus tells her exactly who he is! It’s an amazing story. Here the outcast of her community becomes the evangelist. Jesus redeems her reputation with her community but more than that…he redeems her very being. I just love it.