We are at a critical turning point

People march down a street holding a banner.
Elin Goulden (at left holding banner) walks in the Truth and Reconciliation walk in Toronto in May.
 on November 1, 2015
Michael Hudson

Elin Goulden is the Parish Outreach Facilitator for the episcopal area of York-Credit Valley.

I serve as a liason between the diocese and York-Credit Valley parishes on issues of social and environmental justice. I encourage parishes to get involved in our events and advocacy campaigns, and I equip them with education and resources on the issues. I also work with parishes that are exploring new ways to do outreach in their communities or trying to revitalize an outreach ministry in transition.

There’s a lot of really interesting work that we’re doing in the diocese, but one thing that I’m really excited about is preparing for our 2016 vestry motion on implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I believe we in Canada are at a critical turning point in our relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, and I’m excited to be part of a church that is taking reconciliation seriously.

It’s an extremely varied job, and it is never dull! I love helping people see how their faith applies to various issues in the world, how our call to embody the kingdom of God takes shape in concrete ways. I also really enjoy connecting people in a common endeavour who might not otherwise know each other or work together. It can be frustrating, though, when progress is slow or seemingly non-existent, or when one encounters people with entrenched prejudices or negative attitudes. The key is not to become cynical or negative yourself, but to keep at the work faithfully over the long haul, and to bear the love of Christ towards everyone – not just those who support you.

I was born and grew up in Winnipeg and did my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Manitoba, after which I moved to Kingston to study law at Queen’s. During the summers, I worked first as an interpretive guide at a wildlife sanctuary and later with the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba. I articled in Ottawa with the regional government and then moved back to Kingston for several years to work as a legal editor. Feeling unfulfilled in my work, I decided to explore theological education at Wycliffe College. I met my husband, got married, and completed my Master of Arts in Theology in 2008. Before starting with the Diocese of Toronto, I did a variety of jobs, including teaching lay ministry courses at Wycliffe College, doing clerical work for a tax law author, and working at Environment Canada. I’ve also worked with ISARC, an interfaith coalition that does advocacy on social justice issues in Ontario, which has been an extremely valuable experience.

I grew up in a non-denominational evangelical church, with a strong influence from my Mennonite family on my mother’s side. However, my mother also introduced me to the Book of Common Prayer and took me to Advent carol services, which attracted me to the Anglican tradition. I started attending Anglican services while at Queen’s and was received into the Anglican Church in Ottawa in 1996.

I’ve been shaped by many influences, including the evangelical appreciation for scripture, the Mennonite tradition of pacifism and community-building, and a deep love of nature instilled in me by my late father. Volunteering at a group home for street-involved teen girls (many of them aboriginal) in Winnipeg, working with Legal Aid Manitoba, being involved in sponsoring a refugee family at my church in Ottawa and doing prison-visiting with my church in Kingston were experiences that brought me face-to-face with inequality and injustice and the need for us as Christians to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. I’ve also been inspired by the examples of Christians like John Woolman, William Wilberforce, Dorothy Day and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who have combined a lively faith with public advocacy.

Outreach and advocacy are important because they are integral parts of our calling as Christians. The Bible is full of calls to speak up on behalf of the vulnerable (Proverbs 30:8-9 and Isaiah 1:16-17), and not to despise the poor but to show our faith by our generous actions (Isaiah 58:6-7, James 2, 1 John 3:17-18); indeed, to welcome and serve those in need is to welcome and serve Christ himself (Matthew 25).   The number one thing I believe parishes should do is to approach outreach and advocacy with open, humble, listening hearts. It’s all too easy to “do good” in a way that puts down the very people you are striving to help, that assumes you know what’s best for them, or that reinforces barriers of race, class, gender, etc. Often we are not even consciously aware of it. But when we listen to others and learn from them, we find our whole world opened up and enriched and the Spirit has a chance to transform lives, including our own.

What would I like to be doing five years from now? I’m always mindful of that passage in James that cautions us about being too sure of our future plans. So while I’m not entirely sure what the future holds, I hope that I will still be seeking justice and helping to inspire others to do so, in whatever capacity God calls me to do that.

I remember being on a retreat while in the middle of my law degree and deciding to read through the book of Isaiah. In the very first chapter, verses 16 and 17 jumped out at me: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” That opened my eyes to the call to justice that runs like a golden thread not only through Isaiah but the whole Bible.  And I also like to reflect on Colossians 1:15-20 and remember that God, through Christ, is at work to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth. There is hope beyond what we can see now, and God has called us to be part of the reconciling work of the Kingdom. There’s nothing more exciting than that.


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