The Rev. Christian Harvey is a deacon at St. John the Evangelist in Peterborough. He is the Area Youth Social Justice Coordinator for Trent-Durham and the Coordinator of the Youth Ministry Apprenticeship Program for the diocese.
Every week is different, but this week I will be planning a campaign with some agencies in town to make homelessness and housing an issue in Peterborough during the upcoming election. I will help plan an all-candidates meeting on social issues for Peterborough. I will plan a service for Peterborough Pride Week. I will hang out with some of my homeless friends and do some pastoral care with some great 20-somethings. I will write a sermon for Sunday. I will work with the program manager of the Warming Room, Katelyn James, to make sure we are ready to open beginning in November. I will recruit some people for the Youth Ministry Apprenticeship Program and finally respond to a lot of emails.
The Warming Room, an emergency shelter for those who can’t or won’t use the current shelter system, is probably what I am most proud of recently. The reason is that we have been able to bring people together who haven’t normally worked together to make something awesome happen. We have created a place where our guests and our over 150 volunteers are building real, community-changing relationships. We are breaking down barriers between churches as we work closely with a Baptist Church (where we are located), a Brethren Church (that looks after our food) and many other churches that have supported us financially and with volunteers. We work with the City of Peterborough and many other agencies as well as anti- poverty advocates in the city. Through these relationships, we have been able to encourage people who haven’t done so before to ask questions about what the systemic issues are that allow for homelessness in our city and country to grow and inspire them to get involved in trying to make our city a place where all can live in peace.
The best part of my job is building relationships. I love that I get to hang out with such a diverse group of people, homeless friends, community advocates, questioning teenagers, questioning young adults, questioning old adults, city officials, and all in between. So much of my job is being in the community and talking to people, I love that. The worst part is dealing with bureaucracy and keeping up with emails! I am pretty sure that the devil created emails.
We moved around a lot as a child but I moved to Peterborough when I was 13 and have been here ever since, mostly because it is the best city in the world. I grew up in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada at various churches. I am grateful for the passion for faith and knowledge of scripture that growing up Pentecostal afforded me, but as I grew I knew I was searching for a place where I could ask the questions I needed to ask. After losing my job as a youth minister at a Pentecostal church, I knew I needed to go somewhere else. I was approached by a man I greatly respected, the Rev. John Stephenson, who asked if I had ever thought of becoming Anglican because he was looking to hire a youth worker at St. John’s. I said I would consider anything if they were willing to hire me, and that is how it started. I soon fell in love with Anglican Church because of its diversity of ideas and its commitment to justice. I loved that within St. John’s there were people who were very theologically liberal and conservative and they could argue and then still worship together. This had a huge impact on me. I also loved that people were involved in more than just one-time mission trips but to long-term commitments to challenging systemic roots of poverty. I was also incredibly lucky to be mentored for the last 13 years by the Ven. Gordon Finney.
My journey to the diaconate was long. I had always felt called to work in the church, whichever church it was I was in. I kept going to start the process towards the priesthood, but it just never felt right. Then I read what the diaconate was, and I thought to myself that is me! I feel very strongly that as we pursue being more missional we need to rediscover the diaconate. I honestly think that it is one of the keys to the future of the church. Often when I talk to young adults working in the church and I explain to them that a deacon is a minister who works as a bridge between the community and the church, they get really excited about it. They feel that is what they are called to as well, but often they are discouraged by the impression they get from many that a deacon is “not quite a priest.” I want to be a part of changing that.
I had a really great youth pastor who inspired me in so many ways and invested a lot in me, and I think I got involved in youth ministry because I wanted to do what he did. But as the years have gone on, I love the joy and fun that youth bring to faith. I love that youth make me look at every theological concept that I learn and ask, “Does this matter to my 15-year-old friend? How can I explain this in a way that they will understand?” I won’t leave a concept until I can do that.
I came to be passionate about justice through Jesus, as I was introduced to him by figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Tutu. They introduced me to a Jesus that I wanted to give my life too – not because if I didn’t I would go to hell, but because he was showing a way of life that was life, that was truth! When I hang out with my homeless friends, when I engage in social action, to me it is like a spiritual practice, I feel closer to Jesus.
I would love the Anglican Church to be on the forefront of challenging income inequality in our country and in our world. We don’t just have a poverty problem in our country – we have a wealth problem. As the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, our country will be less and less at peace. We as a church are exceedingly rich; how do we as an institution respond to Jesus’ commands to “sell all we have and give it to the poor” to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus? How do we respond to the early church model of holding “everything in common”? In regards to youth ministry, I think we need to allow youth to have a voice in reforming the church. Currently we call for youth to join us, but on our terms. We want them to come and fit into the spaces we have made for them. What if we trusted them to actually transform our church? That would be exciting.
Five years from now, I hope I will be faithful to my call of connecting the community with the church and the church with the community, so that together we can make a better neighbourhood, a better Peterborough, a better Canada and a better world.
My favourite passage of Scripture is Matt. 25:31-46. It motivates me and haunts me; it empowers me and calls me to repentance. This passage reminds me that if I want to know where Jesus is, if I want to meet him, I need to be among the marginalized, I need to listen to them, learn from them and remember that my salvation is wrapped up with them.