Shiloh’s ‘Blue Christmas’ service reaches out to the grief-stricken

Shiloh Sixth Avenue church offered a special “Blue Christmas” service yesterday for people coping with loss and grief. Aside from a minor flood in our basement this season due to a burst pipe (eek!) and the occasional family tiff we have not yet been faced with adversity at Christmastime. We have been lucky. I imagine for those who do experience tragedy at this time of year, it must be especially hard because everyone around you seems so happy. Songs of joy and peace, and all that.

Writes the Burnaby Now :

For those struck by tragedy, the most wonderful time of the year can be a season of pain.

“Everything tells you that you’re supposed to be happy and excited and getting ready for Christmas, and there’s just this place inside of you that says, ‘I’m not there,'” says Shannon Tennant, minister at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church in New Westminster.

Last Sunday, Tennant led the church’s annual Blue Christmas service, a time of peaceful reflection – and a refuge from the bright lights and shopping mall Santas.

I was particularly intrigued by the description of the service later in the article:

The Blue Christmas service at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue has much in common with ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, held on the shortest day of the year, Tennant says.

“In ancient times, people would actually gather in the morning to invoke the sun, because they weren’t absolutely sure it would come up without them.”

The service is also a reminder that the first Christmas came at a time of hardship and uncertainty for the Jews.

“At that time, the Jewish people were heavily taxed. They had Roman soldiers stomping around being annoying,” Tennant says.

“So (Jesus) was born partly to give people hope, to so show them that God is with them.”

This is exactly one of the reasons why I love Christmas. As the days grow darker and the nights get colder I find it weighs on me. When the lights go up on the houses and the Christmas tree comes inside, it’s a reminder that no matter how dark it gets, the light will return. It is a reminder to keep up hope when life is difficult, that good things are just around the corner. We are not a religious family, but I find this symbolism very meaningful.

Tyee gives props to New West recovery centre

The Tyee’s got a great list of 50 ways to help the homeless, building on Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson’s pledge to end (!) homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.

New Westminster is mentioned twice:

8.) Lobby for treatment funding in private, and put the spotlight on alternative treatment in public. Check out Vancouver Coastal Health’s innovative DayTox program, and take a look at one of the more successful private recovery houses, such as The Last Door in New Westminster.

and:

39.) Invite the neighbours. Include representatives from Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Surrey, the Langleys and the North Shore communities in everything Vancouver does. “And every so often,” one local activist noted, “Mayor Robertson needs to lean over and say to Mayor Corrigan, ‘So, you’re going to do some of these projects too, aren’t you?'”

As everyone here knows, homelessness is also a major issue in New Westminster. One would hope that Robertson’s gang would not pronounce homelessness ‘ended’ if it simply pushed people outside of Vancouver proper and out towards New West, Burnaby, and other areas of the Lower Mainland. This is truly an issue that should be addressed at a regional level.

Lots of good ideas in this piece (Thanks Tyee!). Here are some of the ones that stood out for me:

2.) Ask property owners to help. Make an offer to the owner of every closed hotel or shuttered apartment building in the city: Lease your building for use by BC Housing and/or a non-profit housing manager for a period of at least three years, and the city will both give you a tax break and allow your development application to proceed without interruption.

13.) Dedicate more women-only buildings and programs. Women endure daily intimidation and frequent assault inside shelters and residential hotels. Besides, there are already far more men-only programs.

14.) Provide meals. At the end of a pilot project in which meals were delivered daily throughout one Downtown Eastside residential hotel, residents reported using fewer drugs — and most had gained weight. 

23.) Seize grow-ops. Just as some law enforcement agencies seize vehicles, explore the possibility of seizing grow-ops and drug houses, renovating them, and converting them to rooming houses. Let the former owners sue for the value of the (usually trashed) property seized. 

25.) Detox on demand. No matter what shape a new treatment landscape assumes, detox for everyone who wants it will play a part. The city needs to partner with agencies and NGOs to create more spaces immediately. 

32.) Provide housing after treatment. Perhaps the most shameful gap in the housing safety net is the one many addicts fall through after they get clean, as they are returned to the same sort of social housing in which they used.

33.) Replace Riverview: 275 beds were slated to be replaced by recovery units throughout the city. In the years we’ve spent waiting, the need has grown to the point more may be required. Ideally, these would be built as small supportive facilities scattered throughout the city 

New Westminster needs to prioritize homelessness just as Vancouver has. We have a homelessness coalition and strategy, but there are still far too many people living on the streets or in substandard conditions here. I am hopeful that our lone new councillor Jaimie McEvoy will bring his passion for this issue to city hall and continue to advocate on behalf of the marginalized there, just as he has as project coordinator at Shiloh’s Hospitality Project .

While we’re on the topic of homelessness and poverty, I wanted to remind everyone to take some time to donate to organizations that help alleviate this suffering while we celebrate during the holidays. New Westminster’s Food Bank is administered at Shiloh, and you can donate there or online. The Food Bank says it can stretch $1 into $3 through bulk buying and supplier relationships, so it’s worthwhile donating even small amounts of cash instead of cans. Or, support Union Gospel Mission’s annual Christmas dinner: $32.90 will feed and care for 10 people in our community this Christmas.