Church and community engaging each other

by Tim Gibson

Milton is the fastest growing city in Canada, and has been since 2006.

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Conversation groups helped participants focus on key issues related to making a difference in Milton. Photo: Hollis Hiscock

For us living here, this means a lot of construction, rush hour traffic and many portable classrooms for kids.

It is also one of the youngest cities in Canada, where more than half the population is under the age of 35. The population graph is bulging in the “under the age of 12” category.

For many in Milton, slow rush hour commutes are the least of their problems.

Unfortunately, our fast growing town also has a fast growing low income population. The percentage of low income residents has more than doubled in the last five years, leaving many social services, charities and support programs stretched in their capacity to help.
Many parishioners of Grace have seen the town change dramatically over the last ten years. So it’s not surprising that when surveyed for priorities for our strategic planning in 2015, we identified “Community Engagement” as the top priority.

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Photo: Hollis Hiscock

Even before the survey was conducted Grace was already very much engaged in the community, hosting a monthly community dinner open to all and facilitating distribution of Halton Fresh Food Boxes, which allow many people in the downtown core access to fresh food. Grace also sponsors numerous fund raising events, such as the annual Spring Fayre, which include many in the community.

However, even with these initiatives in the community the parish survey made it clear that parishioners thought we could do more to help.

I was thankful for the invitation from the Reverend Sue Nicolls, who has had past experience with community engagement, to get involved. I had been a member of Grace for just over a year, and was looking for a way to help out with community initiatives. I joined several other parishioners on the Grace Church Community Engagement Committee, and we set off to figure out what it would mean to engage with the community and how Grace might be able to help.

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Asma Ahmad of HMC Connections indicated which discussion group she would like to join. Photo: Hollis Hiscock

For nearly a year we explored the idea of facilitating social justice and charity in Milton and what it meant for Grace Church to do this.

We quickly learned that deciding where to put our efforts would not be an easy task. With so many people in need and so many agencies, charities, groups and churches doing their part to help, it was difficult to determine where we should start.

Eventually, we decided to do two things to get the ball rolling.

Firstly, we felt we needed to engage our own parish to discuss community engagement and what it meant for Grace to be more involved. We did this in September and were very happy with the turnout.

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Photo: Hollis Hiscock

Secondly, in October we held a one day workshop, open to all who live, work or worship in Milton. They were asked to join us in determining what we could do to “Strengthen the Community”. We had 57 people in attendance from various charities, faiths, social services and groups. We learned about the needs of people in Milton and brainstormed solutions. Our plan is to take these ideas back to our committee to help mobilize Grace to further engage in helping the community. I left the day energized and thankful.

We have just started, but my time on the Grace Church Community Engagement Committee over the past year has helped me make new friends, brought me closer to the church and has given me an outlet to help others.

I can’t wait to see where this journey will lead us.