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Church leaders hit the streets


Mennonite Church Canada’s Christian Witness Council took a tour of Winnipeg’s West End during their Mar 2-4 Spring Leadership Assembly meetings. Left – right, front: Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastor, Little Flowers Community, Lynell Bergen; Row 2: J.D. Penner, Rudy Dirks; Row 3: Pat Gerber Pauls, Bock Ki Kim, Samson Lo, Hugo Neufeld; Row 4: Kim Arpin-Ricci, Kathryn Hodge, Irene Crossland, Tim Froese, Norm Voth, Waldo Neufeld, James Watson, Janet Plenert

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March 18, 2011
-Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Church leaders got out of the meeting rooms and onto the streets in Winnipeg’s West End neighbourhood during the Mar. 2-4 Spring Leadership Assembly Meetings of Mennonite Church Canada.

Led by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastor of Little Flowers Community and ministry worker with Youth With A Mission, and Norm Voth, Director of Evangelism and Service Ministries of Mennonite Church Manitoba, the group learned that this high density population is home to approximately 18 language groups, in addition to high numbers of First Nations peoples.

Statistics Canada’s 2006 census figures say Winnipeg is home to over 15 languages, while the Manitoba Interfaith and Immigration Council’s annual report says its Welcome Place program had the capacity to serve people in over 25 languages in 2010.

Housing stability is the most pressing issue in the neighbourhood, said Arpin-Ricci. He and his wife Kim have lived and worked in the neighbourhood for ten years and together feel a special call to work with the mentally ill population, which spans all ethnicities and socio-economic categories.

“One fellow we know moved five times in five months,” said Kim, “and as far as we know, he was paying rent at all five places.” Those living with mental illness are often more transient. It is not uncommon for them to have their meds stolen and resold as street drugs. Some will sell their meds themselves, drawn by the appeal of quick money to help cover the cost of necessities like rent or food, she added. These issues create cyclical circumstances that keep already marginalized populations vulnerable.

To help address the situation, Jamie is heading up an initiative in partnership with Mennonite Church Manitoba to convert an abandon apartment building into long-term, stable housing. The three levels of Chiara House are being renovated one level at a time, as funds become available. The interior design includes a common area on each level to encourage social engagement of the residents. The building was purchased by a group of investors who “don’t expect to make any profit,” said Jamie.

When asked how the denominational levels of the church can help communities such as the West End, Jamie replied, “Change the metrics of church success,” adding that Little Flowers measures impact by how much stability can be provided for vulnerable people, versus church attendance or other more mathematical measurements.