By Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott
In 2019, St. George’s the Blue Mountains came up with a new idea! Inspired by a parishioner who shared the story of how an Anglican congregation in his youth had supported his family during some vulnerable years in their lives, this parishioner proposed that we create a new “St. George’s Cares” committee.
The premise was to form a small group of dedicated parishioners whose ministry would be to listen to the needs of the neighbourhood and respond however our congregation might be able to help. The goal of the new committee was twofold: 1) to understand the needs of neighbours within our geographic parish area, and 2) to raise the profile of our congregation as a caring community within the Blue Mountains.
At its conception, this new idea was budgeted $2,000 as seed money and the plan was to put out a call for interested parishioners to be part of this new ministry.
However, throughout the rest of 2019 the committee wasn’t struck, the new idea was put on hold because life was busy in the parish and there were always other ministry challenges to attend to. Our process of engaging in “holy listening” to the needs of the wider community was somewhat unintentionally forgotten.
Fast forward to March 2020: the pandemic struck us completely unaware. The population of the Blue Mountains began to quickly swell as bi-residential property owners from Toronto began moving to their cottage properties along Georgian Bay to avoid the crowds and the high infection rates in the city. Toilet paper evaporated from our local grocery stores, meat became scarce and prices began to rise. Those hit the hardest in our community were seniors living on fixed pensions and local school families, especially when parents found themselves unemployed and overdrawn because of the expensive cost of living in our area. Suddenly, there was a great need for caring in our community, but who was willing to respond?
The heartbeat of our new ministry began in the third week of March when St. George’s resident Chef, Jean Lewis Knight Oliver, was inspired to start cooking meals for shut-in seniors. Donating the first $250 for groceries herself, Jean lovingly prepared this first meal package to include: a full entre dinner with salad, a lunch meal, soup, a bun, dessert, fruit and a complimentary roll of toilet paper!
We immediately approached our local health unit and asked formal direction as to how we could prepare meals safely and deliver them to residents under strain from the pandemic.
This initial act of caring reminded the members of our community of their previous intention of launching a “St. George’s Cares” committee and gave us the very motivation that we had been lacking to cause us to hear and respond to others in our neighbourhood. This new outreach sudden instilled our congregation with a purpose and passion throughout the pandemic. It enabled more than 70 volunteers from our church to be active, following health guidelines, in establishing four, fully-staffed catering teams.
The number of meals delivered each week increased from 35 initial deliveries swelling to up to 150 meals prepared each week. St. George’s continued to seek out new partnership with the local Beaver Valley Community School in order to anonymously deliver family-style meals to 20 different families each week, ultimately reaching almost 200 recipients.
It is also amazing to note that through the generosity of parishioner donations, community donors, and funding from town, municipal and provincial grants, our initial budget of $2,000 ballooned to almost $80,000 – with our meal program being fully funded until Marsh 2022! More important than the budget and statistics are the new relationships that have been formed between our church and families in our community. These have changed the way we minister in this community and now many of our parish priorities are guided by our new outreach motto: “Caring for others because God cares for us all!”
Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains. firstname.lastname@example.org