soutenir la religion dans une société pluraliste et dans la vie publique canadienne

Inserting Spirituality into Canadian Civil Society: a case study

Changes and crises in our communities require the understandings and practices of spirituality and faith to help people cope.  Interfaith Grand River (IGR) has increasingly been called upon to work with community organizations and governments to address issues in Region of Waterloo which is situated on lands traditionally used by the Attawandaron, the Anishnabeg, and the Haudenosaunee peoples in what is now called south-western Ontario.

In 2021 IGR celebrated its 20th anniversary.  The planning for IGR began in the Spring and Summer of 2001, with the first meeting scheduled, by chance or by the Spirit, two days after 9/11.  Participants included leaders from many faith and spiritual traditions in the region.  As we sat around the table for the first time, we wondered how our region and world had changed.  Waterloo Region is the 4th largest destination for newcomers to Canada.  The population exhibits wide diversity.  IGR provides a forum for people of diverse faith and spiritual traditions to learn to know each other and to work together on issues of common importance.  Over the years, we have contributed to conversations on health care, policing, education, poverty, immigration and end-of-life issues, to name a few.

When COVID 19 reached Waterloo Region in Spring of 2020, the regional government implemented the pandemic response plan which had been formulated in the wake of the SARS epidemic in 2003.  The plan saw the creation of control groups for critical resources, among them Community Support, which included housing, food, child and family issues, psycho-social and spiritual supports, animal care, and volunteer management.  The idea was to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

The organizers invited IGR to join the Psycho-Social and Spiritual Supports Working Group (PSSWG) because we had connections to such a diversity of traditions.  We could make the resources of the faith communities available in discussions and actions.  Two IGR members were part of the group which met by Zoom – bi-weekly at first and gradually at longer and longer intervals.  We served as a liaison with IGR and also with Christians Together Waterloo Region (CTWR), the local ecumenical coalition.  PSSWG continues to meet about every 6 weeks.

IGR and CTWR kept faith groups aware of resources and issues during the pandemic.  We provided “ears on the ground” for issues emerging in the region.  We also brought our own expertise in faith and spirituality to the discussions.  The first major project was collaboration on a resource called “Grief, Death and Dying during a Pandemic”.  This resource was widely distributed and used in health care, funeral homes, faith groups, and other organizations. 

As the pandemic dragged on into its second year, IGR contributed to discussions on finding hope, offering ideas from the many faith and spiritual traditions of its members.  Foundational ideas included the importance of gratitude and of the Golden Rule, formulated well in the resource originally developed by Scarboro Missions and further developed as the Ethic of Reciprocity by the Fraser Centre at Regis College in Toronto.

After vaccinations became available, IGR and CTWR worked to support the roll-out of vaccinations to many marginalized ethnic groups through the faith communities.  We helped organize two broadcasts which were made into videos.  Each event had six faith leaders who were ethnically and religiously diverse and spoke to the importance of vaccinations.  The sessions addressed and responded to the issues raised in the marginalized communities. In addition, faith leaders and faith groups assisted public health in finding and publicizing locations for vaccination clinics.

In Fall 2022, PSSWG and IGR are planning an event which will honour the spiritual experiences that people have had during the pandemic.  This will be a time to pause with others – probably virtual and in person.  We will remember our many losses; death, of course,  but also things like decrease in social interaction, loss of jobs, difficulties for children and teachers, and loneliness.  We will celebrate the times of joy: such things as virtual encounters with people around the world; acts of solidarity transcending difference; simple pleasures of being in creation. Finally, we will look toward future possibilities: valuing essential service providers; developing ongoing connections with those otherwise isolated; supporting the psycho-social and spiritual well-being of all individuals.  As PSSWG reviewed its experiences of the past 2 years and more, there is a strong sense that even as Covid becomes less threatening, there are and will continue to be psycho-social and spiritual issues which will need to be addressed.  We are all vulnerable.

Faith communities have experienced significant changes in the last three years; in the time ahead, it will be important for faith leaders and communities to look outward - as well as inward – to see the needs of all peoples in the region.  Spiritual needs are faced by all people.  Some people are not faith-based or religious; others are “spiritual but not religious”; and many have become disconnected from their from faith communities.  Yet all residents in our region have concerns for which spirituality – sometimes couched in very “secular” terms – can be a resource toward healing, growth, and the building of old and new relationships.

Brice Balmer
Sandy Milne
Grand River Interfaith