Last October 17, Cathedral social justice activists Ann Elbourne and Jan Jorgensen were on hand at the Vanier College Social Science Festival, giving a Christian perspective on hot-button issues. This year’s festival explored different ways of thinking on “issues related to identity, social justice, environmentalism, and current political issues in Canada and throughout the world”.
Event organizer Kelly MacDonald invited the Cathedral to speak at the Festival on the recommendation of Humanities and Religious Studies Professor Gordon Aronoff. Mr. Aronoff teaches Unlocking the World Spirit, an introductory course in the discipline of religious studies.
“The chocolate exercise captured their interest,” he says, referring to Jan Jorgensen going into the audience toward the end of the talk and giving out uneven numbers of chocolates to the people present while pointing out that “Some get lots, some get none.”
“This engaged and puzzled the students,” says Mr. Aronoff. “They understood it had something to do with fair trade, but did not get the point until I mentioned in class how people start out in unequal circumstances to begin with. The questions asked by the students after the SJAG (Social Justice Action Group) presentation gave me the opportunity to talk about inequities and how they should be recognized.”
“Warm welcome” from “socially progressive” Christ Church Cathedral
Unlocking the World Spirit is a course designed to familiarize students with both Eastern religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Zen, Taoism and Confucianism) and Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). The class demonstrates the richness of world religions, exposing their similarities and differences from a social scientific perspective that encourages critical thought.
“Every year,” says Mr. Aronoff, “I give my students an assignment to visit and report on one religious group, organization or church. Last year, this resulted in a presentation given by two students who were markedly impressed with the socially progressive mindset of the people at Christ Church Cathedral and the warm welcome they received there. When we were asked to suggest speakers for the event, I immediately thought of Christ Church.”
Students were inspired
Mr. Aronoff reports that his students were inspired by the number of initiatives and causes SJAG deals with on a regular basis. About a dozen groups based at the cathedral work in a wide range of social justice areas, from supporting the homeless through Truth and Reconciliation to fair trade. In addition partnerships are entertained with several outside organizations such as Action Réfugiés Montréal, Amnesty International, and Ten Thousand Villages, on projects that support social justice in Montreal and around the world.
During the question period at the end of the presentation, two of Mr. Aronoff’s students showed how successful his efforts to encourage critical thinking really are. One young man asked how the Church could reconcile the Bible’s messages concerning homosexuality with its stance on LGBTQ issues. Ms. Elbourne responded that the dialogue on that issue is ongoing in the Anglican Church itself, but that the Bishop of Montreal is very supportive. “Gay men have always been ordained,” she said. “Only now, they are out. Also, there are a great many more references to love in the bible than there are admonitions against homosexuals.”
Working closely with Indigenous Peoples
A second student wanted to know how the Church could now work with aboriginal peoples given that Christianity had repressed Native beliefs in the past. How, he wanted to know, did they make room for Native views in the context of the Christian faith? Ms. Elbourne responded that the Church can and does change when it realizes it has been wrong. Ms. Brenda Linn, a Cathedral congregant who works very closely with First Nations, was then called to the podium to answer more fully. Brenda mentioned that National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald is the pastoral leader to Indigenous Peoples in the Anglican Church of Canada. “Indigenous Christians do not want to be abandoned,” she said. “As for how we work with them, we can only stand with them, listen, learn from them, support their environmental values and back off.”
Religious establishments not all rigidly conservative
“One of the most important things I wanted the students to take away from the presentation was that religious establishments are not all rigidly conservative,” says Mr. Aronoff. “The students in my class reported that they were very impressed with how progressive Chirst Church Cathedral is, especially with respect to social justice and equality for the LGBTQ community. The presentation was an eye opener for them.”
To find out more about social justice and outreach at Christ Church Cathedral, click here.
Support the ongoing work of cathedral volunteer activists
$250,000 of the funds raised during the Major fundraising campaign will endow future work of the century-old Social Service Society. To donate to the campaign, click here.
Concert in support of the cathedral choir
On November 10th at 7:30 p.m., Patrick Wedd and the Cathedral Singers perform a concert entitled De profundis: Music for troubled times. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 for seniors, $15 for students and are available at the door. A post-concert wine and cheese reception is included in the price. For more information, call 514-843-6577, local 236.
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