Summit Urged for Toronto Church and Civic Leaders: Homelessness, planning and Sunday parking tickets among issues
, hosted by the Canadian Urban Institute, at which lead research Robert Joustra responds to the topic of religion and urban life.
TORONTO - Toronto urgently needs a summit meeting of church leaders and city officials to address everything from homelessness and poverty to the planning process for new churches and parking tickets for Sunday worshippers, a forum has been told.
"We need to ask, `How can the city help churches and how can churches help the city?'" Rev. Brent Hawkes of Metropolitan Community Church told the forum on the role of churches in big cities. The Canadian Urban Institute organized the meeting, held Friday at Metro Hall.
Churches play a vital role in the life of big cities, Hawkes says. They help feed, clothe and shelter the poor, provide meeting space and volunteers for other groups and advocate on behalf of marginalized people, he says.
Hawkes says a summit of church leaders and city hall officials could help direct such efforts to where they are most needed. Ideally, a liaison officer at city hall would help co-ordinate such grassroots work, he says.
"Faith-based communities are a great way for government to engage citizens," Hawkes told the breakfast forum.
Rob Joustra, a researcher with the Hamilton-based Work Research Foundation, told the forum big cities are growing largely because of the influx of immigrants, who often have strong ties to their faith groups. Engaging them in the life of the city, he says, might be best done through those groups.
"It's never been more important," says Joustra, whose foundation specializes in researching the links between church and community.
At the same time, churches often find it difficult to continue operating in the city, the forum was told.
Rev. John Joseph Mastandrea of Metropolitan United Church says churches often have trouble getting mortgages or loans to expand or even repair their buildings because banks don't want to risk the bad publicity of foreclosing on a church.
Even when churches can secure the money, getting through the bureaucracy of city planning and approvals can prove too costly and difficult for church staff and volunteers, who are often strapped for money and lack knowledge of official plan issues and zoning regulations.
A summit would also give faith groups a chance to work with city hall on problems, he says. For instance, while at one time there was "flexibility" on issuing parking tickets on Sundays near churches, his parishioners often emerge from services to find their cars have been ticketed.