By David Burrows
The Religious Social Action Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador (RSACNL) explores the various ways that people of differing faiths continue the work of advocacy for poverty elimination. Ten directors from Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Christian faiths come together monthly to identify and enable the dignity of people living in Newfoundland and Labrador. We examine how we can advocate for change within the provincial government. Our hope is to establish a living wage for the province, and to advocate for a mechanism to apply a fairness lens upon all provincial legislation.
I have witnessed and participated in the listening, inclusion, and persistence of this group. It may not be rocket science or the most efficient practice even, yet it continues to work for us as we push forward slowly in advocating for change.
Each time we gather, we take time to offer silent prayer. In these moments, we begin and end our time acknowledging the Divine. We enter into holy space so that we can be present to each other. In this holy stillness, I reflect upon the words of I Kings 19: 11-13. Elijah encounters the LORD not in the great and strong wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. The LORD is heard in the still small voice. This is my own reflection. Others come with their own perspectives of the Divine and the need to respond to make the world the place that God intends. Setting apart this sacred space gives us the focus and passion we need to and get our the work done. We listen first to God, and in turn, we are prepared to listen to each other. We discern strength and direction through our abilities to be present to differing perspectives. Offering this listening ear into the silence has helped us focus on our common unity.
At each of our gatherings we come together around a table, taking into account the various religious and cultural limitations and requirements. Above all, we enable all to have equal voice and perspective in discussion. In this I am reminded of the relationship we see with Jesus and the family of Bethany in John’s Gospel. Jesus’ relationship, his love, and his presence with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus for me show a profound care and a profound value that he offers to each and everyone. Jesus did not dismiss persons based on gender or roles within society. He included people as they were and sat at table with people of low or high standing within society. The directors of RSACNL come from varying socio-economic means, with differing roles within family, society, and profession. We are broad in our experience and expression. We come to the table because we see the value and the importance in each other.
In my recounting thus far, one may think that RSACNL is highly productive and efficient. This is not the case. There is still a disparity within Newfoundland and Labrador between the very rich and those living in poverty. The gap seems to be widening over time. In our earnest listening, in our monthly table dialogues, we spin our wheels; we don’t always get the results we expect. Yet, we stay. We do not walk away from our commitment to listen, to be with each other, to work to this higher cause. We still strive to work together to close the gap. I am reminded of the tenacity and persistence of God’s dealings with Jonah. Jonah tried as hard as he could to ignore the summons of God to speak to the people of Nineveh. God did not accept no as an answer. There is always a way for us to move forward (albeit sometimes quite slowly) in the goal of poverty elimination in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I feel privileged to be present in this ongoing dialogue, and I am reminded that this listening, inclusion, and staying is of great benefit in poverty elimination, and also in other aspects of how people can work to effect change in our society. My work with these fine people reminds me that when we say, “You are welcome at the table, the table is large enough, stay here, we will listen to you,” that great change and transformation can occur. It may not always happen in my time or my way, yet the change affects the entire system. I pray that these considerations might be present in many aspects of justice and advocacy.
David Burrows is a priest in Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador where he was appointed Canon of Society and Justice in 2014. He is the executive director of Home Again Furniture Bank and the coordinator of the Religious Social Action Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador.