Sanctuary London, a congregation in London, Ont., is intentional about building community and a sense of belonging among its members. Every Wednesday, about 150 people sit down together for a meal in the atrium of partner Talbot Street Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in the city’s downtown.
On Wednesday, October 10, the “regulars” came for supper―and were joined by 11 mayoral candidates and an extra hundred people interested in how politics and poverty intersect. Planned alongside the meal was an all-candidates meeting ahead of an October 22 municipal election, which drew an additional 75 people after dinner.
The only question asked was, “As mayor of London, what would your vision as a response to poverty be?” Gil Clelland, a pastor at Sanctuary, explained that the intent was to foster interaction between the mayoral candidates and the community Sanctuary serves, some of whom have no fixed address. “It was a meeting of those who make the decisions and those who are impacted by them,” he noted.
Candidates sat with members of the community around the dinner tables, allowing space for questions to come up naturally and for people who might not ask questions in a large gathering to speak directly with those running for the office of mayor.
Candidates were excited at the chance to meet people they would not normally meet, said Clelland. “For some, it was their first time speaking on poverty to those living it. It challenged them in their thinking and speaking.” After speeches, candidates stayed for an informal meet-and-greet over coffee and dessert.
Members of Dresden (Ont.) CRC, over an hour away, came to help with the meal. A fish fry for 250 people was organized by Brad Goodreau, a friend of Clelland and a member of Dresden CRC. Volunteers included girls from the youth program GEMS, a council member, firefighters, and members of Goodreau’s family. Goodreau appreciated the intentional community-building of Sanctuary London, noting, “You can’t preach, you can’t help people, if you don’t know them.”
Municipal elections are being held across Ontario in October. In Brighton, Ont., Fellowship CRC also hosted an all-candidates meeting in early October, drawing over 500 people and live-streaming it on the church website. Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ont., partnered with the local neighborhood association to host a candidate forum on October 15 in preparation for the Hamilton area election.