Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 17, 2007
Evangelical churches want to help deliver gov't social services
United Church officals miffed mainline churches not invited to meeting with premier
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Churches have been running social services in Alberta for more than a century, but now some Protestant congregations want to get into the administration of core programs like AISH and social assistance.
And apparently the Alberta government is open to the idea. A meeting between Premier Ed Stelmach and a score of Protestant churches to discuss the issue has been scheduled for the third week of September.
None of the mainline Christian Churches, such as the Catholic and United churches, has been invited and that has left United Church leaders miffed.
A case statement affirming the need for faith-based organizations to collaborate with the government in delivering programs such as AISH and Alberta Works has already been delivered to the government.
The statement, prepared by evangelical leader Rene Medina, notes faith-based organizations have large pools of volunteers to deliver such programs and can deliver them with a "heightened human touch."
"A collaboration of government with faith-based organizations should be looked at as a great opportunity of sharing the burden of delivering much needed programs," says the case statement.
"A blend of government and faith-based organizations' services can only look forward to a healthier, more prosperous and more caring Alberta, thus improving our quality of life."
The case statement contains an action plan, which includes creating a foundation to manage the delivery of programs by faith-based groups.
Evangelical churches are excited about the meeting and have sent detailed instructions to ministers. A July 26, 2007 letter from Sherry Adams of the Evangelical Ministerial Association recommends pastors be personally prepared to attend the meeting and to prepare a one-paragraph outline of a possible social initiative they would like to tackle if government funding was available.
"Pray that the Church in our province can recognize the magnitude of this opportunity and would be willing to respond in serving the community if financing was available," Adams says in the letter.
According to documentation obtained by the WCR, the idea of a partnership between the province and some churches has been in the works for several months. In a June 12 letter to pastors, ministers and leaders the Rev. Len Zoeteman, a Calgary-based evangelical leader, speaks of the initiative as an extraordinary window of opportunity for Alberta churches.
"In this formative season under the new Ed Stelmach government there is an invitation for the Church community, urban and rural, to step forward and partner with the government in addressing the social needs of the province," he said.
"In this partnership, the government could potentially make substantial funds available to the faith community for projects" designed by local churches.
In his letter Zoeteman says the meeting with the premier will take place the second or third week of September.
"This is a fast track strategy dealing directly with the premier," he writes. "We anticipate that he will in turn provide the budget department with a directive to allocate funds for the 2008 fiscal year for faith-based social initiatives."
Zoeteman's letter also speaks of a plan already in place to deal with the issue. "Technical leadership with regard to developing the proposal to the government and working with Church ministries to prepare applications for grants is already in place," it says. Neither Zoeteman nor Adams could be reached for comment.
The Edmonton Archdiocese, which runs Catholic Social Services and other agencies, has not been invited to the meeting. Spokesperson Julien Hammond would not comment until he knows what's going on.
"No one has talked to me about this whole issue; I don't know what's envisioned, I don't know what's intended," he said.
The United Church of Canada, which operates agencies such as the Bissell Centre, fired off a letter to Stelmach upon learning of the meeting. "We do not have any details of the planned meeting but we hope that you would not discuss the social justice and poverty needs of Albertans without including the major Church denominations and the representatives of other faith groups who are also concerned about these issues," says the Aug. 14 letter signed by the Rev. Hugh MacGregor and the Rev. Bob Settle.
In response to a question, MacGregor emailed a statement to the WCR saying, "I really don't know what's going on, if anything. From what we have been able to find out, we don't even know if this was a genuine government initiative or not."
The Rev. Lynn Maki, executive secretary for the Alberta and Northwest Territories Conference of the United Church, said she supports collaboration with government but is concerned about the possibility of the process becoming politicized.
"If we were to be invited to a meeting (with the premier) I'm sure we would accept the invitation and we would come with our questions," Maki said.
The Rev. Kathy Hogman, chair of the Edmonton Presbytery of the United Church, said she is disappointed that none of the mainline Christian churches as well as Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus, which already provide social services, had been invited to the meeting. "I hope that when the meeting does take place the premier or the minister responsible will see fit to not only invite the other Christian churches but also the other faith communities," she said.
Stelmach's office would not confirm when the meeting would take place. The WCR's calls to the premier's office Sept. 11 were not returned.