Responding to the Covid 19 pandemic taught us some important lessons about our community. Working for justice, trying to build God’s Kingdom, and showing love for our neighbours in tangible and concrete ways have always been at the heart of Salal + Cedar. But how do we do these things when it is not safe to gather in person?
At Salal + Cedar we worship outdoors, but we also harvest medicinal plants, restore wildlife habitat, run a youth camp and we have been very active in supporting Indigenous land protection campaigns, especially resistance to the Trans-Mountain Pipeline. So the pandemic impacted more than just our worship. Like churches and communities all over the globe, we struggled to figure out how to keep on being church and doing church when we could not meet face to face. We shared goods and money, we met online, we prayed for one another, we tried new things, and we made mistakes.
But one thing we did was particularly important. Because of our grassroots community connections, our flexibility, a very modest income that is not tied to a building or a collection plate we were extremely fortunate to be able to be of direct service, as a community, to some of the most vulnerable people in our area. Together with the Downtown Eastside Covid Response team, the SRO Collaborative, St. James Music Academy, and St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Salal + Cedar was part of an urban core distribution centre supplying health and hygiene items, harm reduction supplies and phones to SRO hotel tenants and homeless neighbours in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. Members of our community worked developing safety protocols, setting up a work space, soliciting donations, bagging soap, preparing safe consumption kits, bottling hand sanitizer, and delivering supplies. In the early months of the pandemic when the number of Covid deaths was relatively low, overdose deaths were extremely high so this work was especially critical.
The project is transitioning now from ad hoc volunteers responding to a crisis to more sustainable and funded model but it was a great gift to be able to work together for concrete mutual aid. We also learned a lot about the ways that our alternative church structure can be nimble, relational, and responsive in a crisis.