The Oxford Coalition for Social Justice is a small volunteer run group dedicated to addressing multiple issues that negatively impact the life and health of residents in Oxford County, Ontario. It’s not easy taking on large gravel companies who want to carve up the landscape, or challenging a plan to dump garbage in a new private landfill. Knowing that ‘Strategic Litigation against Public Participation’ aka SLAPP suits are a threat to them, and opposed at every step by those who have a financial investment, these activists bring to this work passion for sustainability and human rights, commitment and constant vigilance. Taking a stand can have personal consequences. Progress is slow.
So when Christian Crawford approached the coalition about the possibility of doing her required CCS field placement with them, they were delighted. Here was someone willing to devote twelve hours a week to the work they believe in. Yay! But what could a ministry student offer them?
Christina explained that CCS students do this field placement to engage directly in social justice work and get experience in building networks between the community and church. She particularly wanted to learn how to advocate for people and for the environment.
Once she was familiar with the issues, Christina got busy. She talked to people about successful alternatives to dumps and intrigued them with information about waste-free communities. She changed her personal habits, “The more you learn, the more you can’t let yourself get away with throwing away plastic.”
While her task involved educating people one-on-one through displays at events, it wasn’t enough. She needed to get more people involved.
Christina approached the members of the youth group she led at St. David’s church. They handed out milkweed pods at the farmer’s market and as each receiver puzzled over this bumpy dry thing in their hand, the youth talked about how planting the seed was one small step towards creating habitat for Monarch butterflies and other pollinators. They also invited signatures on a petition against the landfill and demonstrated at Queen’s Park.
Not only were they learning about environmental care themselves, the youth got the whole congregation interested in the care of creation through creative worship activities and Trashapolooza, an exchange of cast off items.
By getting others involved, Christina multiplied the 12 hours she offered to the Oxford Coalition for Social Justice. She brought with her a new set of reasons for doing advocacy, based in a belief that we are intimately connected to the land and must care for it as a gift of God. She was able to inspire the youth to lead in fun and meaningful ways, while building a wider network of people passionate about sustaining our world.
Christina’s Learning Facilitator, Bryan Smith, said he had no idea what to expect when she started but she modelled diaconal ministry in everything she did. One of her strengths was building community among diverse people.
Bryan wrote to CCS asking how he could make this field placement opportunity known to more of our students. “The experience was very useful to us and the coalition is grateful that Christina found us.”
~ Lori Stewart
From the CCS publication, Tapestry, Fall 2017