|EDGEy Conversation with Rev. Allan Smith-Reeve and Zoe Chaytors of the EDGE Network. |
The Rev. Allan Smith-Reeve knows about the power of social good initiatives. He has used Bedford House Community Ministry and its programs, such as Bridges Peterborough, to build relationships with his congregation at Greenwood United and to strengthen the community of Peterborough, Ontario.
Smith-Reeve started half-time at Greenwood United as its pastor in 2015, right after two congregations in the pastoral charge amalgamated; selling one church building. That same year, The United Church of Canada put out a call for new ministry ideas. Intrigued, Smith-Reeve and his partner Lynn bought a house and put a board in place for Bedford House Community Ministry, a “faith-based community development learning centre.” Greenwood United signed on as a charitable partner in the project, With grant money from the United Church Foundation, the Conference, and Presbytery in place, they were ready to start.
Bedford House experimented with several small group ministries initially, their Bridges Peterborough program proving to be among the most impactful. A group of mentors (“learning partners”), mostly retired middle-class folks would meet weekly with people currently living in poverty for some food, fun, and the opportunity to do the Bridges Out of Poverty curriculum together and learn about the Hidden Rules of Class. This was the first Bridging Team in 2017.
Bedford House started to slowly expand the initial Bridging Team concept into the Bridges Peterborough organization. They were able to hire people with lived experience of poverty and train them to become leaders of new Bridging Teams to help people understand the poverty experience and the systemic barriers that classism creates.
Then, right before COVID, Fairview United Church’s decision to amalgamate with Greenwood United uniquely positioned the small community of faith to take a bold step. With now over a million dollars in its bank account, it hired Smith-Reeve full-time to serve as minister at Greenwood United and as Community Innovator at Bedford House. “I remember the chair of our Region saying it was the first time he’d seen a congregation pay someone to look after other people,” Smith-Reeve told EDGE’s Zoe Chaytors.
Allan is excited for the future. “In 2023, we’ve now trained six facilitators that we hope will start three new Bridging Teams.” Also, people on the Bridging Teams designated as Storytellers now periodically come to Sunday services at Greenwood United, and other faith communities, to speak about their experiences of living in poverty. Smith-Reeve says that this “cross-cultural experience” of people learning about each other has been positive for everyone involved. You can hear from this team, which has formed a social enterprise called The Company of Conversation Changers, on their weekly podcast.
When asked why Greenwood United United’s congregation supported a ministry like Bedford House, one that wasn’t necessarily going to bring in new members, Smith-Reeve credits a shift away from a mindset of scarcity—after just getting by for years, the community of faith suddenly had to ask itself what it was going to do with its newfound abundance. That brought up questions of best ways to invest in the community, and of legacy, especially for the two communities of faith that had amalgamated with Greenwood United and lost their buildings.
“We’re still in the midst of grappling with that,” Smith-Reeve says about legacy. “We have a vision of the kind of community that we would like to see—we’re asking ourselves who else shares that vision and how can we, maybe with some of our abundance, plant seeds so it’s not just up to us as a congregation to bring about that vision. We’re asking…”Who are our partners in God’s vision for this community? How can we support them?”
Listen to Allan Smith-Reeve’s full EDGEy conversation with Zoe Chaytors