I spent most of my day, our third day at Winnipeg Inner City Mission, at Flora House. The day’s activities there began, as they often do, with a smudging ceremony. The First Nations kids take smudging very seriously and respectfully and it really makes for a good start to the day together for them.
In such a ceremony, dried herbs (usually some mixture of sage, tobacco and cedar) are set to smoking in a small shell or pot. The smoke is waved by a feather and each person takes a turn to waft the smoke over his or her arms, head and body.
The smudging ceremony is primarily a purification ceremony — a way of putting aside mistakes, errors, regrets and things that weigh you down. This kind of ritual that is part of most every religion and is needed by everyone (even non religious folk) at least sometimes.
And that was kind of what all of our day’s work at Flora House was about today. Flora House has gone through some tough times recently. There have been some things that have gone wrong there, some staff have left, there have been changes that have been hard to deal with. Maybe the stress of dealing with an extremely needy group of kids in an extremely depressed area just got too heavy. And there is a real spirit about the place that has become negative and people can feel it.
I do believe that spiritual forces are real in this world and that they can be very destructive. They can linger in the certain places and in certain communities like churches. (Amazingly the spirit can remain in a community even when the membership overturns entirely.) They can often also be very difficult to get rid of. In many ways, Rev, Margaret Mullin is asking us to expel the bad spirit from Flora House this week. How successful we will be in this, we will have to see, but we sure worked hard at it today.
This morning Joni spent some time with the WICM staff team. We discovered yesterday that they were in need of training and updating in Leading with Care — the Presbyterian Church’s policy for providing safe environments for children and vulnerable people. Turns out that Joni has all kinds of experience and training with this and she was able to volunteer and provide the training for them. By coming in as an outsider to their staff group, I think she was also able to provide something else too — helping to build up the team and suggesting better ways to work together. This is the kind of thing that will prove very helpful in new beginnings.
From 11 am to 4 pm, Joni, Alexis, Gabrielle and I stayed at Flora House while the others went with the kids to Oak Hammock Marsh (where they had a great time). We were continuing the painting job the others had started the day before.
The painting in a bright new peach colour is a very important in the plan to lighten the spirit at Flora House. Sometimes a change in the setting can go a long way to making sure that things change on a spiritual level. Already Flora House looks like a very different place inside and I am sure that Margaret is right that our work here will make a very big difference going forward.
We said when we came here that we were willing to do whatever we could to help. And Margaret has certainly taken us at our word! Every time she walks up to us she seems to have a twinkle in her eye and a new idea in her head. We’re learning to watch out for that twinkle.
But she has a way of making you certain that whatever you are doing it is completely drenched with meaning and significance. She makes me feel sure that our brief time here will leave its traces for a long time. In fact, she has Alexis at work right now designing a new mural in the Miracle Store that they want us to paint so that they can celebrate the time that they have had with us and not forget us.
We’ll sure not forget them. It’s hard to think we’ll be leaving before we know it. We are resolved to keep the relationship going in some way though.