faye in library_web

Partnerships—the Key to a Resilient Community

by Faye Chisholm

The two most important determinants of a truly happy, fulfilled life are social purpose and connection with others. Period. Studies everywhere—from The Harvard Study of Adult Development to Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute—confirm this. During her recent CBC Massey lecture, political organizer and writer Astra Taylor reminded us that in the face of current geopolitical upheaval, “We all need a bit of self-care, but you can’t meditate your way or exfoliate your way out of this crisis.”

Particularly after COVID-induced isolation and angst, most of us can attest to the necessity and power of connection. We might not, however, so readily accept the prospect of bonding at the organizational level. How can partnership—a word that can occasionally evoke an empty corporate “relationship”—contribute to our community’s resilience? 

Well, like me, you might have worked or volunteered with a (likely now defunct) firm or organization who defensively clung to their own narrow, inward goals. While struggling to survive on their own terms, they instead followed a recipe for extinction. 

When goals shared between organizations are not met, it is often due to precisely this lack of trusting relationships. Perhaps the major barrier to effective partnerships are our assumptions about others whom we do not yet know. Fruitful partnerships require more than a contract between parties. True partnership means building trust and community to realize shared goals.

Grandview Church, located in East Vancouver, is a congregation in the Baptist tradition that has been tearing off the labels attached to an evangelical church—not only in its surprisingly liturgical worship and programming, but in its role as a trusted community partner in life-changing neighbourhood projects. A housing society whose recent success is 26 new, affordable housing units, a refugee housing and support program, a mentoring group for single mothers, a catering and pottery social enterprise hiring those who face barriers to employment—all these initiatives and more were realized in large part by the trust established among Grandview and its partners. 

Similarly, VST has ventured ahead of the curve in cultivating effective connection, enjoying invigorating partnerships and collaboration with schools and churches the world over. At its spring Interreligious Conference, VST’s Interreligious Department hosts dozens of onsite and distance learners/presenters alongside keynote speakers for three days of seminars around the intersection of faith and a compelling theme 

such as eschatology, media polarization, or climate crisis. Each summer, our Indigenous Studies program gathers about forty online and onsite students and faculty for two weeks of courses and welcoming community. While ISP has been offering its programs for 25 years, its enthusiastic participants will tell you that its projects are anything but stale. 

The VST onsite and distance student body is a mix of faces, accents, ages, faith traditions, theologies, gender identities, experiences—giving learning and formation here real spice. I’ve worked as a library technician at the school for many years and am continually touched by the personability and caring presence of our students. 

Needless to say, theological students ought to be changed by their time at seminary, yet VST’s international students are not assimilated by some monolithic, western, colonizing school. Quite the opposite—VST’s praxis is continually reshaped and renewed by students who come from over 40 countries and countless perspectives. 

A VST student once observed that technology had caused the world to become both much larger and smaller at the same time. Similarly, as evidenced by the daily collaboration among VST students and faculty, both breadth and intimacy in theological education is thriving here.

Faye Chisholm is from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she did her Bachelor of Arts before moving to Halifax to complete a Master of Theological studies. She has lived in Vancouver for almost 30 years and is a graduate of Langara College. Faye has served as a Library Tech at VST for 21 years—she has worked in four buildings during that time! Faye’s favorite part of the job is also the favorite of most library people—providing sources to students. It’s very satisfying and can open up a new world for a student.