Connecting at the Right Place
Can you speak a little about Queens Avenue Church and bc211?
This is my second time at Queen’s Avenue as the minister. I was here from 2010 to 2012 full time. [In 2014] I was appointed by the Presbytery on a term-limited appointment, 40% time, with the mandate to help the congregation figure out what their future was going to be. [After a] number of months, the congregation realized that part-time ministry could work and the temporary appointment turned into a call. I’ve been back for almost 5 years now.
bc211, we’re a non-profit organization. I have a staff of 40 people that work for me. I am the executive director. What the organization does is professional information and referral. We handle multiple different phone lines, one of them being 211. Everyone knows about 911 for emergency. 211 is a non-emergency phone number for government social community services. [For example] you have a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and you’re not quite sure what to do, how do I get support for them? Or, I just lost my job, what financial options are available to me? We’re there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to help people navigate the social services system. Many people have no idea how [social services] actually function. There are professionals [whose] job is to assess what people’s needs are, and then get them connected to the right resource in their own local community.
At bc211, you partner with a lot of organizations. How has that come about?
That’s been a focus of mine since I’ve been executive director. It’s a unique organization in that bc211 doesn’t provide front line direct services. We refer people to other organizations for the services that they need. In many ways, that lends itself to partnering. We know all the services available. Enriching our relationships with other organizations helps us to get people connected to the right place. Since I’ve been there, we partnered with BC Hydro. People inquiring about [BC Hydro’s] customer crisis fund, people have financial difficulties and can’t pay their hydro bill, we provide information about the program working in collaboration with BC Hydro. We partner really closely with Canada Border Services on the refugees coming in [to Canada]. Any refugee claimant coming into BC, Border Services gives them 211 to call, and a whole information pack. The border agent will help them call 211 and our staff will get them connected to temporary shelter, financial assistance, and transportation to get them to their appointments.
How has your theological education helped you in your role at bc211?
It’s a very social justice-oriented role at bc211. They may not use the theological language, but it is very much living out the gospel in their work. People need to get connected with the help that they need. It’s addressing those vulnerabilities. The way that Jesus reached out to the most vulnerable in society, the organization’s mission is to ensure that the most vulnerable have access to the resources to make their life viable, in many cases.
The way that Jesus reached out to the most vulnerable in society, the organization’s mission is to ensure that the most vulnerable have access to the resources to make their life viable.
Where do you see theological education going in the coming years to allow ministers to thrive in service?
I think that theological programs, in a practical focus, administration and finance really should be taught in an MDiv curriculum. [It’s] such a big part of what ministers end up being involved with. You’ve got to understand financial aspects of the congregation.
Did you know that VST has partnered with UBC Sauder School of Business?
That is really good to hear. Congregations are getting smaller. Many congregations are either renovating, or they’re completely tearing down their buildings [and] putting in condos or shared space with social services organizations. It’s a huge thing. The minister has to be involved with the overall health of the congregation. Financial health is an important component to it. If you can’t support the congregation, then the ministry can’t continue in that location. A business component is really refreshing to hear.
What has surprised you the most?
What’s surprised me the most? The graciousness of so many people. That people recognize that it’s not easy to balance all these multiple demands on time. People often say “we know you’re busy,” “we appreciate you, and we’re grateful for the time” I’m able to spend. In many ways, it makes hospital visits that much more meaningful. When I walk in they are like “you’re here!”, “we know you’re working.” The biggest surprise is that recognition.
Rev. Nathan Wright is the Executive Director of 211 British Columbia Services Society (bc211), an organization whose mandate is to provide free information and referral to government, social, and community services throughout the province. In addition to his full-time role at bc211, he currently serves as the Minister at Queens Avenue United Church in New Westminster on a part-time basis.