file photo

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Letter to the Editor: Diversity includes faith and religion

Letter to the Editor by Dan DeWolf

Dear Editor,

Our mayor and others have spoken recently about diversity and inclusion. It’s a worthy topic, and I would like to add some discussion to what has been said.

Inclusion should refer to all people on all sides of an issue. For example, when we talk about inclusion we frequently refer to various minority groups, often at the expense of those who are considered to be majority groups. This understanding of inclusion forgets that all people need inclusion, understanding and acceptance. It is not reserved strictly for the few, and it does not imply that the few are marginalized because of the many. Here is my point: there is a large community of principled faithful believers in Wetaskiwin. I am talking about all of the faith communities that add to the wonderful fabric and much of the strength of our city.

Recently, the Camrose Open Door group proposed a shelter and integrated care hub for homeless people in Wetaskiwin. City council selected a site near the south edge of the city, in the location of a former muffler shop. This building was not zoned for the desired use, so the city attempted to change the zoning. Several people representing homeowners and residents in the area of the proposed site objected to the rezoning, citing a number of issues with vandalism and crime in the area. A petition, which was put forward by one of those representatives, was rejected on technical grounds by council. When a lawyer representing a neighboring church objected to the proposal because of perceived improper legal handling of the zoning issue, council voted in a majority decision to abandon that site. The former City Hall building (now called the Civic Building) was chosen, and the project proceeded.

In newspaper articles of several weeks ago, it was mentioned that several groups made donations to the Hub. The donations were modest, but still appreciated. What was not mentioned in the articles, however, was that the church whose lawyer made the initial objection also donated a very generous amount to the Hub. The church may not wish to advertise this act of charity, but it seems to be an oversight that the good done by this community of faith was overlooked by the mayor and the press. As was mentioned by a representative at the council meeting, the church is not opposed to the provision of a suitable service for the homeless, and remains firmly dedicated to the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which espouses care for the poor and needy.

The people of this specific faith community are not alone. There are over a dozen different churches in Wetaskiwin. This would represent a noteworthy proportion of the population of Wetaskiwin, and a community of significant influence for good in the city. The faith congregations in Wetaskiwin have been proactive in helping those in need long before the Hub or any city sponsored organization was inclined to do so, often without grants from government or other organizations. Our groups have fed the poor, provided accommodations for the homeless, paid utilities and debts for the needy, and collected food donations for local food banks, and donated clothing and necessities in addition to time and volunteer service over the years. Without the contributions of all of the faith communities within Wetaskiwin and area, our quality of life would be diminished.

Because of my belief in the religious principles of my faith community, I have felt encouraged to serve on various boards and committees over the past 25 years or so, including Victim Services, the Community Learning Council, the Library Board, and the Spell Society. Obviously, people not specifically associated with any church still serve voluntarily in the community, but I believe it is time to acknowledge the influence and contribution for good that the various church congregations have had in this city. A city which espouses principles of inclusion and diversity should also recognize and be especially welcoming of all who contribute, including those who contribute because of religious principles and a desire to do well in our community. If those principles occasionally seem to conflict with current popular practices, we need to be cognizant of the intentions of all groups, and the need for acceptance and understanding of all parties. In the end, we are all looking for a happier, more prosperous and more diverse and inclusive community.

— Dan DeWolf

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