Ministering During a Pandemic
By Rev Peter Sheridan
I continue to lead the evening service at Central United Church in downtown Calgary. We are not open currently, but plan to re-open on Jan 9, 2022. I have conducted a service on Zoom every Sunday since the pandemic started. We used recorded music in the beginning then discovered we could do it live and our fantastic Blues band, the Cracked Pots, got together at one member’s house and joined Zoom from there. It was great.
Our liturgy is simple. Fortunately for us alcoholics and addicts, God made things simple. 12 Months of the Year – 12 Steps in AA. We start in January speaking about step 1 and end in December with step 12. All the steps have gospel that applies to them or the principals in them. We gently preach how to work the steps and about the biblical principals that support the step. God knew how much we struggle so he made it easy to follow.
I have four private clients that have come to me in this ministry. Two of them are medical doctors who have been struggling a lot through the pandemic and all the craziness that has been going on. I also have two young men that I mentor one-on-one through their addiction. This is over and above my full-time work of Calgary Drug Treatment court. I have approximately 10 criminal addicts that I work with on a daily basis. Many of them join me on Sunday evening for the service. My ministry carries into my work as many turn to me for some spiritual guidance as they work their steps and or struggle with life issues.
I have done two funerals this year. One for a young man who had become very close to me. He had been in drug court but he just couldn’t beat his addiction. He left our program and completed his sentence, staying sober and staying in touch weekly from jail. We put together a great release plan and all went well until he decided he needed the companionship of a lady. Things quickly went down hill from there. He started using and one night fell in a window well and injured his knee. It eventually became infected, but he wouldn’t stay in the hospital. He was paranoid that he was going to lose his leg. Instead, he died at his dealer’s house, not of an overdose but from sepsis. His body just gave up. A wonderful 32-year young man – couldn’t beat his addiction – and is now home with the Lord. His parents blessed me with the honour of being the officiant at his funeral. It was one of the most difficult things I have done.
The other was just two weeks ago. One of my graduates lost his 21-year-old daughter to the opioid crisis. He asked me to officiate at her funeral. Another tough one; a young girl in her prime who had so much going for her. It was my blessing to be able to try to comfort my graduate Lionel. As well as being a graduate of drug court, he actively helps me with my Sunday service and helps with some of our outreach.
The pandemic hinders outreach and the church being closed makes life difficult in that respect. We did however recently prepare 100 backpacks that were distributed to the homeless. We took the backpacks into downtown to many of the encampments and delivered them to 100 folks who needed them.
I live in a mobile home park in NW Calgary. It is a 45 plus community. In the park are several elderly ladies who love to knit. They have produced well over 800 scarves and matching head bands, also toques and mitts.
Every backpack gets a set of knit items, warm socks, dry shirts, toiletry items, candy, note pad and pencil, and many other neat items. The mission is called Aaron’s Journey and is in memory of Aaron who lost his life to addiction. He used to live on the streets of Calgary. His parents attend our church and they started this years ago. We used to do an annual golf tournament to raise funds for products to stuff in the backpacks but haven’t been able to do that for the past two years. When we did, we filled 400 backpacks.
We also work closely with the Calgary DOAP team (Downtown outreach addictions partnership) who are constantly working with addicts and homeless people. We provide them with scarves. Also, the downtown police cars have scarves to give out. We also support a charity called “Be the change YYC.” They have volunteers who go out and check on all the people who are sleeping “rough.”
My prison ministry was brought to a sudden halt in 2020 by Covid, but I have been getting in to see people a little more recently. I do help with transition planning with some and just giving others a sense of hope. I have several federal inmates who call on a regular basis to talk to someone who is not judgmental. I tend to be an all-inclusive type of guy. The young person I have worked with the longest has been a 13-year journey. I started working with him in CYOC (young offenders). He did get released but reoffended very quickly and has been in the penitentiary ever since. She has now decided to transition and now goes by a different name. She has a horrific life story. She comes from a southern reserve and is a throw away kid. I am the only person that will answer my phone for her. You see, I believe that we are all God’s children, and God don’t make no junk. I believe in unconditional love for all.
I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and all the best in 2022. I look forward to continuing my relationship with CSMC. It’s been my pleasure to be involved with you.
Love to All – Pete