Calgary churches serving new role in economic downturn: coffee and community

Rev. Tara Livingston shares individual stories of hardship from Calgarians during the economic downturn, and what her community is doing to help.

Creating community through coffee and smart conversation

'Churches are created to offer ministry to the community in which they serve,' says Tara Livingston. (Pixabay)

My family has lived here for 10 years, which is either an eternity or a nanosecond depending on who you ask. 

We moved here in the height of the boom in 2006, quite by accident. We were not following the road paved with oil, because we were not and are not oil-and-gas people, but you can't live in Calgary and not be both positively and negatively affected by the industry.

When we arrived back then, the downtown was bustling and the malls were packed. The roads out of the city were filled with cars carrying boats or skis on each and every Friday. The city was living the high life.

And then it changed.

Tough times

When Tara Livingston moved to Calgary in 2006, the parking lots at malls were full. She's notice a significant decline. (Jeffrey Smith/Flickr)

Now there are a lot of empty parking spaces both in the core and at the malls.

If you look on Kijiji, you can get some really good deals on the loss of someone else's dream — jet skis and ski equipment abound. Calgarians are being faced with difficult choices about what to keep and how to live. People who've never before had to ask the question are asking where the next mortgage payment is coming from. Or whether they can afford Netflix.

For so many of us, our jobs or our careers make up a big part of who we are and how we see ourselves fitting into our world. Who am I if I don't have a job? And now our sense of self is changing one pink slip at a time.

At Holy Nativity, we wanted to help. But how to do that?

Community ministry

Churches are created to offer ministry to the community in which they serve. They are to offer it not just to the people who show up on Sundays and who put money in the plate, but to the community outside their doors.

We knew we couldn't hire anyone. We can't really hand out food or money. But we have a building, we have coffee, and we know some smart people. So, staring on January 11th, for a couple weeks, we will open our doors and invite in people affected by job loss. 

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we'll have coffee, listen to some smart talk about resumes, networking, budgeting and stress management. We will create community. Maybe we can help.

Affected differently

With a downturn in the economy, even those with degrees might have to find work where they can, says Tara Livingston. (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

We are each affected differently by the crisis, and we each react differently. As a priest I've heard many individual stories.

There was the layoff notice handed to a pregnant mom just at the point where she wouldn't qualify for maternity leave. There's the guy who received his notice, and then continued to get up, get dressed and leave the house every morning so that his family wouldn't know that he'd lost his job. The father of a friend who was "walked" from his corporate oil job, made to fight for a bit of severance and who then took a job at the local grocery store selling produce. 

And then there are the young ones — the ones who have never known adversity or joblessness — who can't quite wrap their mind around maybe having to give up juggling three cell phone bills and having anything more than basic cable. 

The last time Calgary suffered from this big a dip in the economy was before most of them were born. 

Their parents made it through those tough times long ago, but made sure their kids had everything they needed or wanted. These young folks in their 20s and early 30s have never had to struggle particularly hard for employment. I'm not saying they don't work hard – they do! — but having to apply for a job at McDonald's when they have a degree in project management is just something many have never had to consider.

In it together

Barn raisings were a community affair. Tara Livingston says it shows how we should move forward in Calgary: together. (John Boyd/Library and Archives Canada/RD-000066)

Because this is happening to one, it is happening to all. Calgary is that kind of town.

Most of us reaped the rewards when times were good, so we all have to lend a hand when times are tough. 

I have heard through the grapevine from people who have weathered these Alberta storms that this one feels different — that this dip feels deeper. The solution may not be to sit back and live off EI for six months, because it's quite likely that they'll end up with more month than money in a very short time. People will have to give things up — sell some things that they worked to earn.

There's an old saying that folks should pull up their own bootstraps. I have always thought that by the time bootstraps need pulling up, they are awfully heavy. 

Calgary has built its foundations on hard work and community. None of the settlers managed to build things on their own — they had a barn-building party where everyone showed up and did what they could to help. That's where we come from, that's how we will move forward — together.

"They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."  (1 Timothy 6:18-19)

CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.


Rev. Tara Livingston is an Anglican Priest at Holy Nativity in Lake Bonavista. She lives with her two (beloved) teenaged sons and her take-to-work rescue dog Sarah. Tara can sometimes be found having a pint with friends or leading a theological chat at a pub and has been known to bless a Flames Jersey or two during the playoffs.


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